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Archive for the ‘Wine & Cheese Fairs’ Category

South Beach Wine & Food Rave

Posted by fromagebob on February 27, 2011

Crowd at the 2011 SoBe Wine & Food Fest

I went to my first South Beach Wine and Food Festival event (ever) this past Friday. It was the “trade tasting” event that is ostensibly a venue for wine makers to present their wares to the wine trade and media. Since one of the major sponsors of the event is Southern Wine, most of those in attendance have some presence in the local market; there’s nothing worse than finding a great wine, only to find it’s not available. Unfortunately, the crowds at the event precluded even a modicum of research. If I had to pick one word to describe the event, it might be “zoo,” but that doesn’t adequately describe the chaos. Rave, maybe? Wine mosh pit?

Speaking with some of the wine makers who attended, most expressed disappointment with the event, as there was no possible way that any kind of conversation about the wines could take place. The crowd was a mix of every age group, from those barely over drinking age, to a number of rather elderly participants. In addition to the wine tables, there were tables dispensing everything from food to liquor to mixed drinks to books. I managed to visit about 10 tables, far below what the norm would be in a real trade tasting.

Violet Grgich

I understand that blogging probably falls on the fringe of “wine media” but I like to think that I make a contribution (albeit a small one). That’s my justification for getting in to the trade/media portions of the events. The public portions often become something akin to an open bar, with only a passing resemblance to a wine tasting. That was illustrated most aptly when, during a conversation with Violet Grgich, I was shoved aside by a fellow who thrust his arm out – with two wine glasses clutched in his hand – and demanded “two cabs” (sans ‘please…’). Ms. Grgich accommodated with a pained smile.

Even getting in was a bear. We stood in a huge line for over 1 hour. We got into the event at about 2pm, with an even larger line behind us. As we approached the main entry to the glass tent, there was a steady stream of line-cutters barging in with no control. The tent dispensing the glass and sample bags was understaffed and not equipped to handle the people passing through. And, once in the village, it became a wine rave. Not to mention far too many people wandering outside scalping tickets (to a free event). That really bothered me; the only way to get the tickets was to be in the trade – a wine shop or restaurant. That meant that some rather unscrupulous players got the tickets representing that they would attend, then turned around and tried to profit. Sleazy. I was hoping for the undercover squad to get them.

Despite all of the sweaty bodies, there were some real gems. I followed a strategy of looking for producer names I did not recognize and tables with no drinkers. Using that technique, I was able to try wines from the Biltmore Estate, in North Carolina. They produce a passable Chardonnay in North Carolina, along with wines from California bottled under their direction and label.

Brazin Lodi Zinfandel

Here are some of the other wines I found that are definitely worth a second look:

  • Muscadet Sèvre st Maine 2008, a Loire wine bottled by Remy Pannier
  • A 2009 Vouvray from Moreau & Fils, in Chablis
  • A Crémant de Loire Brut Rosé from Langlois
  • An interesting 2008 Chinon, from Marc Brédif
  • A red Sancerre of Pinot Noir, from Château de Sancerre
  • From Bernardus Winery, in Carmel California, a 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, a 2008 Chardonnay, and a 2008 Pinot Noir, all from Monterrey County, and their Marinum red blend, from Carmel Valley
  • Brazin Wines, from Lodi, offered to nice Zinfandels: a 2008 Lodi Old Vines, and a 2007 Dry Creek Valley Old Vines.
  • Summerland Winery, from Santa Barbara, showed a 2009 Santa Barbara Chardonnay, a 2008 Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay, a 2008 Monterrey County Sauvignon Blanc, and a 2005 Santa Ynez Syrah.

In addition, I had the opportunity to try several delicious wines from Grgich Hills, including their Stellar 2008 Fumé Blanc, their 2007 Chardonnay, their 2007 Zinfandel, their 2006 Merlot, and their 2006 Cab (which made me almost want to stop drinking for the rest of the day, just to see how the wine evolved). I managed to spend a few minutes with Brian Loring (who I was able to speak at length with at Sunset Corner’s Pinot party the next day – more on that later).

All in all, it was a beautiful day on South Beach, great showcase for the city, moderately so for the winemakers. But it looked like the attendees had fun.


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Miami Wine Fair, Day One

Posted by fromagebob on September 26, 2009

The Miami Wine Fair Tasting Floor

The Miami Wine Fair opened today, and as anticipated, has improved greatly over previous years. The tasting floor held a plethora of vendors, offering over 1,500 wines to taste, along with quite a variety of other exhibitors, including several charitable organizations, Yelp!, and a few local food spots.

As always, the seminars were my favorite. The day started with “Grandes Pagos de España” which translates to “The Great Estates of Spain”, a group of 21 estate growers who are focused on producing superior quality wine. Their group is very similar to the cru structure in other countries. We tried 9 wines in 3 flights, and all of them were quite good. My favorite was Escena 2004, from Manuel Manzaneque winery. The blend is 90% Tempranillo, 5% Syrah, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The initial nose was spicy cinnamon candy, with smoky, dark cherry, cigar box and licorice notes. The taste was very nice: chocolate covered cherries, blueberry, with a slight vegetal undertone. It was a bit tannic, but smoothed out on the finish. I can see this aging quite nicely, and going very well with roasted lamb, or some braised short ribs.

The second seminar was titled “Wine Tour de France” and explored a number of France’s wine regions. In this session, we tasted 7 wines, including a Rosé Champagne that was quite tasty – my initial impression of the nose was a rich strawberry soup, with sweet cherries, vanilla and light fruits on the palate. The other wines covered a broad range of appellations, including a Chablis, an Alsace Riesling, a Chinon that was quite nice, an excellent Beaujolais Villages from Louis Tête – really nice, followed by a nice Bordeaux. We finished with a Sauterne from Château d’Arche that had to be one of the sexist wines I have ever put my nose to. The aroma in that glass was superb, and I could not stop inhaling. In most cases, the olfactory system shuts down after a few sniffs, but for this wine, there was something that kept coming. Yum.

The third session was Ribera del Duero, which is probably my favorite wine region of Spain, and which produces some of my favorite wines. This was a massive tasting of 16 wines, all Tempranillos, with a very wine expression of the grape – I was quite surprised in several cases, and found some very nice wines.

The last session of the day was wines from Castilla-La Mancha, another of my personal favorites, and given by Charlie Arturaola, one of my favorite instructors. Charlie took us through 10 wines from the region, including 4 whites and 6 reds. It was an interesting journey; we tried a couple of grapes indigenous to the area that I had not tasted, including a Airén that was very interesting, and a Macabeo-Sauvignon Blanc blend that was quite nice. The reds, as expected, were delicious.

On the tasting floor, I tried quite a few wines of which the most memorable were those from:

Esporão, a Portuguese producer, whose winemaker I met last year. He’s an Australian fellow who went to Portugal some years ago to make great wines (and boy, has he succeeded!). They make a very nice Reserva White, a Reserva Red, and a great Verdelho, but the magnificent example of what they do is in their Private Selection 2005. This wine just blew me away. It’s made from a blend of Alicante Bouschet and Syrah, and has such a rich, deep nose and velvety, soft, complex taste, that I was sorely tempted to grab a bottle and run. They are at booth P-14, if you attend tomorrow! That wine alone is worth the trip.

I also tried wines from Peter Figge; I had tasted these about 2 weeks ago with a wine tasting panel I belong to. Peter is from California, runs a solo operation, but makes some very nice wines, including a great Chardonnay, and several nice Pinots. I’ll be writing about those in more detail in the near future.

The other wines that really impressed me were from a Argentine producer called Oyikil (pronounced O-gee-Kill). The winemaker was there; her work is superb, and included several Malbecs and a very nice Cab. We’re going to be trying those on October 7th at our tasting panel, so I will write about those wines as well.

I’ll post an update tomorrow about my day at the fair, and I’ll be sharing more of the wines I tried with more in-depth commentary over the next few weeks.

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8th Annual Miami Wine Fair

Posted by fromagebob on September 20, 2009

MWFLogoThe Miami Wine Fair returns for its eight year this coming weekend, September 26th & 27th. This year, exhibitors will be presenting more than 1,500 wines, along with two days of excellent seminars, geared towards novice, enthusiast, and expert alike. Another feature of this year’s fair will be its support to Educate Tomorrow, a non-profit organization that supports youth who are aging out of the foster care system.

This will be my fourth year attending. In years past, I’ve had the opportunity to try some great wines, and learn quite a bit from the fair’s seminar series – which I think is one of its best features. This year, the show will feature 10 seminars over its two days. Each seminar focuses on a specific topic, and includes ample tastings for attendees. A full schedule is available on the Fair’s website, but I wanted to highlight several sessions that I attended last year, and truly enjoyed. Two of the sessions are on Saturday’s schedule, and both focus on the wines of Spain. One session features the wines of the Ribera del Duero, which is one of my favorite wine regions. The second features the wines of Castilla – La Mancha; I was not as familiar with these wines until last year, but found them to be delicious – they’ve also become some of my preferred wines.

On Sunday, a session featuring the wines of Portugal promises to be fantastic; last year, the fair featured the wines of a particular winery; this year, they are casting a wider net, and focusing on a specific grape. This should be an excellent session. Finally, Sushi Samba Dromo, one of Miami Beach’s best Sushi restaurants, is back again for a wonderful Sake Paring. Sake sommelier Midori Roth will present 5 special sake’s paired with some of SushiSamba Dromo’s signature bites.

This year, the fair is also adding two new features involving cheese. First, Cabot Creamery of Vermont is going to be furnishing cheese to the fair for the seminars. Currently, the planned cheeses are their Sharp Cheddar, their Seriously Sharp Cheddar, and their Pepper Jack (one of my favorite nibbling cheeses!). The fair is working on the pairings, and if I learn anything further, you’ll read about it here. Second, Anco Foods, importers and wholesalers of gourmet foods will be hosting a booth featuring a selection of their cheeses, paired with wines from the fair. Two of their productsthat I am hoping will be present, are Quenby Hall Stilton, a delicious cheese from the UK, and St. Andre – a triple-crème brie style cheese that is quite tasty and pairs well with a variety of wines.

One of the reasons that I enjoy this particular fair is that the venue – the Miami Beach Convention Center – lends itself to a more relaxed environment in which all attendees, from novices to experts, can focus on tasting the wines. I find that quite often, novice wine drinkers are intimidated by tastings that are held at wine shops. In one of my recent classes, I dubbed the condition “Wineaux Fauxbia”, a term I coined to describe the fear of things associated with wine. I’ll post something on that in the near future, but for those of you reading this, consider the $75 price of admission to the tasting floor gives you a pretty wide open field to try numerous wines that you’ll not easily find anywhere else. The floor of the convention center is not crowded, so even if a few tables have people in front, there will be others that are wide open to try. And, the people manning the booths are quite friendly, and open to discussing their products should you wish.

Please also be sure to visit the International Wines booth, and talk with my friend Henry Barrow – he’ll be the celebrity pourer for Figge Cellars, a set of great wines from an up-and-coming wine maker in California.

Hope to see you all there!

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France, Day 2: Foire da Paris 2009

Posted by fromagebob on May 7, 2009

Today we visited the “Foire da Paris.” This is a HUGE exposition, kind of a combination of the Coconut Grove Art Festival, the Home Show, Walmart, and the South Beach Food and Wine Festival all in one big, big, place. Here’s the website, if you want to take a look. We headed directly for the “vins & gastronome de France et d’Europe” – the food and wine pavilion. Oh-my-God. The pavilion was about the size of the Miami Beach Convention Center. It was filled with booths featuring everything you can imagine – sausages, cheese, hams, wine, foie gras, pastries, candy, nuts, confections, wine caves, olives, plus a couple dozen restaurants scattered about – some looked like they would easily seat 50-100 people. It was pretty overwhelming when we walked in the door, especially the fact that there was a LOT of cooking going on, and the air was filled with some pretty luscious aromas. We decided to be organized, so we headed for one end of the hall, and started to hike back and forth through the fair.

I won’t go through the whole things (mostly because I can’t remember it all), but the high points… We tried foie gras from several vendors, most direct producers. The second place we tried turned out to be the best, and we ended up going back there to buy some to bring home (if it lasts that long). It was from Perigord, which is one of the main places for foie gras. This was duck foie gras (foie grad du canard) and it was soooo delicious. Most of the booths had samples of their wares, and we certainly indulged!

There was a large Grand Mariner booth nearby; we tried a Grand Marnier Alexander – blue label, served cold, definitely on our BUY THIS list – we forgot to go back and get a bottle, but it will certainly be on our list when we return to Paris. It wasn’t as sweet as the regular Grand Mariner, perhaps because the cold suppresses the alcohol, but it was very, very good. I think Tio Paulo had a second glass when no one was looking.

Right across from the Grand Mariner stand featured hams, sausages, and cheeses. Here’s a picture.

sausage11The sausages (which I sadly couldn’t try) were delicious, according to Myriam and Tio Paulo. When I looked at the signs for them, they were labeled “Fromage du Chevre”, “Cepes (mushrooms)”, “Beaufort”, and so on. When I first walked over, I thought that they were cheeses and so on, but it turned out that when they made the sausages, the blended whatever was on the label – so the Fromage de Chevre sausage had bits of goat cheese worked into the body, and so on. We bought three – one of each. They had a ton of options – poivre, other cheeses, and so on. They smelled great. But I was not left out, no sir! They had some Beaufort cheese, a Fromage de Chevre, and a nice Brebis, all of which I tasted. What a difference from Miami! Shipping across the Atlantic sure impacts the flavors.

We hit a booth with products from Cahors; we tried a couple of the wines (malbecs). Different than the Argentine version. Tio Paulo doesn’t like the Argentine version; the Cahors Malbecs are more minerally and tannic; not as fruit-forward as the Argentine versions. Austere would be a good description. Quite good though. The fellow at the booth was quite generous with his pours (not good so early in the show, but we didn’t complain). On our second wine, he produced some foie gras from that region, which was just smashing with the wine.

A booth from Pays de Basque featured olives – lots and lots of olives (also not on my favorites list), but Myriam and Paulo happily tasted their way through several varieties, proclaiming them outstanding.

What was interesting about this fair is that you could buy anything from the vendors; not like most in Miami where you cannot. We were going to wait until we left to revisit the booths that we really liked, but that fell by the wayside.

Let’s see… we found a booth that featured tapenades and aperitifs from Corse. One that caught our attention was a cherry liquor with hot pepper blended in. Sounds strange, but it was delicious. Kind of sweet on the first sip, but as it coated your mouth, a slow burn set in from the pepper. Wonderful contrast in flavors. Speaking of Corse, we also found a booth that featured pork and cheese products – quite good – where I had my very first taste of “Brin du Maquis” – not sure if it was Brin d’Amour or Fleur d’ Maquis; both are similar cheeses, but nothing like the cakey version you find in Miami. I think that the way they store the cheeses in Miami doesn’t allow enough moisture to escape; this was more of a semi-hard cheese with a lighter coating of rosemary. I suspect that by the time it gets to Miami, the moisture in the cheese probably affects the rosemary, making that taste stronger, and the cheese more soft.


Of course, we hit quite a few wine and champagne booths, trying a number of very nice wines. Nuits St Georges was one of the better offerings. There were several booths with Jurancon but I never had a chance to taste (bummer).

About half way through the show, we came upon a booth featuring cheeses from Salers; they had a fermier St. Nectaire, that was so creamy and delicious I almost bought a chunk. They also had Morbier and several Cantals, including one that was 20 months old. The rind was craggy and fissured. As it ages, the rind is invaded by cheese mites (like Mimolette), which give it this appearance. According to my cheese reference, Cantal purists (of which I am now one) believe this is when the cheese is best. Our cheese monger friend was dispensing samples of the paste, which was just fabulous. Meaty and sweet, with a very nice, lingering aftertaste. It has a faint floral taste that was quite pleasant.

There were two women standing next to us that we was explaining the rind to. Next thing I knew, he cut off a piece and held it out, asking (in French) who was courageous. I stuck my hand out and took it. Frankly, the cheese from the outside looks quite…not disgusting, but definitely within my “would you put that in your mouth” guidelines (which have now become quite relaxed). But ever dedicated to my craft, I popped it in my mouth and chewed it up. Very interesting. The taste was a pleasant loamy, kind of dusty taste, with an incredibly intense flavor of the cheese that was closest to the rind. In any cheese, that part near the cream line is the most aged portion. As the cheese mites burrow into the rind, they expose that first layer to the air and microbes. The Cantal actually forms kind of a bloom at this point, which also contributes to a (this will sound strange if you’re not a cheese lover) pleasant moldy taste.


Well, for my courage, he rewarded me with a nice glass of Pomerol, which absolutely made the whole experience worthwhile, and gave me quite a nice boost of flavor from the cheese! Vive la Cantal!

We found a Champagne booth that had an American inside- she was from New Mexico, and told us that New Mexico was where the American Wine industry came into being, before prohibition. She gave us the name of a sparkling wine producer there who makes (according to her) a great sparkling wine. We shall see. We bought a bottle of their Rose for Hugette; we’ll try that when we go back.

Lunch was a sandwich of Brebis cheese on a baguette. Yum. We soldiered on, trying more foie gras; the best we found was extremely expensive 5 small cans were almost 80 euros, so we decided we weren’t quite that refined and moved on.

We headed back to the 11th, happy and tired, where we had a very light salad for dinner, and went off to bed. Early morning Thursday to catch the 8am train to Toulouse!

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