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.
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.
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.