Dining & Drink

Art of Wine …

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… And Dignified Drinkfest

Top 5 bottles from the wine festival

It’s easy to get excited about sampling an endless supply of great wine, that is, until you’ve had so much that you can’t tell red from white.

Unlike some thirsty souls, I wasn’t at the Art of Wine to catch a buzz (I’ve somewhat learned to pace myself over the years). I was there for pure research, but that’s not to say I didn’t get a little sideways in the meanwhile.

This year marked my fourth Art of Wine experience. The main thing that’s changed since my first outing is the sheer number of people who show up with their drinking caps tied on tight. This year, Friday night sported about 600 bodies with a powerful lust for wine. At times it felt like I was in a herd of cattle passing through the eye of a needle, but after a few glasses of outstanding vino, the claustrophobia started to fade.

If you’ve never been to the Art of Wine, you’ve been missing out on a great party. To a certain extent, it can be a very educational experience, but with more than 50 tables lined with bottles, your palate is probably out for the count after the first dozen. It’s good to plan ahead and taste what you want to taste before you completely let loose.

Let’s talk wine. Below I’ve detailed a few bottles that were at the top of my list. If you happened to skip Art of Wine, use your would-have-been ticket money to purchase some of these gems you missed out on.

Top five bottles (that I was able elbow my way into trying):

5: 2007 Niner Sangiovese  — This is the first Sangiovese from California that’s ever made it to my lips. It comes from Paso Robles, which is an area known for the bright fruit and spice it imparts into its wines. Most Sangiovese comes from Italy in the form of chianti and typically makes a very high acid bottle of wine that leans more toward the earthy spectrum rather than fruity. Niner, however, seemed more fruit-forward than any Italian Sangioveses I’ve tried. She’s ready to drink as soon as you pop the cork. Retails for about $14-16.

4: 2009 Presidial Bordeaux — Created by the legendary Jean-Luc Thunevin, Presidial is a new world-style bordeaux that doesn’t require 10 years of dust to collect on the bottle before drinking. It’s 100 percent merlot and leaves you with layers of silk and licorice vying for control of your taste buds. This is a delicious bordeaux that won’t burn a hole in your pocket. Retails for about $12-15.

3: 2010 Lancatay Malbec — The Argentine malbec trend has swept the wine drinking community in full force with its lush, fruit-driven personality. Before the new wave hit, malbec got very little attention. It used to be made in a more rustic style with an earthy, woodsy taste profile only appreciated by those with true grit. Lancatay harkens back to the old days with a wonderful grippiness that’s been lost to the more modern flavor. Retails for about $10.

2: 2010 Hahn Monterey Pinot Noir — This is the very first pinot noir I ever fallen in love with. Strangely, before I tried Hahn, I never thought of pinot as anything but underwhelming. I had been to many tastings and tried many a good pinot, but this is the first one that truly excited me. Sadly, Hahn was also the girl who got away. I tried so hard to order her, but the winery was constantly out of stock. That was more than three years ago, and I feared she could never be as good as I remembered. I’m happy to say that I was wrong, and that Hahn did everything but disappoint. Retails for about $19-22 and is still my absolute favorite pinot noir in this price range.

1: Wait for the drum roll … *Crash* — 2007 Burgess Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon easily earns the blue ribbon. With Burgess, I found out it’s hard to be last. That is, it’s hard to be the last person in the entire Walton Arts Center to get a taste of liquid gold while angry faces watch the final drops fall into your glass. Sigh … To say that Burgess was a big hit would be an understatement. People were literally climbing over each other trying to fill their glasses before the vines were depleted. Being the last one to get a taste put me in a very awkward position, but it also taught me to appreciate what I had … and I had a darn good cab. Retails for about $40, but if you tasted it, you wouldn’t bat an eyelash at the price. In fact, you’d probably tip.

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