Toast of the Town – NYC

Wine Enthusiast magazine put on their “Toast of the Town” wine & food event yesterday in NYC at Lincoln Center.  A very large event that took place on two levels & a large balcony & included some of NYC’s finest dining establishments.  There was lots of good food, good wine & happy people.

But it wasn’t all perfect.  Upon arriving I was initially disappointed with the tasting book.  I understand that this is more of a consumer event as it is intended for non-industry people to get out and enjoy themselves.  But given my industry status & interest in truly evaluating as many wines as possible I would have liked to see a tasting book that provided more room for tasting notes (hint: for next year maybe provide a tasting book with more room for journalists).  This book had about 1-3 lines for notes per page, not nearly enough when some of the pages had 2 tables and as many as 20 wines listed.  Deciphering my chicken scratch notes is going to be a big challenge.

The event was also pretty hectic.  I found the crowded/hectic nature to be pretty typical and as such I was not bothered by it, but speaking with some of the guests, apparently not everyone shared my feelings on the crowds (one such guest has volunteered to write a guest blog review about the event – hopefully coming soon).  I think this is one of those situations where you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  Obviously the organizers want to have as many guests as the space can comfortably fit for business reasons.  But more than that, when events are not full/crowded/packed they are often deemed to be a failure by the guests.  The bottom line is that I never had to wait more than a minute or two to get a pour.  Yes, many of the wines ran out, but isn’t that a good sign?  Furthermore, the food tables were amazingly spread out throughout the main ballroom enabling guests to nosh in between tastes of wine.  This was something I was amazed by.  Rather than having the food come out of a kitchen (creating a dangerous, messy & chaotic situation), each of the 30 or so food purveyors supplying tastes had access to a tiny food prep area right behind their table. Very well done!

Given my space challenged tasting notes, I will abstain from posting thorough reviews of the wines, but I will share my thoughts on some standout wines as well as some other observations.

I started by tasting some wines from Monterey County, CA.  And I must admit, I was very impressed.  The tasting book (sadly) did not contain either wholesale or suggested retail prices, so I can not comment or QPR (quality price ratio) but I can say that I had some very nicely structured wines.  What really stood out were many of the Pinots.  I have noted on several occasions that fruit-forward new world Pinot Noir is not my thing.  Yes having some subtle fruit in a Pinot is a nice thing, but the big, often artificial tasting (think candied cherries) Pinot Noirs are simply too much for me.  And while I am the farthest thing from a Pinot expert, I suspect that these gentle grapes really perform best when made in an elegant, feminine & subtle style.  But that is just my opinion.  That said, many of the Monterey Pinots were in fact made in an elegant style.  The one that really stood out to me was the Michaud 2004 Pinot Noir from the Chalone region.  It had nice fruit on the nose, but what really got me was the complexity of this wine as it also had nice earth and a very apparent smoked meat/bacon thing going on as well.  Michaud also had a 2003 Chalone Syrah that I also really thought was great.  A beautifully structured elegant & velvety Syrah with a WOW bouquet (elegantly put if I do say so myself).

Another observation was the emphasis on organic wines as well as biodynamic wines.  The ideas behind a biodynamic vineyard are a topic in and of itself (good idea for a future post).  But I bring it up as it seems to be yet another marketing tool that many people are using to help their wines stand out from the crowd.  That said I have read many articles about people who swear by biodynamic practices.  Following the products that come to market having been made utilizing biodynamic farming should be very interesting in the coming years.

One of the wineries that is using organic & biodynamic procedures & whose wines stood out were those of Austrian winery Meinklang.  A winery owned and run by the Michlits family, I tasted two of their 2006 wines with the winemaker.  I tried the Pinot Noir which I thought was a subtle wine with good minerality and a bit of earthiness.  But it was the 2006 Michlits Blaufrankish that really made me think.  Mr. Michlits explained that Blaufrankish is the name a varietal that received its name (blau – blue) due to its bright blue color and origin -frankisch, as its origins were traced to the Frankish region.  This wine was a light bodied wine resembling the Pinot Noir a little bit but its uniqueness is what really struck a cord for me.

I have tried the wines of Fess Parker in the past but last night they seemed to really stand out.  Given the improper way I was tasting, going back and forth between whites & reds, I tried 4 wines from Fess Parker, 2 whites and 2 reds.  All stood out as excellent.  The 2006 Viognier was nice and crisp with fresh floral accents.  The 2006 Ashley’s vineyard Chardonnay had nice tropical fruit, subtle oak & great structure.  The 2006 Ashley’s Pinot had bigger fruit than what I typically like in a Pinot and I expected to be overwhelmed but the structure was there and the fruit was very nice and subtle on the palate, balanced well by a touch of earth & oak.  And finally, the 2004 “The Big Easy” Syrah had big ripe blueberries that were so well integrated with the soft tannins and velvety mouth feel that Fess Parker has a new advocate in The Wine Tasting Guy.

Before this post becomes too much of a bore, one of the interesting products being promoted last night was a beer called Kasteel Cru that adds champagne yeast to their brew.  Personally I did not care for the beer, but the models that the company hired to pour tastes for the throngs of horny men seemed to be earning their pay as I found their table in the back corner mostly because of the large crowd at their table…and also because of the pretty women serving the tastes.

The last comment I have about the event was how surprised I was by how it ended.  It seems that many of the guests came, drank & left.   Although the event was scheduled to last until 10PM, by 9-9:30pm many of the servers had left their tables and many of the guests seemed to have left altogether.  I guess that is what drinking (and not spitting) for 2 (or more) straight hours will do.

A quick list of some (but not all) of the other standout wines (in order of table #):

J. Lohr 2005 Hilltop Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Feudo Principi di Butera 2005 Nero d’Avola

Castello Romitorio 2004 Romito del Romitorio

Henry’s Drive 2005 Dead Letter Office Shiraz

Gloria Ferrer 1997 Carneros Cuv’ee

Hess Collection 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Mt Veeder

Luiano 2003 Lui di Luiano( Toscana)

Bonterra vineyards 2003 The McNab

Chateau Ste, Michelle Col Solaire 2004  Red

Don Sebastiani & Sons “Used Automobile parts” 2004 Red

Merryvale 2004 Profile (which interestingly was made with native yeast & natural malolactic)

Rodney Strong 2004 Symmetry Meritage Red Wine

De Tieraa 2006 Coast View Vineyard Chardonnay

Figge 2005 Arroya Seco Syrah

Champagne Henriot 1995 Cuv’ee des Enchanteleurs

All in all it was a very fine event, one that I was happy to have been invited to attend and write about (Special thanks to Tim Moriarty of Wine Enthusiast & Ariel Kern of GCI group).  As with all annual events, I’m sure the few shortfalls will be rectified by next year’s event…and inevidably, guests at the event next year will have new complaints.

Happy large scale consumer wine & food tasting!


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