Wine Enthusiast NY Toast of the Town – review

I attended the Toast of the Town gala food & wine tasting last night.  It was held in the beautiful David Koch Theater in Lincoln Center and surprisingly to me (given the rough economic climate), was very well attended.

Several hundred people, all dressed their best, turned out for this annual event.  With about 30 restaurants providing sample fare, as well as over 70 winery (or wine reps) pouring multiple offerings, there was certainly no shortage of food or wine.

The event opens with a VIP portion (that costs a premium to attend).  During this 2 hour pre-tasting, the wine people pour high end wines and the crowds are thinner.  Consequently people have better access to those pouring/serving, all in a more relaxed environment.

And at 7PM, the masses come in.  And boy did they show up last night.

As stated previously, despite the tough economic times and high price of a ticket, this event seemed just as busy as last year’s.  And the bottom line is that it is a fun event.  Early on in the evening while speaking with a pourer at the event, I pointed out that the tasting booklets did not leave much room for tasting notes, and the tables were in no specific order – things as a professional that I found frustrating.  And he said to me, “this is not an event for industry professionals, it is an event for mainstream NY wine & food lovers to get out and try all kinds of food & wine”.  And he was right.  Expecting this event to be like a tasting for professionals was my fault.  It is not advertised as such.   And with my expectations now modified, I realized that this is simply a really fun evening out.

SO, having clarified the difficulty I experienced trying to write proper tasting notes, without further ado, I’d like to make mention of some favorites, with only brief comments about each…

I started the evening with some friends from Admiral imports who were pouring some sparkling wines from Tosti.  The Tosti NV Moscato d’Asti was sweet and fun.  While the Tosti NV Bracato was a sparkling red with nice violet and cherry notes.  I haven’t had too many sparkling reds in my day so trying this one was a treat.

The 2006 Clos de Tart Grand Cru Burgundy was not the best choice for one of my first wines…cause it was darned good and set the bar quite high for the rest of the wines.  It had subtle fruit, some mintiness and minerality, all packaged in a soft elegant package.

In what I can only assume is a coincidence, some of my favorite wines of the night were Chianti Classicos.  My first of the night, the Carpineto 2005 Chianti Classico Riserva, had a very nice combination of earthiness, raspberry & minerality and was a very nice wine.

The Carmel valley of California does not carry the cache of Napa or Sonoma.  But some of the Monterey wineries are producing very nice wines, and my visit at the Bernrdus table included a treat.  I first tried their 2004 Marinus Estate red, a blend of about 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and the remaining 10% (or so) a blend of Cab Franc, Petit Verdot & Malbec (nice usage of the 5 Bordeaux varietals).  This was a big, crowd pleasing wine,  with notes of dark berry, mint & chocolate.  Somehow or another the gentleman pouring the wines figured out that I was in the industry and poured me a small taste from a single bottle of Pinot he had behind the table.  The grapes from this Pinot came from the Santa Lucia region and the wine was quite nice – strong words from someone who is not shy about discussing his distaste for new world Pinot Noir.  There was very evident fruit, but it was subtle and elegant.  The wine was soft and round, had just a touch of heat on the finish, but overall was a very nice Pinot Noir.

Speaking of new world Pinot, Jekel Vineyards was pouring some wines from their Sanctuary line of wines.  I enjoyed the 2005 Mariah Vineyard Zin, which was NOT typical Zin.  No huge alcohol & stewed fruit.  It was actually a light wine with nice acidity.  While the 2006 Sanctuary Bien Nacido vineyard Pinot was soft with subtle fruit, a little earth and a nice finish.

Staying in the new world, Hogue vineyards was pouring a bunch of wines.  One of the first bonded wineries in Washington, Hogue  sources all of their fruit from Washington State.  My favorite of the lot was a 2005 reserve Merlot from the Wahluke slope.  The wine is aged for about 2 years in oak, and comes from vines that are between 25-45 years old.  It had red & black fruit and a touch of mint, was soft and round and had a long finish.

Nearing the end of my new world favorites, I stopped by the Kunde Estate table.  Here my favorite was the 2005 reserve Sonoma county Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine was soft, with ripe – almost stewed fruit that was big, but not overpoweringly big.   Nicely round with a touch of heat, this was a very nice showing from a winery that is known for good value offerings.

The last new world wine I will mention was a sparkling wine.  When working in Napa I visited Mumm winery, a winery that specializes in sparkling wines.  Pernod Ricard was pouring the Mumm Napa vintage 2000 DVX sparkler.  This wine had nice citrus, yeast and bready notes, in a soft wine with small bubbles and a clean refreshing finish.

Getting back to the old world, another of my favorite Chianti Classicos came from the “Da Vinci” winery.  I tried a bunch of wines at the Da Vinci table, and they were all nice, but my favorite (the one I felt was showing best last night) was the 2004 Da Vinci Chiant Classico.  This terrific food wine was light, with tart berries, some cherry cola notes and a nice medium to long finish.

The 2003 Castello di Querceto 2003 Chianti Classico Riserva had subtle fruit, some minerality, a touch of earth, with gripping tannins and a medium long finish.  While the Barone Ricasoli 2006 Brolio Chianti Classico had a spiciness to it, with blackberry, red fruit and a tart juiciness matched by a nice acidity and pleasant finish.

Another nice Italian wine was the Sergeo Alighieri 2005 Poderi del Bello Oville, a blend of 80% Sangiovese with 15% Canaiolo & 5% Cilegiolo.  Aged for 12 months in 600 liter barrels (of which 50% was new), this wine had nice red fruit, minerality and was crisp, tart and quite nice.  While the Tormaresca 2003 Masseria Maime Negroamaro had blackberry, earth and mint aromas with a round, soft long finish.

This modest writeup has become much longer than I initially intended.  What better was to end than with some Port?!?!  I tried 4 ports last night, but the best were some 20 year Tawny ports.  The first, Sandeman’s 20 year Tawny, was light brown in color with clear oxidation on the nose.  After trying Sandeman’s 10 year tawny I was blown away by how soft and smooth this port was.  With its sweet carmel and nutty flavors this was delicious!  But I think I preferred the Ramos Pinto Quinta do Bom Retiro 20 year port.  This light brown almost tan wine was also was very soft.  It had an oxidized nose with a nuttiness that I could not quite pinpoint on the nose as well.  Upon tasting this velvety wine I immediately thought of candies hazelnuts as its sweet, soft, minty and nutty wine had a lot of real good stuff going on.

Whew, that was a LONG one.  I am off to the Bay area tomorrow to meet my NEW NEPHEW!  Can’t wait to see the little guy.  And of course excited to see his parents (my sister and brother in law) as well as my brother who I recently found out is coming in from Israel for the Brit (pretty cool huh).  I do hope to sneak away for a quickie somewhere in wine country, so hopefully I’ll have something to report about.

Happy Toasting the Town with Wine Enthusiast!


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