Monday, February 28, 2011

The Sweet Life on the Beach: 2011 Food Network South Beach Food & Wine Festival

Story and photo gallery by Guest Reporter Myra Handy with Dwight Casimere

South Beach, Miami Beach, Florida—For four glorious days in this sun-drenched tropical paradise, the stars of the Food Network hovered over South Beach and its most luxurious resorts, like the celestial formations that hung in the brilliant nighttime sky.

I was privileged to have a front row seat (or Cabana, if you will) at some of the most star-studded events as special Guest Reporter for Dwight The Wine Doctor, who was called away on special assignment in the Napa Valley. I got to rub shoulders (and, in the case of the cuddly Mr. Food, cheek-to-cheek), with Food Network’s top names.

Racheal Ray celebrated her fifth year as host of the Amstel Light Burger Bash presented by Allen Brothers on the beach at the Ritz Carlton, South Beach. Food Network stars reigned supreme on the stages of the Wine & Food Festival tents, that dominated South Beach, and in the ballrooms and Great Halls of the region’s top resorts. The names of the locales are legendary, Ritz Carlton, Loews Miami Beach, W, Delano and Fontainebleau. The names of the presenters are equally legendary; Emeril, Paula Deen, Guy Fieri, Bobby Flay and Glada De Laurentiis, to name just a few, presided over the unprecedented events. This was truly the “Rolls Royce” of foodie events and Dwight The Wine Doctor, through yours truly, was front and center!

One of the ‘first nighter’ events and one of the most coveted tickets outside of the Burger Bash was the late nite “Let Them Eat Cake” event hosted by Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart. The pastry pandemonium was held at the architecturally stunning terrace and atrium of the Herzog & Mueron Building at 1111 Lincoln Road, the “Rodeo Drive” of South Beach. First of all, the views of the Miami Beach skyline from the open-air party venue, are stunning as were the dessert offerings. Martha Stewart, known for her impeccable taste, and Emeril Lagasse, known for his culinary artistry, designed a confectionary castle that would make even Marie Antoinette “lose her head” long before walking to the gallows!

There’s no other food and wine event in the world like the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, and this year’s was off the charts. The festival, with its billowing white tents, took over the virtual entirely of South Beach.

The sounds of glasses clinking and being filled with libations and elegant wines, echoes up and down the beach.
The sound of grills sizzling and smell of food being prepared by some of the nation’s and Miami’s top chefs, greeted attendees as the snaked their way through the multiple tents. The aroma in the air was intoxicating. The lingering sensations and the lasting savor of the many tastes and palate pleasantries will remain in memory long after the tents have been folded away. I don’t know about you, but I’ve already reserved my place at next year’s festival!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Premiere Napa Valley 2011: How little Toto of The Wizard of Oz won the “Oscar” of wine

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

1. Venus and a Half Moon hover over pre-dawn Napa Valley

2. Ichizo Nakagawa relaxes after his record-high bid

3. Scarecrow winery owners Mimi DeBlasio and Bret Lopez relax in their winery/photo studio

4. International wine importer Ichizo Nakagawa and his entourage peruse barrel lot samples at the pre-auction tasting

5. Auctioneer Fritz Hatton as ringmaster of the wild bidding at the Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Lot Futures Auction

Napa Valley, California—Venus and an incandescentCrescent moon hung over the dawning skies of the Napa Valley as Premiere Napa Valley 2011 drew to a close.

Celestial events seemed to be an almost daily occurrence, as one of the nation’s preeminent events ended with a record setting crescendo. On the eve of Hollywood’s biggest night, the Academy Awards, a new and unlikely star, with a tangential Hollywood pedigree, rose over the Napa Valley wine horizon like a meteor at the 2011 Premiere Napa Valley Auction of Barrel-Lot Futures.

The sense of drama that preceded the Premiere Auction began to unfold at the early morning barrel tasting in the Hall of Fame room of Greystone, the Culinary Academy of America. Bidders, mostly collectors, distributors and sommeliers in the wine trade, tasted barrel samples of the more than 200 lots that would be offered for bid that afternoon. Bidders and collectors came from across the globe, including London and Tokyo. Already, many of the bidders had started targeting their desired selections and sending word through the grapevine that this would be one of the most contentious auctions ever.

From the opening gavel, that prediction proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bidding wars escalated to a fever pitch and before the close of the afternoon, a new record-high bid had taken place.

International wine importer Ichizo Nakagawa of Nakagawa Wine Importers of Tokyo, who was last year’s second-highest bidder with his purchase of 13 lots, including Schrader and TOR family vineyards, said he was determined to be this year’s high estbidder, and to obtain the coveted five cases of Scarecrow Wine 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon: Toto’s Opium Dream: Scene II, “no matter what.” Nakagawa shelled out $125,000 for the privilege; setting a new record for what is now the pre-eminent wine auction event in the country. Nakagawa’s bid garnered a standing ovation from the capacity crowd of bidders in the Greystone auction room as auctioneer Fritz Hatton’s gavel came ringing down. In total, the auction brought in $2.4 million dollars to benefit educational and research programs of the Napa Valley Vintner’s Association.

Nakagawa and his entourage hovered near the barrel tasting stand of Scarecrow, talking with winemaker Celia Welch and owners Bret Lopez and his wife Mimi DeBlasio and tasting the luscious French Grand Cru-style wine, crafted by consulting winemaker Celia Welch and Vineyard Manager Michael Wolf, who have been with the project from day one. The wine, which is in limited production, normally sells for about $100 a bottle. Understandably, Scarecrow is now sold out of all their current and past vintages.

The story of Scarecrow wines has its roots in one of Hollywood’s most legendary films, The Wizard of Oz.

The vineyards at Scarecrow were planted by Lopez’s grandfather, Hollywood producer Joseph Judson Cohn, Chief of Production for MGM studios during its heyday and the man responsible for shepherding the film “The Wizard of Oz” to Oscar glory and an honored place in the firmament of Hollywood legend. Born in Harlem, New York in 1895 to Russian immigrant parents and a life of poverty, he rose to become one of Tinsel Town’s biggest moguls.

In 1945, John Daniel Jr., the owner of Inglenook, convinced his then neighbor, J.J. Cohn, to plant 80 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on his Rutherford property. Cohn had purchased the property as a vacation retreat from the rigors of Hollywood. Until then, Cohn had never considered grape growing, but as word of the premium fruit spread, Cohn became enamored of the idea. In subsequent years, the “Old Men,” as the grape vines of J.J. Cohn have become affectionately known have been sought after by some of the most esteemed names in Napa Valley wine, including Duckhorn, Niebaum-Coppola and Opus One. Lopez named the winery Scarecrow after the loveable character in the Wizard of Oz as homage to his grandfather’s legacy. The wine he made from the grapes, he named after Toto, the little dog that was whisked along by a twister with Dorothy from their humble farm in Kansas to the Land of Oz in his grandfather’s film, The Wizard of Oz.

That Oscar-winning tome has significant resonance in relationship to the winning bid at the Premiere Auction. Little Scarecrow wine has toppled some of the biggest names in Napa Valley to become the most coveted wine in this celebrated region. On the eve of Hollywood’s biggest night, The Academy Awards, it’s a story that has all the makings of an award-winning movie.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Premiere Napa Valley 2011: a mix of snow, Gypsy campfires, little Blackbirds and a touch of Einstein

1. The bust of Albert Einstein in the sculpture garden at Ma(i)sonry
2. live twitter telecast screens hover over the vertical barrel lot tasting at Greystone
3. Chef Cindy Pawlcyn
4. Blackbird Proprietor Michael Polenske holds court at the Ma(i)sonry luncheon
5. Snow clouds gather over Napa Valley to little effect

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Napa Valley, California—An early forecast of snow showers over Mount St. Helena, a first in more than a decade, preceded by a spectacular celestial event, the appearance of the Big Dipper in all its night-time glory, lent an air of excitement to the opening day of Premiere Napa 2011.

Early morning fog and gathering storm clouds gave way to a spectacular, sun-drenched day as tasters headed to the hallowed halls of Greystone, the former monastery that once housed Christian Brothers winery, and is now the home to the Culinary Institute of America, where the blind tasting of vertical Napa Valley barrel lots was about to begin. The lots consist of wines that are handcrafted by winemakers specifically for the Premiere Napa Valley Auction. The auction is perhaps the world’s most expensive bake sale, in support of the non-profit Napa Valley Vintner’s Association.

Each year, the 200 member wineries craft a unique lot of wine that represent the best they have to offer. Only the handful of wine journalists and bidders who are members of the wine trade will get to taste these unique wines which will be purchased at auction the following day for staggeringly high prices.

As the sun continued to reign over a gold-encrusted day, a series of private wine luncheons and tastings unfolded at wineries up and down the Napa Valley. The first stop of the day was a private luncheon at Ma(i)sonry, the private art collective and wine showcase run by Blackbird Vineyards. Proprietor Michael Polenske and Winemaker Aaron Pott hosted about a dozen wine journalists from across the country for a tasting of the wines of the 2011 portfolio. The wines have been consistently rated 93 and 94 points by Robert Parker and 100 Points by the Robb Report. The wines, 2010 Blackbird Vineyards Arriviste Rose ($24), 2008 Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley Marsanne ($32) and 2008 Napa Valley Tempranillo $50), were paired with the cuisine of Cindy Pawlcyn Catering (Mustards Grill, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, Go Fish) with Chef Michael Foster. The Arriviste Rose was paired with her Seared Scallops with “spring baby vegetable stew”, which brought out the crisp strawberry and cherry notes on the palate and the aromatic nose of spice and grapefruit that are so prevalent in this vibrant pink melding of Merlot and Cabernet France varietals. Winemaker Aaron Pott said the blend was inspired by the pink wine that was passed around in plastic liter bottles by the Gypsy grape workers in France as they danced around their campfires at night.

A perfectly pink Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Roasted shallots, red wine poached prunes & potato gratin wrapped around the profuse flavors of orange zest and honeydew melon that mark this aromatic blend of Rhone Valley-inspired varietals.

“France is the Rosetta Stone of wine,” remarked Proprietor Michael Polenske. “What we’ve tried to do at Blackbird is produce a Right Bank blend that is ‘inspired by’ but not imitating the French. What we want to create is a wine that is uniquely Napa Valley, that also has balance and is beautifully integrated.” Job, well done!

“What a lot of people don’t know, not even people in the wine business,” Polenske further explicated, “is that the word Merlot is French for ‘little black bird,’ so that’s how the name of our winery came about. The name Ma(i)sonry is an homage to the winemakers art blended with the idea of the bricks and mortar of the building itself.”

Now, here’s where Einstein comes in. The sculpture garden of Ma(i)sonry is dominated by a whimsical bust of Einstein that sits at the head of a long, wooden dining table that is more of a showcase for the artwork that is interwoven around the space at Ma(i)sonry. “The whole idea behind Ma(i)sonry is that we are pairing artisan wines with exquisite art in an historic setting. The building was actually discovered by my mother and I one day after we were having lunch,” Polenske explained. “It took a lot of jousting with the city over permits to get it restored to what it is today, but I think after a time they got the idea that we were actually improving the building and making it even more of what it once was. “

The afternoon luncheon was capped with a Cheese Course featuring a local gathering of Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog, Fiscalmi Cloth Bound Cheddar and Cow Girl Creamery Red Hawk, paired with 2008 Blackbird Vineyards Arise ($50), a stunning 100% Merlot from grapes sourced in the Oak Knoll district of Napa Valley in what was once a walnut orchard. The wine has a tantalizing aroma of Bing cherries and cassis with hints of plum and baking spices, intertwined with fine tannin that gives it a chewy, mild palate. I found myself swirling it around my mouth, as I tasted bits of the Humboldt Fog cheese.

More about those "little Blackbirds." Polenske sent every home with a Blackbird Vineyards Flock Box Collection ($48), which consists of six 50ml bottles representing each of the wines in the Blackbird portfolio. The idea is to allow the buyer to taste the wines, at a fraction of the cost, without having to invest in a full bottle. The Flock Box earned a coveted spot in O Magazine’s “O List” Holiday Gift Guide. Needless to say, the Flock Box is a hit.

About that snow, it finally materialized in a cloudy mist high over Howell Mountain just as the afternoon barrel tasting of lots from the Oak Knoll District was underway at Peju winery. It appeared off in the distance looking like a mist of clouds on the far horizon, just as the afternoon sun was setting. It made for a nice photo op as I lifted a glass of Cakebread Cellars 2009 Red Wine Blend, Lot No. 10 in the 2011 Premiere Napa Valley Auction catalog. Pretty!

Friday, February 25, 2011

One of a Kind: Premiere Napa Valley 2011

1. Caldwell Director of Winemaking Marbue Marke with Dwight The Wine Doctor

2. Caldwell Vineyards Founder John Caldwell with Christopher Pappe, Chatterbox of Napa, a direct sales marketing and data services firm

3. The Coombsville Vintners & Growers tasting in the 20,000 sq ft wine caves of Porter Family Vineyard

4. An example of fossil art at MA(i)SONRY Napa Valley

5. Blackbird Vineyards Winemaker Aaron Pott (l) and Proprietor Michael Polenske (r) with Dwight Casimere (c)

Story and Photos by Dwight Casimere

Napa, California--Premiere Napa Valley is one of the wine industry’s must-attend gatherings. It is held exclusively for members of the wine trade and press who taste barrel futures of the world’s rarest wines and mix and mingle with the winemakers who crafted them. For the past 14 years, Napa Valley’s top winemakers have auctioned off futures of these ultra-boutique wines to restaurant owners, distributors and private collectors. Because the wines are so rare, and produced in such small quantities, 60 to 240 bottles at most, the wines command top dollar and intense bidding at the annual Premiere Auction. It is truly a one-of-a-kind event.

The same can be said for the personalities behind the wine. They are as individual as the innovative wines they produce. Each winemaker has a pioneering story to tell and a unique aspect to their character. Take winemaker Marbue Marke of Caldwell Collection, for example. He is the only winemaker in the Napa Valley of African decent. Born in Sierra Leone, he studied at UC Davis and after matriculating in the cellars at the likes of Benziger (Associate Winemaker under Joe Benziger), is now the Director of Winemaking for Caldwell Vineyard and Winery. Founder John Caldwell, whose story of how he smuggled French Bordeaux clones into the Napa Valley reads like the script to an Indiana Jones sequel, said of Marke, ”he’s without question the best winemaker in the Napa Valley. It’s a shame that he is also one of the few winemakers of color in the entire valley. I wish there were many more like him. His intuition is astounding. He’s brought a sense of excitement and innovation to the process of winemaking that has really pushed our efforts at Caldwell to a higher level. Marbue is part of what propels the Napa Valley and the Coombsville Appellation in particular into the forefront of the world’s wine-producing stage.”

Caldwell, who bears a striking resemblance to Hugh Hefner, spoke of his adventures at a Preview sampling of Coombsville Premiere Napa Barrel Lots in the expansive 20,000 square foot caves of Porter Family Vineyards. It seemed an appropriate setting to recount the harrowing crusade of how he single-handedly became the first Californian to discover and import rootstocks and grapevine clones from France, which are now referred to as “Caldwell Clones.” His Bordeaux-style vineyards, nestled amidst the rolling foothills of the Coombsville District have set an industry standard for Bordeaux-style vineyards and are the bedrock for his signature wines, “Gold”, “Silver”, and “Rocket Science”. The new varietals collection represents the culmination of his work over the past quarter century.

Similarly, winemaker Bob Biale of Robert Biale Vineyards is a one-of-a-kind winemaker, who sees himself as, in his words, “a preservationist.” His winery produces 17 varieties of Zinfandel, a grape he considers to be near extinct in the Napa Valley. “Zinfandel was once one of the signature grapes of the Napa Valley, but after its heyday in the ‘70s, it fell out of favor and everyone started ripping it out and planting Cabernet. Cabernet is king in the Napa Valley, but there are still a few of us who believe in Zinfandel and are determined to give it a home.” His almost zealous devotion to Zinfandel has won him considerable acclaim. Considered, by many, to be a cult figure in the production of Zinfandel, Biale believes that he is upholding a tradition. The Biale family, like many immigrants from Northern Italy, began growing Zinfandel grapes in the Napa Valley in the 1930s. “This is something I inherited from my grandfather. It’s part of my family heritage and an important part of California history. I’m determined not to let it just go by the wayside!”

Biale’s Black Chicken blend is a throwback to the traditional blends made by many immigrant Italian families during “the day.”

“The term ‘Black Chicken’ was a code word people would use when ordering wine off the ‘back porch,’ Biale recoungted with a sly grin. “They would call the farm and rattle off an order for vegetables in Italian and then say, “and add on two black chickens.” What they really meant was that they were ordering a couple of bottles of wine, which was illegal to sell at that time, which was during Prohibition.”

The architecturally stunning space of MA(i)SONRY, a winery collective showroom-cum-art gallery in the quaint little town of Yountville, nestled amongst the vineyards of the valley floor, was the showcase for an elite collection of wines hosted by the owner and winemaker of Blackbird Vineyards.

Michael Polenske, Proprietor of Blackbird Vineyards and Aaron Pott, Winemaker, presided over a tasting of Blackbird’s newest releases and their Barrel Lot offering for the Premiere Napa Auction. The tasting also featured tasting flights from MA(i)SONRY collective wineries Lail Vineyards, featuring their outstanding flagship Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 Lail Vineyards J. Daniel Cuvee, Juslyn Vineyards 2006 Perry’s Blend and 2005 Spring Mountain Cabernet, among others, Husic Vineyards 2005 Cab and 2008 Chardonnay and 2009 Adagio 100% Vermentino. Nestled amongst the collection of artworks, created from animal fossils and skeletal bones, it made for an eclectic experience of mingling the art of winemaking with the plastic arts. Judging from the feeling of those among the ultra-chic, well-dressed crowd, it was a combination that melded quite well.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Behind The Scenes at the Food Network South Beach Food & Wine Festival 2011

Story by Dwight Casimere and Guest Reporter Myra Handy

Photos by Elise Jackson

South Beach, Miami Beach, Florida—When Food Network TV stars Rachel Ray, Bobby Flay and Paula Deen take the stage at this weekend’s 2011 Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, they can thank a dedicated troupe of behind the scenes ‘stars’ who help make it all possible. Students at the Florida International University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, one of the highest rated hospitality and tourism programs in the U.S. have been working tirelessly for days to set the stage for this monumental event.

The Food Network festival benefits FIU HTM. Now in its s10th year, the Festival has raised over $12 million for the School, which has provided scholarships, support of educational programs, and an expansion and renovation of a full-service Teaching Restaurant, complete with state-of-the-art equipment.

Hundreds of students converged on the Miami Beach Convention Center to prep for the Bobby Flay and Friends Perrier-Jouet Bubble Q. Bobby Flay, master of the barbecue, cooks it up in person at this perennial favorite outdoor party. Presented by Allen Brothers and sponsored by Miami Magazine, the Bubble Q is one of the festival’s biggest and most exciting events. This is Flay’s third time hosting this signature event and sadly, his last, as the tenth edition will be its last. The grillmaster, himself, will lead a cadre of skilled chefs who will artfully prepare everything from gourmet pulled pork sandwiches to succulent steaks and saucy ribs. Lucky guests who snagged tickets to the $350 per person, sold-out event, will get to cool their heels in the Godiva Lounge afterward for an unforgettable special dessert created by Godiva Senior Chef, Chocolatier David Funaro. This is the “finger-lickin” swan song to the biggest Bubbles and Barbecue bash ever!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Miami International Boat Show a showcase for the Suite Life!

1. The Afri-Cat with Guest Reporter Myra Handy at the helm

2. Boschendal wine rep Alister Glen with Elise Jackson of Miami

3. Water taxi view of Downtown Miami skyline

4. Captain JoAnn of Discover Boating Resource Center

5. Anthony Okonmah, Exec. Dir. La Foundation Pour La Democratie En Afrique with South African Consul General George Monyemangene

Story and photos by Guest Reporter Myra Handy

There Is no other boating event in the country that provides boaters with the opportunity to shop the best and biggest selection of boats and accessories. With thousands of products to choose from in one of the best boating destinations in the world and dozens of activities the whole family can enjoy, the Miami International Boat Show is the place to find out why life is better with a boat, according to Cathy Rick-Joule, show manager. The educational courses offered by Discover Boating Resource Center also allows travel enthusiasts the opportunity to gather information that will enhance the enjopyment of their hobby.

From personal watercraft and performance boats to sport fishers and mega-yachts, visitors will get the rare opportunity to board and compare boat brands side by side, bargain for the best price and find exclusive show specials on the newest marine accessories and electronics. In addition to the vast selection of boats and marine electronics for sale and hundreds of products making their world debut, there are a wide array of attractions for boaters of all ages to enjoy during the five-day event.

The show was held simultaneously at 3 different locations, Miami Beach Convention Center, Sea Isle Marina & Yachting Center on Bayshore Drive, Miami, Miamarine @ Bayside and across from the Fontainebleau Hotel on 44th and Collins Avenue. The show continues through February 21.

Miami Boat Show a showcase for the Good Life!

Photos 1-5. Scenes from the nation's largest in-the-water boat show on Biscayne Bay off the Marriott in downtown Miami

Guest Reporter Myra Handy

Story and photos by Myra Handy

The 70th annual Miami Boat International Boat Show & Strictly Sail Miami is one of the world's largest boating events. It runs this weekend, February 17-21. This event showcases thousands of the newest powerboats,

sailboats, electronics and marine accessories from more than 2000 leading manufacturers from around the world. The newest and best attraction was the Discovery Boating RESOURCE CENTER, a boating educational experience offering free boat rides, on the water training

courses, and daily seminars.

The 2011 Miami Boat Show is the ultimate destination to discover and renew safe boating skills.. The Discovery

Boating Resource Center offered the best training and hands-on boating experience. It added a special touch to this years boat show.

Captains Tom, Larry, Joan, Mark and Jim were well qualified and anxious to teach their boating skills. The courses included navigation, jet propulsion, close maneuver handling of small boats, sailing, scuba diving and joystick maneuvers. All the captains were wonderful and I took advantage of all the courses.

On Friday, February 18, the South African Consulate General, George Monyemangene, from New York and the South African Boat Builders Export

Counsel sponsored a networkiung reception at the Hard Rock Café, Miami to celebrate South Africa's 6th year at the show.

The Afri-Cat, a 42' Catamaran, was presented for sale at the show. This was the definite show stopper. This 22' beam vessel has three staterooms and two heads, with

an elegant, roomy interior. Go to for more information or contact Walt Strazalkowski, the USA Sales Representative in Boyton Beach, FL.

The refreshing wine at the reception was supplied by

Alister Glen, the Regional Sales Manager of Boschendal, the maker of Beach House White Wines and Douglas Green Red Wines. Boschendal is the second-oldest winery established in 1683 in South Africa. It is South Africa’s most awarded wine estate of 2004, having won South African Wine Producer of the Year, IWSC Awards, Oondon, 2004. Part of the present Boschendal winery was originally the cellar for Le Rhone Manor House, built in 1795. The winery dates back to the time of the Huguenot’s. Their wines can be purchased at Whole Foods nationwide and PUBLIX in Miami for about $9 a bottle. It’s a real bargain for the money. Anchors Aweigh!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Italian Wine Master hold "Supreme Court" in Miami

1. Identifying labels on Italian wine
2. Sir Ezio Rivella of the Italian Wine Masters
3. Elvira Maria Bortolomiol, Board Member, Consorzio Tutela Conegliano Valdobbiadene
4. The Grand Tasting at the newly opened JW Marriott Marquis, downtown Miami
5. Dwight The Wine Doctor with the Italian Wine Masters

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Miami—“The Italian Wine Masters,” representing the four most prestigious DOCG wine regions of Italy: Brunello Di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, Vine Nobile Di Montepulciano and Conegliano Vadobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, continued their multi-year collaboration by kicking off their U.S. tour in Miami. The setting, at the newly opened JW Marriott Marquis in downtown Miami, followed by a showcase at the New York Hilton in New York City, amounted to a virtual “Supreme Court” of Italian wine.

The grand tasting featured more than a hundred producers sampling their latest releases, including 2006 Brunello di Montalcino and 2005 Brunello Riserva as well as 2008 and 2009 Chianti Classico. These are the ‘crown jewels’ of Italian wine, much coveted by collectors and owners of fine dining restaurants. Many of the wines showcased are in limited supply and only available at the finest wine shops and restaurants. Many others represent a great value for the money.

One of the major objectives of the seminars and tastings was an opportunity to not only showcase the variety and quality of Italian wines, but to also demystify the Italian government’s system of wine classification and identification, which is soon to be adopted by the major wine producing countries of the world.

The Italian Wine Masters included Sir Ezio Rivella, founder of Banfi SpA wines of Italy and President of the Italian Enologist Association, Italian Consul General Marco Rocca, Giuseppe Libertore, Director of the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico, Elvira Maria Bortolomiol, Vice President of Bortolomiol SpA and Board Member, Consorzio Tutela Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Federico Cartelli, Estate Owner, Azienda Agricola Poliziano and President, Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Deciphering Italian wine labels can be one of the barriers to consumers to appreciating the great wines of Italy. The most important components of an Italian wine label are the place of origin and the grape variety. Knowing the unique grapes of Italy and having a geographic sense of where they come from will get you through the most confusing wine labels.

First of all, Italian wines are named after their place of origin. Next, the law divides wines into three main categories: DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata or protected place name, DOCG, Denominatzione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or guaranteed place name, and IGT, Indicazione Geografica Tipica or typical place name. About 300 Italian wine growing areas are DOC. Wines pass a strict taste test and chemical analysis to earn the designation. DOCG has a stricter set of guidelines. IGT wines almost most meet grape varietal and geographic standards, but the standards are less strict. About 120 areas are IGT in Italy. In most cases, the designations DOCG and DOC denote a superior Italian wine.

The name of the grape variety is also found on the label. Grapes such as Sangiovese from Chianti and Nebbiolo from Barolo are among the most common names you’ll see. There are also words on the label that will indicate the type of wine produced, such as spumante (sparkling), dolce (sweet), bianco (white), secco (dry), rosso (red), and chiaretto (rose). Other words on the label refer to the winery such as vigna or vigneto (vineyard), tenuta (estate) or produttore (producer). Learning to read an Italian wine label will almost give you a primer on the Italian language. Being able to read a label while entertaining guests at a restaurant will automatically make you seem like a connoisseur!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

America's best wines showcased in elegant Florida gala

1. Bacchus, the God of Wine greets attendees
2. The "Goddess" of Wine
3. A patron bids on a Silent Auction item
4. Hawk and Horse Vineyards' Mitch Hawkins
5. The "Red Carpet" welcomes!
6. DINE Magazine's Patrick Sullivan with Master Sommelier Virginia Philip, Judges for 2011 American Fine Wine Competition
7. Wine Event Planner Martha Lorenzo
8. Freda Porter, one of the owners of Atticus Wine, Willamette Valley, Oregon
9. Crystal Blayloch Sanchez, Board Member DRI, whose 11 year old son, Matthew, has been diagnosed with diabetes
10. Dwight The Wine Doctor and Shari Gherman, President, American Fine Wine Competition

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Fort Lauderdale, Florida—Tasting 600 of the finest wines produced in the United States was just one of the highlights of the 4th Annual American Fine Wine Competition 2011 Gala Dinner held at the luxurious, port-side Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six in this paradise of a city near Miami. A wine-inspired four-course dinner, prepared by the Hyatt’s expert culinary team, featured “Wine Angels” who poured tableside. Many of them were the actual winemakers and winery owners who were happy to expound on the virtues of their award-winning wines.

The menu, presented by Miguel Santiago and Gregory McGowan, the Hyatt’s Executive Chef team, featured a variety of tropically inspired delicacies that brought out the perfume, floral and herbal essences of the wines.

Shari Gherman, President of the American Fine Wine Competition, circulated among the tables of the sold-out event, which was attended by about a thousand people, perhaps the greatest turnout in the event’s history. “This competition and the gala were created not only with the idea of providing a showcase and raising awareness of the hundreds of amazing wines produced here in the United States, but to raise money to support two very important charities.”

Sun Sentinel Children’s Fund, which over the past decade has raised over $40 million to support charities in the South Florida area and Diabetic Research Institute, DRI. A portion of the ticket sales and the live auction and 100% of the silent auction proceeds benefits the two charities.

Patriot National Insurance Group, the Presenting Sponsor for the second year in a row, and a supporting sponsor since the event’s inception, put their unique stamp on the event, with expertly designed ice-sculptures displaying the company’s logo and encasing a bottle of wine. It was an artistic touch that added to the elegance of the evening. Patriot President and CEO, Steven Mariano, acting as the evening’s host, quoted legendary American winemaker Robert Mondavi, saying “Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. Its warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It’s culture. It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living. Guest emcee Alan Kalter, announcer for The Late Show with David Letterman escaped the chilly climes of his Connecticut home to lend his humor and charm to the proceedings. Entertainment ranged from the smooth jazz sounds of Dayve Stewart & the Vibe to the soulful Motown Sounds of Temptations singer Richard Street and his new ‘Temptations’ Band. A highlight of the evening and a real draw for live auction bidders was the performance art of Michael Israel, who creates electrifying images of Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen to the rhythms of rock. Michael has raised thousands for worthwhile charities around the world and has performed lived before arena-sized audiences. His performance art has been called Cirque du Soleil meets Picasso.

Some of the wines that I tasted at the Gala were truly outstanding. Silver Medal winner Sokol Blosser 2008 Dundee Hills Oregon Pinot Noir $38) had all of the sophisticated, sun-bright fruit character that Oregon Pinot in known for. It had exceptional fruit and a delicate balance of flavor that made for a satisfying sensation on the palate.

Gold Medal winner Hartwell Vineyards 2007 Miste Hill Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) from Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District is truly the connoisseur’s choice. First of all, 2007 was a banner year for Bordeaux varietals in the Napa Valley. Hartwell’s winemakers culled the fruit to achieve maximum concentration, resulting in a wine that is rich in jammy fruit, grenadine and with coffee and caramel overtones. It went fantastically with the Malbec braised beef short ribs in the main course.

I next sampled wines from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, starting with Silver Medal winner Atticus Wine 2007 Pinot Noir from Yamhill, Oregon. I was actually poured the wine by one of the owners, Freda Porter, an absolutely lovely, dark-haired beauty who is native to one of the my favorite cities in the world, Galway, Ireland. Galway is an ancient seafaring capitol that is a real artistic and culinary find. Each July, they hold one of the best Arts Festivals in Europe. Freda studied culinary arts and winemaking in Italy and Greece and has become a culinary master at combining the cuisines of Greece with her Celtic roots. Our conversation, though brief, was illuminating and made me want to arrange a trip to the winery and the region to learn more.

“We made only 150 cases of this wine,” Freda told me as she poured the ruby-colored wine into my glass. “This may be your only opportunity to taste it, unless you go to a restaurant that has it on their wine list. You may be able to get a case or two online.” I can see why the wine is sold out. It is an elegant blend of handpicked grapes from the Yamhill Springs Vineyard. Subtle aromas of raspberry, jasmine and pomegranate suffuse the wine. It is delicate on the palate, yet deeply expressive. I tasted the Hawaiian Blue Prawns along with the wine, but stopped eating the food in deference to the lingering, bright cherry finish of the wine. It was truly one of the pleasures of the evening.

One of the more interesting encounters of the evening was with the wine, Cubanisimo Vineyards 2008 Estate Pinot Noir ($30), also from the Willamette Valley. The name prompted my guest, who is of Cuban heritage, to enquire about the origin of the owners. It turns out that the owner and founder, Dr. Mauricio Collada, is a native of Havana. He came to Miami with his family in the ‘60s to escape the Castro regime and became fascinated with making wines at home from local fruit. His passion for wine continued as he pursued his medical degree at the University of Miami in Florida. After completing his neurosurgery residency, he moved to Oregon and became entranced with the Willamette Valley and its Pinot Noirs. It was an easy decision to purchase the 21-acre parcel in Eola-Amity Hills in the Willamette Valley that would become Cubanisimo Vineyards. The name, by the way, means “very Cuban.”

I finished the evening with some luscious dessert wine from the Hawk and Horse Vineyards of Calistoga, California. General Manager Mitch Hawkins poured a glass of the 2006 Red Hills Latigo Cabernet Sauvignon Dessert Wine ($45 375 ml, $85 750ml). “This is for all intensive purposes and ‘Icewine,’” he explained. I told him I had recently visited the Icewine vineyards of Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada. “If you’ve had those Icewines, then you’ll really appreciate what we’re doing in Lake County,”

The wine had a delicious dark chocolate flavor with his of dark cherries and currants. It had a luscious, silky mouth-feel that completely overshadowed the ginger and lemon grass-infused Crème Brulee served for dessert. The wine is complete in and of itself. It needed no accompaniment. Bravo, Mitch!