There is no doubt that I am blessed with the ability to do a lot of fun, wine- and food-related activities. Five of them happened in close succession over a recent week and I decided to write about them as a group. All were unique events, but each embodies a lot of what is good about the hospitality business.
We’re doing it again! Wine On The Road is participating in a Champagne and Burgundy pre-tour get-together for potential clients with his old friends Daniel Stern (of legendary R2L Restaurant) and Brian Freedman (@wineupdate). We start at 6:30 P.M. on Thursday, April 9, Click Here for reservations or call (215) 564-5337.
If you’re interested in coming along with Dan, Brian, and Ben on a behind-the-scenes, wine-focused tour of Champagne and Burgundy (October 4-11, 2015), or if you just want more information about this tour, Click Here.
Another fun consumer tour we’re planning involves legendary wine blogger, writer, and lecturer Joe Roberts (the 1WineDude) and Ben leading a group to Madrid and Rioja, Spain (November 1-8, 2015). If you’d like more information about this tour please Click Here.
Ben will be with Joe in Philadelphia on April 28th for a Rioja wine dinner at Bar Ferdinand to talk more about the tour. Click Here for dinner reservations or call (215) 923-1313.
Also check out Wines of Rioja’s bi-monthly newsletter at http://us.riojawine.com/files/newsletters/2015/2015-02-consumer.html (we’ve been working with WoR on our itinerary and they are an enthusiastic supporter of our tour).
Doing Denver’s Wine and Food Scene
First up was a March 5 tasting of Duckhorn’s wines at Elway’s Restaurant in Cherry Creek. The Duckhorn Winemaker Tour brought many of this portfolio’s winemakers together in one place, and I took the opportunity to meet them all, including those from Duckhorn Vineyards, Goldeneye, Paraduxx, Migration, and Decoy. I was also among the first to taste the inaugural Canvasback Red Mountain Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon. I found myself gravitating toward the Duckhorn and Decoy wines, perhaps because I consider them true expressions of NorCal terroir.
An Empson Imports Italian portfolio tasting was scheduled at the same time as the Duckhorn tasting at the nearby Barolo Grill, so on the way home I hopped over there to try a few wines. One of the things this tasting confirmed for me was that, although many commentators have praised Italy’s 2010 vintage to the moon, I find it to be an excellent but not one-of-a-kind year, along the lines of 2004, 2006, and 2008. But beware of the 2011s! They generally pale in comparison to the wines of 2010.
A few days of rest led to Cochon 555 in Denver, one of more than 20 such festivals put on around the country created and produced by Brady Lowe. The weekend began on Friday, March 6th, with the Chef’s Course Dinner hosted by Chris Thompson of The Nickel and featuring a “A Nickel Bag of Porc” paired with Washington state wines and introductions to each course from guest chefs Paul Reilly, Justin Brunson, Theo Adley, and Matt Selby.
On Saturday I attended a Large Format Feast hosted by Executive Chef Nelson Perkins of Colt & Gray in an epic “Big Beef vs. Heritage Pig” four-course dinner paired with wines from Antica Napa Valley. This national dinner series features chefs who are reinventing the traditional steakhouse experience by spotlighting the growing popularity of heritage pork on their menus.
An Antica Napa Valley Wines Seminar at the Ritz-Carlton Denver led off Sunday’s events and allowed a fascinating comparison between that winery’s flagship Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon (from the Townsend Vineyard, only made in great years such as 2012) and Antinori’s prized Vermentino and Tignanello (the first Super Tuscan!). Immediately after the seminar came the main event, Cochon 555, featuring seven different heritage breed pigs cooked or butchered by local culinary champions. This event started with five amazing chefs in a friendly culinary competition, encompassed by a 90 minute voting period, where attendees cast their votes for the best bite of the day. This year’s competitors included Kelly Whitaker of Basta, John Little of Harman’s Eat & Drink, Christopher Thompson of The Nickel, Rich Byers of the Corner Office, and Matt Vawter of Mercantile Dining & Provision.
During all of this porky mayhem a butcher demo was going on, and when the butchering ended and voting concluded, the organizers rolled out pig number six that was raised by a family farm and prepared in a late-night BBQ Tradition format with all five competing chef teams coming to the center of the floor for a family meal. Immediately following that was Cochon 555’s signature dessert course called Swine & Sweets, a mélange of bacon-infused chocolate, bacon popcorn, ice cream, and other special treats prepared by local confectioners. Lastly, all the chefs were called to the stage for the awards ceremony followed by an after-party at Euclid Hall.
For the record, Chef Matt Vawter of Mercantile Dining & Provision was crowned the Prince of Porc and advances to Snowmass/Aspen for a double-hit weekend in June Including Grand Cochon and Heritage Fire. Chef Matt won the event with the most popular breed of pig called the Berkshire raised by Cone Ranch, which originated in Britain and is a favorite among chefs because of its intramuscular marbling. This breed yields brighter pork than most and features a thick, delicious fat cap. Chef Matt’s dishes included BBQ Pork Belly Corn Dog topped with Mustard Marmalade, Porchetta di Testa with Tongue & Neck Cheese, Scrapple Croutons and Back Fat Aioli, Foie Gras and Duck Banh Mi, Pork Shank Potato Gnocchi, Apricot Blood Sausage infused with Curried Chickpeas and Golden Raisin Chutney, and to close, a Valrhona Blood Pot de Cremè.
Three days later came Giuliana Imports Italian portfolio tasting, a bacchanal held at the company’s warehouse near downtown Denver. Giuliana’s owner, Steve Lewis, always throws a good party and this was no exception, with tremendous wines from all over that wonderful country and terrific snacks including wood-fired pizza. A selection of Giuliana’s olive oils were also on display, and I encourage anyone who enjoys great oil to order from the easy-to-use website at www.goliveoil.com.
The final event I attended prior to my upcoming trip to Italy (I leave tomorrow (Friday), be sure to follow me on Twitter @WineOnTheRoad to keep up with my journey) came in the form of a box of wine from Ruffino in Tuscany, which was co-hosting a Twitter-based “virtual tasting” with Snooth. Gabriele Tacconi, only the 4th winemaker in the 100+ year history of Ruffino, hosted this live Twitter-based tasting on March 10, ensuring that I was among the first to sample the Riserva Ducale Oro “Gran Selezione” 2010, this winery’s first-ever wine produced under the newly-created top tier Gran Selezione designation. This elevated classification was established in 2014 by the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico and is meant to highlight the best of the best.
It’s hard to write at length about all of the wine- and food-related events I attend. I could also have mentioned my recent time with Erica Crawford at Panzano’s Restaurant sampling Loveblock wines from New Zealand, or lunches with Veronique Dausse of Phelan Segur and Megan Stockton and the wines of Allegrini. But I think this gives you some idea of what I consider to be a pretty good week from a hedonist’s point of view.
As for the actual wines, I include my tasting notes at the end of the column in shorthand that goes like this: appearance (if relevant)/aroma/taste/acidity & finish. If I can find a domestic retail price then I list it (if there is more than one I err on the higher side), with “N/A” meaning that the wine is not generally available in the U.S.
Ben has been invited to tour luxury villas in Florence, Rome, and Perugia, Italy at the end of March. Follow along with him on Twitter (@WineOnTheRoad), Facebook (Wine On The Road), LinkedIn (Benjamin Weinberg) and Foursquare (Ben Weinberg).
BEN’S WINE COUNTRY PICTURES ARE FOR SALE
Have you ever read one of Ben’s columns and wondered how it would look to have one of his incredibly vivid, high resolution pictures of wine country framed on your wall? We’re now offering various size prints of his quirky photography at Pixels.com, where you can also add his images to smartphone cases, greeting cards, and many other items. Pictures can be ordered loose or matted and framed in various sizes. Click Here to take a peek.
WINE ON THE ROAD’S LUXURIOUS, BEHIND-THE-SCENES WINE TOURS
With Wine On The Road (www.wineontheroad.com), my wine-focused touring company, you can enjoy the ultimate wine country excursion with special access to top winemakers and their incomparable wines. Wine On The Road offers intimate wine country tours that combine award-winning wines and exquisite dining and lodging with uniquely local flair and flavor. We lodge at excellent and luxurious wine country estates (in the past we’ve occupied ancient yet completely restored castles as well as five-star resorts, all with modern amenities). We eat at amazing local restaurants and visit wineries that embody the best, most authentic expressions of local wine grapes.
You can learn more about these trips, book private groups in wine country world-wide and request more information on any of these extraordinary travel experiences by visiting www.wineontheroad.com, emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling me at 303-522-6738.
2010 Ferghettina Franciacorta Rose (Franciacorta, Italy) $57
Rose/pinkch, orange/ash, prickly pear/hilong
2013 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc (Napa Valley, California) $22
Ltyel/peach, orange/grgrape ginger/hilong
2013 Antinori Guado al Tasso Vermentino Estate DOC (Tuscany, Italy) $16
Bright yel/cuke ginger/star fruit, yel pear/hilong
2014 Antica Chardonnay Estate (Napa Valley, California) $40
Gold yel/peach, yel apple/br sug, ginger/himod
2012 Goldeneye Pinot Noir Estate Anderson Valley Gowan Creek (Mendocino County, California) $80
Dkred/graphite, redcurr/blkrasp, brsug/hilong
2012 Canvasback Cabernet Sauvignon Red Mountain (Yakima Valley, Washington) $40
Blkred/blkcurr, mint/cola redrasp/hilong
2011 Paradux Red Blend (Napa Valley, California) $35
Plum/blkpep, pomegr/blkb, blueb, dkchoc/hilong
2007 Costanti Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) $110
Rust/redch, ginger/blkb, ash/himod
2009 Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva (Tuscany, Italy) $36
Rustred/leather, redch/blk tea, blkberry/hilong
2012 Antica Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley, California) $58
Dkred/blkch, cola/toast, gravel, smoke/hilong
2012 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico (Tuscany, Italy) $27
Bright red/darkch, cinn, allspice/cedar, red curr/hilong
2010 Mauro Molino Barbera d’Alba Gattera (Piedmont, Italy) $30
Ltruby/mint, sous bois, black licorice/red cherry, black plum/himod
2010 Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale d’Oro (Tuscany, Italy) $40
Blkred/tar, leather, redch/grtea, dust, smoke/hilong