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The New Orleans Food and Wine Experience Grand Tasting

Posted by perle0 on 2004-06-06 02:34:51 (5699 views)


One or two people attended the Grand Tasting on Saturday.The “Big Event” of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience is the Grand Tasting. This part of the Experience is so popular that it is held on two different days, to accommodate the numbers who attend. Certainly the day I went, Saturday, was so crowded that I wouldn’t have wanted too many more people there, drinking MY wine.

These wine glasses were among the most attractive non-digestible items on display.There was a little bit of wine to be drunk there. The vast majority of the approximately 245 exhibit spaces were occupied by wineries or directly wine-related groups, such as the Australian Wine Bureau. Each one offered at least 3 wines, often more, for tasting. Thank goodness a small percentage of the exhibitors were local restaurants, offering samples of their food, or people might have been passed out on the floor. A smattering of booths even offered neither food nor wine— touting, for instance, wine storage solutions or wine jewelry. I would still estimate that a minimum of 600 different wines were available for tasting during a three-hour window. Forgive me if my memory of the event is a bit fuzzy at points.

Most booths offered a large selection of wines to taste and judge.The basic drill was simple. You picked a starting point, and approached a booth. You brought a glass with you, and perhaps a little tray with holders for your glass and a small plate. The trays made negotiating the food samples and a full glass a bit less precarious, but not everyone bothered with them. People hung on to the same glass for the most part, but extras were on hand for those who lost track of theirs.

Attendees weren’t the only ones chillin’ at the Grand Tasting.At the booth, you’d request a sample of the wine you wanted to try. A friendly representative from the winery would pour up a generous sample, and you’d taste it, and perhaps ask a question or two about it. What kinds of food does it go with? How does it compare with the merlot? How is this wine produced? Where can I purchase it?

If you were a true purist, determined to sample as many wines as possible in the time available, you could then pour your remaining wine into one of the many “slop buckets” on every table, then rinse it with water and empty it into the bucket, leaving your glass clean for the next taste. Louisiana wine drinkers being what they are, however, I saw very few people taking this approach. Most polished off their samples before going for the rinse. I must admit that I felt guilty enough about wasting perfectly good wine that I dutifully polished off most of my samples.

Most of the wines offered at the tasting are available locally at supermarkets or wine stores. (After all, it would not make much sense for a vintner to participate if he can’t sell his wine to the new fans he might gain.) They also tended to be in the lower-to-medium price ranges for wine. I was inspired to buy two wines after the event, an Italian dessert wine and a Bonny Doon riesling. Both were priced at around $15 locally, and both were wines I would not have been likely to try somewhere else. I also noted one Best of Show winner, Fetzer Reserve Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vinyard 2002, as worth future consideration—retailing at around $35, it’s beyond my price range for everyday purchases, but good to remember for the next time I want to buy a truly special red.

Fetzer picked up three medalsone for Best of Show, and two Bronze Medals.Prizes are awarded to various wines at the Food and Wine Experience. Lots of prizes, in fact. At times it seemed as though every other bottle bore a ribbon and medal indicating a win. This was partly due to the fact that it was sometimes difficult to distinguish medals for Best of Show, Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners. Also, winners from past years might be displayed with their medals,
and the medals quickly began to blend together. Still, the top prize winners were often worthy, and the medals did give a person one way to decide which wines to taste from among the many candidates. A list
of all the 2004 winners
is available online.

I wish I could give you a list of all the wonderful wines that I tried, with detailed notes about all of them. Alas, I was focused on tasting as many as possible, and did wines. A few wines got mental notes to buy ASAP; a few others got mental notes to buy when I need a good wine. The rest got a quick “mmm,” “hmm,” or “yech,” depending entirely on my own personal reaction to the sample. One of the nicer aspects of this event for me was the opportunity to try several good dessert wines, which are often not cheap and therefore risky for me to take a chance on. I found several that I’d like to try again, such as the surprisingly good Messina Hof wines from Texas or Campbell’s Rutherglen Tokay from Australia. Mostly, I got a flash that will hopefully return to me next time I’m in the wine section, trying to decide which $8-$15 bottle of wine to spend my hard-earned cash on.

This vest made entirely of corks was a big hit. It didn’t hurt that its wearer was handing out escargot-stuffed mushroom caps.The food offerings suffered much the same fate. They were often delicious, but this was mostly noted while scarfing them down, having already forgotten which restaurant or market sponsored them. Two exceptions, both cheese-related, were notable enough to etch themselves into my wine-soaked brain. Whole Food Market offered three cheeses, one a stilton served on a cracker with a fig-based spread. The combination was sufficiently delicious that I plan to seek out that fig spread next time I make a Whole Foods trek to New Orleans. The other cheese revelation was a booth sponsored by, which offered a selection of eleven incredible gourmet cheeses from around the world. I am not ashamed to say that I tried a bit of each one, and they were amazing. Only one, Boddington’s Cheddar with Pickles (a cheddar mixed with ale and pickle bits), was just not my cup of cheese. The others were all incredible, and ranged from a Vermont-made camembert, to a spreadable gorgonzola, to a chocolate goat cheese that resembled chocolate-flavored cream cheese. If you enjoy cheese and have trouble finding interesting ones locally, the people at igourmet seem to know where to find the good ones.

Well-known New Orleans food critic Tom Fitzmorris emceed this cooking demo by a chef from Restaurant August.There were other things going on at the Grand Tasting as well. Three different cooking demonstrations were offered for those who wanted a break from the non-stop wine tasting. I watched a bit of the second one, sponsored by Restaurant August, but missed tasting the result, which I was told was an excellent asparagus vichyssoise.

All in all, the Grand Tasting was a grand success. Attendees had huge amounts of fun, drank vast quantities of wine, identified wines for future investigation, and sampled gourmet food. The exhibitors exposed their products to hundreds of potential buyers. It’s even possible that someone made money from the event. The $80 entry price ($85 at the door), though steep-sounding, was good value. I discovered several new wines to enjoy, and a number of others suitable for later, more leisurely exploration, at which time you can look for an appropriate tasting note.

Mark your calendars for next year’s New Orleans Wine and Food Experience. It returns next Memorial Day weekend, in 2005.


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