ENGAGING THE SENSES

Spending two full days with a bunch of sommeliers teaches many lessons, not the least of which is the old adage, “chacun à son gout,” which, if French is not to your taste, means, “everyone has her/her taste.” In other words, wine, like most of life, is a very subjective pursuit.

I spent such a pair of days last week with some of South Florida’s top sommeliers at the Best in Glass Wine Challenge, a taste-off that saw our intrepid pro palates plowing through 370 wines to find the best options to pour by the glass in their restaurants, and, by extension, in your home. And the old adage proved true – there were only 11 wines that provoked a unanimously positive response from our tasters (out of consideration for your taste buds, I have set aside the greater number of wines that provoked a unanimously negative impression).

BIG brought me new discoveries including this quintet of winning wines. [Photo: Lyn Farmer]

These 11 wines (2.9 percent of the entrants for the geekiest among you) that, by virtue of their unanimous acclaim earned a Double Gold Medal, spanned the gamut of style, grape variety and country of origin. Four of the wines were from California, three were from France, two were from Italy, and Spain and Greece each had one winner. Six of the wines are white (if you count the Champagne made exclusively from pinot noir) and five are red and all are absolutely delicious.

I was equally intrigued to find diversity of wineries among the 99 gold and double gold medal winners – there were actually a lot of properties represented. Only two winery properties, Castello Banfi in Tuscany and Proemio in Argentina, managed to grab four gold medals. Two wineries, Rubin Family Vineyards and Lafond Winery, both in California, managed to snare three gold medals and 14 wineries were able to win two medals. That means 71 other wineries also won gold medals, a pretty stunning occurrence, though I should note that there are several distinct wineries that have the same parent company guiding their quality standards.

When I look over the list, I am struck by the same thing I love to find when I survey a really good restaurant wine list – there are a lot of wines here I hadn’t heard of before. I’m dying now to try, among others, Boutari’s Moschofilero (a beautiful, lightly aromatic white wine), Pomar Junction’s Cotes de Pomar (a captivating blend of Rhône varietals roussanne, grenache blanc and viognier), a beautiful grand cru Champagne that Ernest Remy makes entirely from pinot noir, and the absolutely stunning late harvest gewurztraminer from Israel’s Carmel Winery. That list must also include a Basque wine, Errekalde Txakolina Hiruzta 2014 from Getariako Txakolina, Spain. It will take you less time to drink the bottle than it will to say the full name of the wine!

It was good to see old friends among the medal winners. [Photo: Lyn Farmer]

Some other wines on the gold medal roster are old friends that I haven’t tried in a long time, and I am eager to revisit: Dourthe’s Grand Cuvée sauvignon blanc is my wish list, as are the inexpensive and exceptionally food friendly BEX riesling, a value priced Bordeaux from Château Magnol, Marc Bredif’s vibrant Vouvray from the Loire Valley and Lafond’s pinot noir from Santa Rita Hills, a perennial gold medal winner at this competition that just gets better with every harvest.

We have posted the list of both the gold and the silver medal winners on the website so you can put together your own “must try” list. Many restaurants in South Florida will be featuring several of the gold medal wines during “Best in Glass Month,” September 9 to October 9, the five weeks leading up to the start of VeritageMiami. As we get closer to September we will post the list of participating restaurants so you can try as many of the Best in Glass wines as possible – the adventure begins and you get to decide what is best in your glass!

This past weekend, nearly 50 VeritageMiami volunteers and students from Johnson & Wales University (JWU) got together to help a group of South Florida’s best sommeliers taste through 365 wines to pick the wines that are truly Best in Glass.

As I noted last week, Best in Glass is a wine competition that is judged solely by working sommeliers and the aim is to select wines that are good prospects for by-the-glass pouring in restaurants. To this end, the sommeliers are told the price of each wine and take that into account in their otherwise blind tastings, where they are unaware of the specifics of the wines they are tasting. This is actually how many of us consumers buy our wines, too – we are very price conscious, and that rather obvious element is something that is missing from most wine competitions that focus instead primarily on quality. I’m all for quality wine, but if I can’t afford it, a high-quality wine still isn’t going to find its way onto my table.


One of two groups of sommelier judges at this year's Best in Glass Wine Challenge  [Photo: VeritageMiami]

We’ll announce all the medal winners next week on the VeritageMiami website, so this week I want only to salute our sommeliers and the rather unique camaraderie they share. Most of our sommelier judges know each other but, because they all work late hours, they seldom get to spend time together. One of the great contributions Best in Glass makes, I think, is the opportunity it gives to the many JWU culinary students who assist us to see the collegiality these sommeliers from competing restaurants share. They have fun, they enjoy each other’s company, they tell stories, they show a great deal of surprise when many wines are unveiled (and a justifiable grin when they correctly guessed a wine, too).

I treasure my time with these sommeliers, too. They have a unique view of the wine business, and I wish more wineries and sales people understood that if they care to know what consumers want, spending a little time with a sommelier would give them tremendous insight. Some consumers are afraid to ask a sommelier a question for fear of appearing ignorant, but the reality is usually the opposite – sommeliers appreciate questions and want to know your budget when you are at their restaurant. They want you to have a good time, and a bad wine experience is just as devastating as a bad food experience. At a restaurant, the chef is in the kitchen and seldom interacts with a customer, but the sommelier is there all the time, and has every reason in the world to want us wine lovers to be happy.

I can’t wait to share with you next week what I learned from our sommelier judges about what wines they think will thrill us consumers. They picked an unprecedented number of gold medal wines, and I look forward to tasting those with you in the coming six months as we lead up to the kickoff of VeritageMiami on October 5!