The vignoscenti turned out in their best duds last night for the annual Wine & Spirits Top 100 tasting, a gustatory tour de force highlighting the best of some 10,000 wines the mag’s staff samples annually. Many a back was slapped, luxe bubbly tippled and Hog Island oyster slurped against the winking backdrop of the SoMa skyline as seen from Cityview at the Metreon at dusk.
1) Star-Wattage: A bevy of vinous who’s-who types mingled with hundreds of sommeliers, retailers, writers, winemakers and importers. On the terrace, dapper Frenchman – and hubby of Gina Gallo and new owner of historic Buena Vista winery in Sonoma – Jean-Charles Boisset double-kissed his way to a film crew for an interview, while Joel Peterson – AKA the Raven Maven, Godfather of Zin and founder of Ravenswood - palled around with hilarious wine scribe W. Blake Gray indoors.
2) Oyster Frenzy: I bumped into Wine & Spirits associate editor Luke Sykora near the Hog Island table. After sharing that the mag was very pleased with the event, he announced – obviously relieved everything was underway and going smoothly – “Now I’m going to eat 25 oysters!...No, 50 oysters!” He dashed off to do just that, no doubt also taking advantage of the adjacent Dom Pérignon and Cristal for pairings.
3) Funny Food Mix: Sardines-meet-chocolate-meet-sausages? The food offerings definitely were not the main event, which may explain why the selection was more than a little random. Happily, what was there was delicious, and a vinous partner in crime could always be found; Txoko’s offering - tangy Spanish white anchovies on toasted Acme bread with Roma tomatoes – paired superbly with a dry Pedro Romero Manzanilla Sherry. Other highlights were bites from Kika’s Treats and Leopold’s.
4) Get to the Greek: Discovery is always a highlight of this event, and new favorites quickly emerged. Cornering the “weird wine” category was a 2009 Arcadia Melissopetra (Gewurztraminer) from a Greek producer called Ktima Tselepos, imported by the superbly adventurous Wine Wise group. Unlike anything I’ve tried before, it paired tropical fruit, floral and spice notes with just the right touch of residual sugar. Bravo?er, ??????!
5) Evening Lands Dominates: I bumped into Michael Mina somm Josiah Baldivino at the Sherry table; when pressed about his favorites at the event he deadpanned “Evening Land, of course?it’s smokin’”. I took myself on over and discovered that the wines – poured by the legendary Larry Stone, who’s taken the reigns there – were indeed the best I sampled all night. Tx, Josiah.
6) New Stars Emerge: Several event insiders urged me towards the Ant Hill Farms table, where a poetic ’09 Sonoma Coast Campbell Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir shared the limelight with an equally good ’09 Sonoma Coast Peters Vineyard Syrah. The latter was spicy, as was the interplay between two of Ant Hill’s founders, who mugged for the camera in a fabulously juvenile way. High marks for personality and Pinot both.
7) Bad Bender Remarks: One wino kissed me on the cheek before shouting, “Hey, I’m just back from a four-day bender in the Willamette!” I only sort of wanted to know what he meant, but asked him to clarify all the same. “You know, you get started at 10am and go through the day, then keep it going into dinner starting at 6?for four days – it’s a bender! A Bender!” Okay, if that’s a bender, then the Wine & Spirits event was a mere cocktail hour, literally and relatively speaking.
Still, I followed the event with dinner with friends at Bar Tartine, where sommelier Alex Fox took more than good care of us (a 2001 Rioja was the highlight among many superb pours.) Impromptu dancing followed - along with more requisite booze - which explains why my night turned into something of a bender anyway (and this column is coming to you late – sorry, Carolyn ?).
Reflecting back on the boozy night that was, my favorite quip at the Wine & Spirits event came from W. Blake Gray, who I pressed for his pick of the evening. He simply said, “If I’d stayed at the Bollinger table drinking their ’02 La Grande Année Rosé all night, I would be happy. A nice $200 wine.” And it was.
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- Courtney Cochran