Wine Adventures

Living it Up at the Eau Palm Beach

I’ve mentioned before that Southwest Florida is home to two of the top ten charity wine events in the country. 

Well, the folks in Palm Beach were kind enough to invite wife Debi and me to the Palm Beach Wine Auction in late January, and it turns out they have their charity chops over there, just like we do.

Unlike the Naples and Fort Myers approach, which involves an afternoon outdoor event with grand tastings (lots of tasting), mingling, and somewhat frenetic auction activity, the Palm Beach event, spearheaded by a very civic-minded Ted Mandes, is a bit more sedate, but no less lively.  For one thing, it’s held in the evening, starting off with a Champagne reception (pouring Krug, no less) and a sit-down dinner at the Mar-a-Lago Club.  This mansion, known as the “Pearl of Palm Beach,” was once the cozy residence of Marjorie Merriweather Post, then Mrs. E.F. Hutton.  Is it spectacular?  Let’s just say it makes the Taj Mahal look like a trailer park.  It’s now owned as a private club by Donald Trump, and while we were enjoying our celebrity-chef dinner, The Donald himself strolled through the room, making a brief but memorable appearance.

The auction featured several highly-desirable lots of wine, as well as trips and other experiences.  Paddles waved wildly all evening, proceeds benefiting the programs at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, that offer music and cultural opportunities to underprivileged and underserved children throughout the county. 

When we were invited to the event, the organizers also offered to put us up for the night.  That term is a bit lame, because the putting up was at the Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa.  It’s a beachfront former Ritz Carlton that was purchased by independent investors…and upgraded, if you can imagine such a thing.  Not easy to make a Ritz Carlton more posh than it already is, but these people succeeded.

Bye-bye Ritz.  Hello, Eau.

When we checked in, we were greeted by the resort’s Public Relations Manager, Nick Gold, who immediately ushered us into the sumptuous Angle restaurant where the hotel’s beverage manager and Chef Pete Morales forced us (I say forced us) to sample a variety of wines with specially-prepared food pairings.

We paired the sea scallops with Hansell “Sebella” Chardonnay.  The acidity of the wine was a perfect balance to the texture of the dish, and the characteristic lemon zest and minerality accented the lemon in the dish.  A typical example of the “lemon law.”

Next, Chef offered a  slice of pork belly, paired with Biggio Hamina Amity Vineyard Riesling from Oregon.  This was especially interesting, because the Riesling had a very pronounced petrol edge to it.  This fusel oil or petroleum component is not very common in Riesling, but it’s not unheard-of, either.  The dish needed that kind of edge to cut through and neutralize the fattiness of the pork belly.  Unusual, but very interesting.

Third, we were treated to a duck confit with Benovia Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley.  I met Joe Anderson from Benovia at the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest in February, and there’s a reason he’s been a signature vintner at that event.  The earthiness of the Pinot supported the smoky character of the broiled duck, each one enhancing the other.

The rainshower hot tub.

The morning after the event, we were further treated…to massages in the luxurious spa.  We had to drive all
the way back to Florida’s west coast afterwards, but we really didn’t want to.  Besides, the relaxation pool off the patio outside the spa has all these cute little rubber duckies floating it it.  We could have stayed forever.

Of course, no article would be complete without some new wine discoveries, so here they are.

Guigal Condrieu 2012 – Condrieu is probably the smallest, most obscure winegrowing region of France’s northern Rhône valley.  It’s a bit over 1,000 acres – which isn’t much – and the only grape they grow (the only grape) is viognier.  From this, they make a small quantity of highly aromatic white that, at its best, simply sings with flavor and aroma.  This is one of them.  There’s a nose of honeysuckle and an explosion of apricots on the palate.  Afterward, you’ll taste lemon, peaches, and lush tropical fruit, all carried on a frame of zippy minerality.  A bit of a splurge at around $55, but go ahead and treat yourself.

Cancello del Barone Barbaresco Riserva 2009 – From the Piedmont region in the north of Italy, this wine is made from the Nebbiolo grape, the same one used in Barolo.  The good news is that Barbaresco is usually not quite as expensive.  This wine offers a nose of forest, earth, and smoke, with black fruit flavors and firm tannins.  It’s about $23 and worth it.

Sample widely.  Email me with questions.  Cheers!


The Palm Beach Wine Auction Strikes it Rich

Not long ago, I wrote in this space about Florida's prominence in the field of charity wine events.  Two of America’s top ten festivals take place in Lee and Collier counties, raising millions for worthwhile causes all across Southwest Florida.

Turns out the folks over in Palm Beach run a close second in their charity wine efforts, too.  They were kind enough to invite wife Debi and me to the Palm Beach Wine Auction in late January, and it turns out they have their charity chops over there, just like we do.

Unlike our approach, which involves an afternoon outdoor event with grand tastings (lots of tasting), mingling, and somewhat frenetic auction activity, the Palm Beach event, spearheaded by a very civic-minded Ted Mandes, is a bit more sedate, but no less lively.  For one thing, it’s an evening event, starting off with a Champagne reception (pouring Krug, no less) and sit-down dinner at the Mar-a-Lago Club.  This mansion, known as the “Pearl of Palm Beach,” was once the cozy residence of Marjorie Merriweather Post, then Mrs. E.F. Hutton.  Is it spectacular?  Let’s just say it makes the Taj Mahal look like a trailer park.  It’s now owned as a private club by Donald Trump, and while we were enjoying our celebrity-chef dinner, The Donald himself strolled through the room, making a brief but memorable appearance.

The auction itself featured several highly-desirable lots of wine, as well as trips and other experiences.  Paddles waved wildly all evening, proceeds benefiting the programs at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, that offer music and cultural opportunities to underprivileged and underserved children throughout the county. 

When we were invited to the event, the organizers also offered to put us up for the night.  That term is a bit lame, because the putting up was at the Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa.  It’s a beachfront former Ritz Carlton that was purchased by independent investors…and upgraded, if you can imagine such a thing.

When we checked in, we were greeted by the resort’s Public Relations Manager, Nick Gold, who immediately ushered us into the sumptuous restaurant where Beverage Manager Krystal Kinney and Chef Pete Morales forced us (I say forced us) to sample a variety of wines with specially-prepared food pairings.

The Eau Palm Beach Spa -- Jacuzzi with a Rainshower

Then it was off to the auction, handled capably by Michael Troise, retired Auction Director for NY Wines/Christie's Fine and Rare Wine Department.  As I mentioned, everyone was in cocktail attire and sitting down for dinner, so the proceedings were much less raucous than we’re used to on this side of the state.  At the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Festival, there are volunteer “funmakers” who romp through the crowd ringing bells and yelling, challenging the bidders to up the ante.  At the Mar-a-Lago, the event is conducted on a somewhat more demure, but no less profitable, level.  Since its inception, the Palm Beach Wine Auction has raised over $2 million for the cultural outreach programs mentioned above.

So.  To each his own.  There are legions of philanthropic, dedicated, generous people on both coasts of Florida.  Some conduct their charity wine events in shouts, others in whispers.  But the results are always impressive…and worthwhile.

Of course, no article would be complete without some new wine discoveries, so here they are.

Guigal Condrieu 2012 – Condrieu is probably the smallest, most obscure winegrowing region of France’s northern Rhône valley.  It’s a bit over 1,000 acres – which isn’t much – and the only grape they grow (the only grape) is viognier.  From this, they make a small quantity of highly aromatic white that, at its best, simply sings with flavor and aroma.  This is one of them.  There’s a nose of honeysuckle and an explosion of apricots on the palate.  Afterward, you’ll taste lemon, peaches, and lush tropical fruit, all carried on a frame of zippy minerality.  A bit of a splurge at around $55, but go ahead and treat yourself.

Cancello del Barone Barbaresco Riserva 2009 – From the Piedmont region in the north of Italy, this wine is made from the Nebbiolo grape, the same one used in Barolo.  The good news is that Barbaresco is usually not quite as expensive.  This wine offers a nose of forest, earth, and smoke, with black fruit flavors and firm tannins.  It’s about $23 and worth it.

Sample widely.  Email us with questions.  Cheers!


The Wine Auction World

Palm Beach Auction Sets New Standard

In Florida, the winter season offers one charity event after another, from November through April.  All of them benefit a range of worthwhile causes, but in the past few years, our area, and South Florida in general, has become noted worldwide for one particular type of charity event – the wine auction.

As many of us know, the Naples Winter Wine Festival skyrocketed to prominence many years ago, thanks to the astounding generosity of its attendees, who bid on not only bottles rare and precious wines, but also on experiences like a shot at a bit part on “Desperate Housewives,” or a trip into outer space on Virgin Galactic. 

Right up there as well is the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, which comes close to matching the Naples soiree in the amount of money it raises for the Children’s Hospital and other charities throughout the five-county area.  Last year, it was ranked #4 in the nation, according to Wine Spectator magazine.

And then, there’s Palm Beach.  Now in its 8th year, it’s held at the Mar-a-Lago Club and offers more than 40 lots of wines and spirits, plus over-the-top travel experiences.  The title sponsor is Louis XIII, a cognac so expensive it should be served with eyedroppers.

Many of the events hold a pre-auction reception of some sort.  At the Southwest Florida WWF.  Prior to the auction, invited vintners, like Chris and Pauline Tilley of V Madrone Wines in St. Helena, pour their very best stuff, make new friends, and contribute to the overall elevation of mood.

In Palm Beach, the evening auction is preceded by a five-course dinner featuring “sublime fare from a who's who of award-winning chefs,” including Philip Bollhoefer of the OMNI Asheville/Grove Park Inn and Joshua Hasho, from the OMNI Denver/Interlocken Resort & Spa.  According to event chair Ted Mandes, “We’re excited about the quality of the auction lots, and especially excited about the food and wine pairings.”

They should be excited about their auctioneer, too.  It’s Michael Troise, retired Auction Director for NY Wines/Christie's Fine and Rare Wine Department.  He probably knows his stuff.

Michael Troise

All of the events include more than just the dinners and auctions.  There are “wine down” events (a sort of after-auction after-party), brunch the next day, pre-event dinners, like the White Truffle Dinner sponsored by Tiffany & Co. Palm Beach, held last December…the list goes on.

So if you’re ready to party with a purpose, and support education, children’s charities, at-risk youth, and other important causes, welcome to the winter season in South Florida.  


Wine Ratings. Lesson Learned.

Let’s face it…when you’re in a wine shop looking at an unfamiliar bottle, trying to make a buying decision, the ratings matter.  Maybe you look them up on your smartphone, or maybe the store has posted the ratings on the shelf tags.  They’ll do that as long as somebody has given the wine more than about 86 points.

Most of us, if we don’t know the particular producer or varietal we’re considering, will be at least a little nudged toward (or away from) buying the wine because some magazine or independent critic gave it this many or that many points. 

Doing that can be a mistake, and can steer you away from some interesting discoveries.

Example:  Last December, a dinner guest brought us a bottle of Domaine de la Vougeraie “Les Evocelles” Gevrey-Chambertin.  We weren’t familiar with the producer, and we don’t drink all that much Burgundy (can’t afford it) so we sat on it for a while, and opened it one night in the middle of March.  We even pulled out our special Riedel Pinot Noir glasses for the occasion.

At first sip, Debi and I looked at each other with eyes wide and said, “We gotta get some more of this.”  It was stunning.  Aromas of earth and game wafted up from the glass, dark fruit, layer upon layer of flavors that convinced us (as if we needed convincing) that there ain’t nothing like a good Burgundy.  In truth, it almost brought tears to our eyes.  The last time that happened was when we tasted the 2001 Chateau d’Yquem at the Wine Experience a few years back.

So Debi immediately ran out and bought the last three bottles the store had.  And I, geek that I am, decided to look up the wine on one of the most popular rating sites.  They gave the stuff 83 points! Eighty-three points?  We’d never buy an 83-point wine.  To both of our relatively experienced palates, we were drinking a 94-95 pointer, maybe a bit better, even.  The critics at the magazine apparently sampled and rated the wine with eyes much drier than ours. 

Certainly, if I had discovered the wine in the store and looked it up with my ratings app, I never would have bought it.  Sixty dollars for an 83-point wine?  There are higher-rated wines for a lot less money,  and we pretty much know which ones they are.

Lesson learned, right?  Sample widely and decide for yourself.  The ratings are a hint at relative quality, but if you treat them like Holy Writ, you might be missing a lot of great juice.  Maybe it’s just better not to know.


Best Wines of South Beach 2014

The South Beach Wine and Food Festival – always one of our favorites – was held the weekend of February 21.  As is customary, we attended the trade tasting on Friday, and, as is customary, it was completely mobbed.

Unlike traditional wine tastings, the SoBe event takes place in two huge tents set up directly on the beach, and includes spirits and food.  The food part is nice, because many restaurants and purveyors give out sensational samples.  The liquor part?  Well, let’s just say that a lot of people started feeling really good, really fast.  Things were loud and crowded.

When you have the opportunity to taste through fifty or a hundred wines in an afternoon, your critical facilities go south pretty quickly.  Of course, being professionals, we spit most of it, but after three hours we still got a bit fuzzy.  But it’s my philosophy that if you taste so many wines and three or four of them stand out, those are the ones you want to buy.

My note-taking capacity was limited, but I did manage to pop some cell phone shots of the bottles that impressed me the most.  These are the wines I’ll be looking for over the next month or so.  I’m sure you’ll enjoy them.

Andrew Geoffrey Cabernet Sauvignon – From Peter Thompson’s gorgeous vineyard high atop Diamond Mountain.  You can’t beat the wine…or the view.

Debi Greenfield with winemaker Peter Thompson from Andrew Geoffrey
(and Denise Bernardi in the background)

Tenuta Sassoregale Sangiovese Maremma – Sweet fruit and earth with a nice balance of acidity.  A pizza/pasta wine for sure.

Villa Maria Dry Riesling – This winery is one of my go-to’s for Sauvignon Blanc, and the Riesling was a lovely surprise.  I’ll be looking for this one.

Farnese Edizione Cinque Autoctoni – Encased in the world’s heaviest bottle, this “five vines” Bordeaux blend is big and luscious.  We drank through a case of it last year, and can’t wait to do it again.

Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc – Though it was probably Robert Mondavi who came up with the idea of “Fume Blanc,” the Grgich people have taken it to a new level.  Dry, fruity, and delicious.

Fontanafredda Briccotondo Barbera – The Fontanafredda family was one of the pioneers of modern Italian wine in the 19th Century.  They haven’t lost their touch.

Jean-Luc Colombo “Les Abielles” Côtes du Rhône – I’ve always been a fan of this producer’s style.  His La Louvee is a special favorite, and this lower-priced version isn’t far behind.

Jordan Chardonnay – This was the surprise of the day.  We’ve downed plenty of Jordan Cab, but never knew that they were this good with Chardonnay.  We’ll be laying in a couple of cases of this, too.


About Corkage and Unpleasantness

Sticky subject.  Many fine dining restaurants allow guests to bring their own wines and charge a corkage fee that can range anywhere from $10 (nice) to $100 (ouch).  Some will allow only wines (or vintages) they don’t have on their lists, or limit the number of bottles they allow guests to bring.  Others, however, dig in their heels and do not allow any outside wine.  No way, no how.

That’s a mistake.

My good friend and wine buddy, Miles Grant, recently had a very discouraging experience at Il Mulino in New York, and it didn’t have to happen.  Many patrons of high-end restaurants are wine collectors (like Miles, who has a killer collection) and would like to enjoy special bottles at special dinners.  Second, when restaurant personnel are stubborn and inflexible on the issue they create ill will and bad publicity that can spread far beyond the initial incident…not to mention the potential loss of good customers.

Of course, some restaurants, like Il Mulino have enough business that pissing off a few good customers doesn’t matter to them.  Many wine lovers simply don’t go to restaurants that are not wine friendly.

Miles describes what happened in the letter he wrote to the restaurant owners after his “encounter” with their corkage policy a few weeks ago.

Dear John and the Managers and Owners of Il Mulino,

This email discusses my great disappointment at not being able to open my special bottle of wine which I brought to your restaurant on Monday night October 21.

Before explaining my recent experience, I want to let you know that I’ve been dining at your original Il Mulino for over 20 years.  During that time, although I live in San Diego, CA, I’m sure I’ve dined with you at least 15 maybe 20 times.  I’ve told everyone I know, I was born and raised in Queens, that the food at Il Mulino is the best Italian food in the world, not just NY, not just the U.S. but the world, including Italy. I love your food.  Always have and always will.

I am a very serious wine collector.  I was in NY attending the Wine Experience, a three day wine event at the Marriott Marquis put on by the Wine Spectator (owned by Marvin Shanken).  My wine friends, from all over the country, bring our best wine to NY to share during the festivities.

On Monday, October 21, I dined with my friend Kevin Kinsella and his girlfriend Paten Hughes.  Kevin happens to own a winery in Sonoma County called Kinsella Estates; they make a killer Cab, probably the best Cab made in Sonoma County.  Kevin and Paten live in SoHo and dine out almost every night.

I wanted to do something special for Kevin, so I brought a 2001 Araujo Syrah to dinner.  Araujo only makes Syrah in some vintages and their production is tiny, maybe a few hundred cases of Syrah.  The wine, when aged is incredible.  Drinking the 2001 now is an experience.

We had a 9:30 pm reservation on a Monday night.  The restaurant was almost empty when we arrived. The waiter said we couldn’t open our wine.  I begged.  I offered to pay a $100 corkage fee.  This is a very special bottle that I wanted to share with my very special friends.  The waiter refused saying it was company policy.  Kevin and I said it made no sense because the restaurant will make $100 profit by letting us open our bottle or will make not one penny on booze as we were not going to buy any alcohol in light of your policy.

While I love your food, wine is a very important part of my life.  I always bring wine with me to restaurants.  Not to save money but to drink what I want to drink, which is great wine that is properly aged.  Restaurants rarely have great wine that is also old.  Most bottles in most restaurants are simply too young to really be enjoyed.

So, I ask you, why not change your policy?  Charge a $50 or $75 corkage fee?  Limit the number of bottles?  Don’t allow wine brought in that you have on the wine list?  But, if you don’t change your policy, neither Kevin, nor I, nor any of my wine friends, who feel the same way about this as I do, will ever again dine at any of your restaurants (as good as the food is, there are other great Italian restaurants where we can bring in our wine).  I truly hope you re-consider so that we can continue to enjoy your great food.

Thank you.
Miles

P.S. We called the restaurant to try get the names and email addresses of owners and managers of Il Mulino, but the person answering the phone refused to provide this information so we’re sendi
ng this email just to the email addresses mentioned on your website

So it’s up to us wine lovers/collectors/enthusiasts to help restaurants like Il Mulino, Daniel Boulud, and others understand that having some sort of corkage policy, however limited, would gain them more in good will and memorable dining experiences than it would cost them in dollars.