You caught me…not really “LIVE” from Nashville, I did get home on Sunday but now I’m an OCD slave to my travellin’ post formatting….
I’m not a fancy guy. I have no status or money, but my good fortune born out of sheer charm and sustained by unflinching determination will occasionally afford me the opportunity to mingle and mooch a la Will Smith in Six Degrees of Separation. It does not take a lot to make me happy……sitting in a gutter and eating mystery meat tacos from a street vendor in Tepic, Mexico can be just as satisfying as a grand tasting menu at the chef’s table in whatever high end restaurant is currently being touted as “the hardest reservation to get”. I’d much rather knock back several Old Crow & RC’s while enjoying good conversation with good people than be stuck drinking the finest vintage wines with the socially stunted. There is no food or wine in this world good enough to make it worth suffering through several hours of bad conversation with the terminally predictable . So once in a while, the aforementioned good fortune will smile upon me and transport me to a place where I can enjoy the best of both worlds…….wonderful people AND wonderfully “faincy” food and wine. During my trip to Nashville I met some very gracious and fun folks. I know that the image that comes to mind when you mention wine auctions and vintner’s tastings is the typical humorless stuffed shirt with so much money that they don’t have to worry about things like grace or charm…..and I am sure those people do exist. However, it is my belief that “real” wine lovers (and food lovers, and cigar lovers, etc.) are some of the most down to earth and friendly people that exist…no matter where they set up shop on the social ladder. My weekend in Nashville proved that theory to me once again as I ate, drank and talked with a group of people who combine elements of “the good life” with a heart for philanthropy.
I was lucky enough to spend three days as a guest of a presenting sponsor for Nashville’s L’ Ete du Vin organization; one of the country’s greatest fundraisers for the American Cancer Society. Thursday night was a tutored tasting of eleven different wines, presented by a panel of the winemakers themselves. Friday night was a very intimate black tie dinner with the winemakers at the Shermerhorn Symphony Center. And last but not least…Saturday night’s event was the “Grand Auction” fundraiser with dinner and even more wine. Yep, this was a great time. One of the best times ever. And here are the details, which are certain to either thrill you or make you jealous………..yeah, sometimes it’s good to be king, or at least sit at the same table with the king and wait for sips of wine like you were Oliver Twist or something…..
THURSDAY NIGHT: Vintner’s Tasting at the Vanderbilt Marriott
Thomas Duroux of Chateau Palmer
Etienne Hugel of Hugel & Fils
Jacques Lardiere of Maison Louis Jadot
Patrice Noyelle of Champagne Pol Roger
Tall Scottish Chef for the Weekend:
Chef Grant MacPherson- former head of culinary operations at the Bellagio and Wynn Hotels in Las Vegas, and currently Culinary Director and Head Chef at Sandy Lane in St. James, Barbados
Moderator and all around fantastic guy:
Robin Kelley O’Connor of the Bordeaux Wine Bureau and President of the Society of Wine Educators
The evening started out with a champagne reception and a viewing of the superb artwork of Mr. Thomas Arvid, whose wine-related paintings will make you thirsty enough to get on the four year waiting list for one of his original works. Thomas donated a painting for the auction that highlighted the wines of our four featured winemakers, and he worked on it throughout the weekend.
The donated painting before, during and after completion….
More of Mr. Arvid’s work….the one on the right can be yours for a mere $70,000…
Now, before I even begin talking about the wines, I have to admit to anyone who knows me that I am not what you would call an accomplished wine writer. After this weekend, I think that my problem up to this point is that when left to my own devices and bank account, I drink some pretty mediocre wines. Not that there is anything wrong with that…I love me some Torres Sangre de Toro, House Wine, Big House Red, etc. However, the right wines paired with the right foods, cheeses, fruits and nuts allow me to FINALLY “get it” when it comes to all of those annoyingly verbose Wine Spectator writeups, so here you go…
Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 1999 (100% Chardonnay)
Pale, greenish hue with light yeast on the nose, lightly sweet and fruity with crisp, flinty minerals on the front end.
Pol Roger Brut 1998
Toasty nose, smoother character than the Blanc de Blancs, slightly acidic, a little more alcohol and more berries.
Hugel “Jubilee” Riesling 2004
Green tinged, very rich, honeyed nose with light alcohol on the back end. It smells SO MUCH sweeter than it tastes….which makes it wonderful to drink with the two distinct characters, it’s like drinking a magic trick. Light alcohol, unripe apple and citrus flavors.
Forget your grocery store Rieslings and Piesporters…..this is a completely different animal.
Hugel “Jubilee” Riesling 1998
A lighter, broader nose on this one with….and I’m not kidding here, notes of caramel and cotton candy. More fruit with some steel and mineral notes. Absolutely EXCELLENT, I loved this wine very very much.
Louis Jadot “Clos St. Jacques” Gevrey Chambertin 1990
Rust and plum colored, VERY heavy anise on the nose with some roses. Autumn spices, clove, earth and hearth, then WAY on the backend lighter fruits. A very long finish. I noted “this one is a thinker…..you can taste the generations of family in this wine”. This type of Burgundy that has begun to really open up was a completely new experience for me, I loved it in the same way I love a beautiful woman. And it was excellent paired with the Comte.
Louis Jadot Clos Vougeot 1999 “Authentic Gran Cru”
Heavy rose on the nose, brighter clearer color. Much tighter in body, more of the flavors I’m used to in this type of wine. Lots of mulled spice and anise on the BACK end that the 1990 had on the front. Nice contrast in wines from the same maker.
Alter Ego 2004
Deep cheese rind and yeast on nose….”a nose you can TASTE” is what I wrote down. Pretty tight still, raisins and dark fruit, not giving up a ton of flavor yet.
Chateau Palmer 2004
Same nose as Alter Ego, bigger tannin hit, more berry and cheese rind. I actually like this one less than the Alter Ego from Palmer, and I guess when you consider the price difference, that is a good thing if I were to go and buy more.
Chateau Palmer 1998
Nose gives off some wood and smoke, flavors of juniper. It had opened up a lot more than the previous two offerings, but still tight. I’m not sure how to approach these young wines. They were tasty, but the potential in them was a bit of a heartbreaker……where was my time machine? I wanted to add another 20 years and see how they fell out.
Hugel “Vendange Tradives” Gewurztraminer 2001
Huge sweet nose and flavor. I have a hard time discerning separate flavors in sweet wines, but I will say that with zero “cloying” sweetness they are fun to drink. Very smooth and rich. Notes from Etienne (12th generation winemaker….if he weren’t so nice and funny I’d have a hard time not hating him)…”romance and love in a glass”…”lots of lychee nut”.
Hugel “Selection de Grains Nobles” Gewurtztraminer 1998
Only 3000 bottles of this wine were produced, and Etienne mentioned that every sip represented about ten minutes of labor. Lighter sweetness on the nose, but a heavier and better balanced flavor. Very voluptuous, like a great icewine in many ways.
Accompanying Cheeses (along with fruits, nuts, breads, etc.)
Agour Ossau-Iraty (France)
Pasteurized sheep’s milk
Very good, flaky and grainy hard cheese
Pasteurized cow’s milk
Gruyere de Comte (France)
Unpasteurized Cow’s Milk
Very good stuff, well aged with grainy smooth texture, helped the wines along a LOT
Brillat Savarin Affine (France)
Pasteurized Cow’s Milk
A triple cream that needs no explanation or introduction……the best.
The winning wines of the evening, at least for me, were the Hugel Jubilee Riesling from 1998 and the Louis Jadot “Clos St. Jacques” Gevrey Chambertin 1990. Both were wines that I will locate and purchase for special occasions….especially that Louis Jadot.
I can count on one hand the number of times I have had the opportunity to taste truly “good” wines. I love wine like I love women, and I drink a lot of it. My tastes and wallet gravitate towards the “less than $15/bottle” range, and I’ll stand by my opinion that there are some FANTASTIC wines in that price range. Tons of flavor, tons of variety…..but it’s apples and oranges when comparing my favorite house wines to what I’ve tasted over the weekend. Verbose tasting notes make so much more sense when you’re savoring a mature burgundy and the complexity of the wine makes you go…….”I need to sit here and think about this one”. You can taste the earth, the fruit and the history in a good wine, and it becomes so much more than something you drink over dinner with friends. I would argue that you could learn more about wine by starting off drinking very GOOD ones, and appreciate how they compliment specific foods and cheeses and THEN work your way down to the shallower end of the pool where I live.
Oh, and you know the “stuffed shirt” image that comes to mind when you think of this type of event? Well, if you really do imagine it being that way, what can you possibly think of when you picture French winemakers? Pretty scary, huh? Well, I’m not joking when I say these were some of the sweetest, funniest and most personable people you can imagine. Their senses of humor really never gave off a hint of the whole “France loves Jerry Lewis” phenomenon. The funniest moment was when Etienne Hugel mentioned Alsace not being as prominent as his peer’s regions, and the three other men from Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne played their own rendition of “the world’s smallest violin” for him. Then on Saturday night there was a funny moment with Jacques Lardiere of Maison Louis Jadot that I will remember forever…..I was standing at the bar during the silent auction getting a glass of one of his wines (I know, the proper thing at this time would have been to start with the champagnes, but when given the choice I’m goin’ for the reds every single time), and he walked up behind me and said something like “Oh, nice choice”, at which time the bartender asked him “Sir, are you familiar with this wine? Can I offer you a glass?”. Not missing a beat, Jacques pretended not to recognize his own wine and said “Not sure what to try, I’ve only been in town a day or so”, took a glass, took a sip and kind of went “eh”. It was pretty funny, and afterwards I had a good laugh with the bartender when I let him in on the joke.
After the tasting on Thursday night we went to dinner at The Sunset Grill. Unfortunately for me as an obsessed food-monger, this was the only restaurant I had the chance to visit during my stay, but it was quite good. The best part is that apparently they have the greatest late happy hour deals in the world, and on Thursday night their entire wine list was half-off. We enjoyed a Pinot Noir with dinner that will make it into my regular “not for everyday consumption” rotation….Martin Ray “Angeline” Russian River from 2005. Big flavors in this baby, even after all of the grape consumption throughout the evening it still jumped up and said howdy. It was the perfect partner for my dinner of “Smokey Bacon Ravioli” – Benton‘s hickory smoked bacon and Sweet Water Valley cheddar raviolis with sweet pea puree, carrot relish and creme fraiche.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON: A visit to the offices and cellar of L’ Ete du Vin
Prior to arriving in Nashville, I was told that all I had to do was mention any places I wanted to visit while I was in town…..Country Music Hall of Fame, Grand Ole Opry, etc. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d love to do those things during a normal visit, but this was NO normal visit……so given the choice I said “I just want to spend some time with the wine!”. We stopped by the offices and generally just tried to stay out of the way since things were in full swing to prepare for the auction the next evening. We did manage to put in some labor while there……we got the placecards ready for dinner that night! Oh, and then there was the cellar……where all of my hopes and dreams sat on the shelves, beckoning me…..but I went back upstairs before they had to call in a S.W.A.T team on me…..
Various goodies from the L’ Ete du Vin cellars…..
FRIDAY NIGHT: Le Grand Diner at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center
To put this event in perspective, I’ll just say: It Ruled. I was a lucky, lucky guy to get in on this event, since there were only about 70 or 80 people total invited to it. The Schermerhorn is an impressive place, and earlier in the day we got the full tour with some of the folks from L’ Ete du Vin. Overall impression of the evening: I sure could get used to wearing a tuxedo.
Various shots in and around the Schermerhorn during setup earlier in the day…
And what kind of foodie would I be if I didn’t get down into the kitchen and bug the chefs?
All dolled up and ready for some vittles!
Demi-Tasse of Crustacean Bisque
Porcini Arancini, White Anchovy Aioli
Bay Scallop Ceviche, Fine Herbs
Pol Roger Champagne, Brut
Me and my new friends Jacques Lardiere, Patrice Noyelle, Etienne Hugel and Thomas Duroux
Parfait of Columbian River Sturgeon, Celery Leaves, Hazelnut Dressing
Pol Roger “Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill” Champagne, 1996
Small filet of sturgeon over a quenelle of sturgeon mousse, accompanied with small batonettes of celery root, apple and cucumber. Wonderful texture of the firm sturgeon meat against the smoothness and richness of the mousse, set against the peppery spice of the celery leaves and the earthy, sharp, crispness of the various pieces of fruit and vegetable. It was all about the acidity of the incredible champagne cutting through the richness and earthiness of the dish. Other than the foie (obviously), this may very well have been my favorite dish of the evening. There was a whole lot going on with it.
Braised Filet of Black Bass, Heirloom Tomato Fondue, Basil Oil
Louis Jadot “Clos de La Chapelle” Duc De Magenta Chassagne Montrachet, 1998
Like a wonderful caprese salad with bass instead of mozzarella….what a great time of year for tomatoes, absolutely a delicious dish. The wine made it a perfect summertime course, with anise and grass on the nose of the Montrachet, low acidity and alcohol with the flavors opening up big after a few minutes…tons of apple and fresh cracked white pepper.
Whole Roasted Foie Gras, Rhubarb Relish, Natural Jus
Louis Jadot Bonnes Mares, 1989
Now, the secret to really enjoying good foie gras at an event like this is to sit next to someone who is not a fan of foie….because you get to eat theirs too. This is one of my favorite foods and up to this point I’d only had it seared or in a torchon. The roasted lobe gives it an entirely different character, it is very soft with almost no caramelization on the outside, which makes it even richer and more luscious in character with a rosy pink slightly rare center. And the fact that it was probably the largest piece of foie I’ve ever been served did not hurt matters. I meant to ask the chef how many servings they carved per lobe, but forgot. In addition, I’m a bigger fan of savory accompaniments with foie, and while the rhubarb relish was still somewhat sweet it was a nice change of pace compared to the usual candy/jelly additions to this type of course.
As delicious as the foie gras was, it was practically eclipsed by the delicious Bonnes Mares. Only 5500 bottles of this wine were made, so it was a very rare treat. The nose on this juice was massive, with lots of leather, heavy, heavy dark fruit flavors and charcoal on the marathon-long finish. It was right around this time that Tom Black arrived at our table with a big glass of Chateau Latour from 1970 for us to pass around and enjoy. This would be an ongoing theme from this moment forward…with the “excuse” for the various wines being that they each represented the birth year from one of the guest winemakers. This wine was beyond me, I was way, way out of my element already, but if this is an indicator of the good life, I could get used to it.
Oven-Roasted Prime Beef Tenderloin, Wild Mushroom Ravioli, Drambuie Sauce
Chateau Palmer, 1995
I was really spent at this point. The piece of perfectly cooked beef was wonderful and almost tender enough to eat with a dessert spoon, with a big slice of black truffle tucked between the meat and the hand made mushroom ravioli. I had a couple of bites, but had hit the wall with the amount of food I’d had up to this point…..whole proteins will do that to you after bariatric surgery.
The 1995 Palmer was described as a “warm sun” vintage, and was very floral in flavor but still very tight. The 1988 was a “cool vintage” with bright acidity, some strawberry, but overall still quite tight in the glass. I’d love to try some different vintages from Palmer, in order to get a better idea of what this wine is all about.
And our generous ambassador of the finest vintages came over for a couple more visits……first with a 1950 Latour. The perfume of it and the way it coated the tongue was dreamy; so smooth you don’t even feel it when it is swallowed. Next up was a 1960 Latour, which ended up being my favorite because there was a lot more spice and more acid. It was at this point I began to truly understand what a “mature” wine tastes like, and how the flavors open up over the years. I knew that as good as the 1960 was right now, that in the coming years the bolder flavors would mellow out the spice and the acid. In contrast, we then shared a glass of 1965 Latour that was handed to us with the warning that we should “drink it quickly because it’s dying in the glass”. My first taste of it gave up leather and overripe fruit…..but then a few minutes later the character had changed even more with the finish becoming more like a port and the fruit becoming VERY overripe, flabby and loose. What a great experience to not only taste such rare and wonderful wines, but to also begin to understand more of the wine “lingo” that has always escaped me up to this point since I basically spend all of my time drinking grocery store wines (not that there is ANYTHING wrong with that)….
Chilled Coconut Lemon Grass Soup, Pineapple Sago, Mascarpone Ice Cream
Hugel “Selection De Grains Nobles” Gewurtztraminer, 1988
This was a nice, beautiful and light dessert served in half of a coconut, but the star of the show was the Gewurtz…..I am not generally a fan of sweet wines, but this was a lot like drinking a wonderful icewine, with the sweetness never coming off as even slightly cloying. The nose was so big that even at an arm’s length away the fragrance came to find you. When describing the wine for us, Etienne Hugel told us that each bottle represents approximately three hours of manual labor out in the vineyard, picking out the good grapes from those that are too rotted to use.
We had a great, fun group at our table, and I was ecstatic to be sitting near Robin Kelley O’Connor so that we could share tasting notes and I could pick his brain.
Honoring the guest chefs…
I really am the dandy highwayman…
Deer in the headlights w/ Michael Haney on the left, more refined with Thomas Arvid on the right…
Robin Kelley O’Connor, Chandni Patel, and one of the greatest ladies I have ever met… Torrey Barnhill from L’ Ete du Vin…
I’ve got some important things to say about wine…
Back at the Loew’s Vanderbilt…washing the taste of those roguish wines out of our mouths with Manhattans and Mojitos….
SATURDAY EVENING: Le Grand Auction
I’m not sure how to communicate the sheer scope of this auction….I believe it raised approximately $600,000.00 for the American Cancer Society, but that number could be low. I’ll have to check for updates and repost at some point. It is broken into two events….the silent auction and the live auction. The silent auction, while it has some great lots, is geared more towards us regular humans. I managed to get a really cool wreath made of wine corks from past events, and my aunt got several lots of great wine, including four bottles of Masi Amarone from 1991. There are seven or eight tables full of different lots, ending in fifteen minute increments. Don’t misunderstand me, I didn’t meet one person at any of these events who wasn’t friendly and gracious as could be, but auctions are combat…..nothing short of full combat. I had my eye on several lots, but they quickly went beyond anything I could justify spending. It was still an incredible amount of fun.
Once there were only a few tables left open for the silent auction, the real fun began. We were all seated in the ballroom of the Loew’s Vanderbilt hotel, and built around us was something that left many major Broadway musicals to shame when compared to the sheer production value. Light riggings, jumbotron screens, massive speaker systems, wine barrels and vines covering every spare inch….then on the perimeter of the stage were the premier lots. And by premiere I mean…..premiere.
The live and silent auction rooms: Before…
The live and silent auction rooms: After…
Lot #1- three double magnums of Veuve Cliquot… the reason you do not see any text on the famed yellow labels is because they are each made of Ostrich, Stingray and Alligator skin. And the foil adorning the bottles is made of 22.5 carat gold. I can’t remember what these sold for, but (relatively speaking of course) I think they went for the bargain price of around $2500.00.
If I had the money, this Imperial (6 liters) of Ridge MonteBello would have been my personal pick of the evening….
But that is not to say I would have wept at the thought of owning this gigantic bottle from some up and coming winemaker from France whose name I cannot recall….
Oh one last shot of me and Thomas Arvid… you know how I love taking pictures with people far more attractive than myself….
And the auction….
Once seated for dinner, the auctioneer started the madness…..
Dinner was good, but after the Schermerhorn dinner it was almost an afterthought as we sat there eating, drinking, and drooling over the auction items.
Rissole Grits and Crevette with Fromage Blanc- a good shrimp and grit dish
Louis Jadot “Domaine de la Chapelle aux Loups”
Roti Lamb Rack with Plum and Poivre Sauce, Corn Souffle, Petite Vegetables with Golden Chanterelles
Chateau Palmer 1996- STOP THE PRESSES! Outside of the CRAZILY good vintages I was able to sample, this was my favorite wine of the weekend. When I tasted it I was blown away by how much it had opened up for a ’96, and the bartender let me know that they had begun decanting by about 4pm, so it had a few hours to breathe. That made all of the difference, I’ll be pricing this wine to see about getting some for the holidays. Excellent stuff.
Morbier, Chaumes, Brillat Savarin and Bleu D’Auvergne
Petite Chocolate Genoise with Beet Ice Cream
To continue the weekend’s theme of fine and generous people that we met throughout the weekend, one of the folks at our table pulled out the following wine to share with dinner:
Chateau Ausone Saint Emilion, 1967
Garnet-rust colored, wide nose, still plenty of sharpness on the edges and some rounded out acid, tons of rich cheese and toast, some leather…..still lots of character in this baby…maybe good in the cellar for another 10 or 20 years? “Strong like bull” is one thing I had to say about it.
To bid or not to bid………
Okay, okay……I’ll BID! And wouldn’t you know it, I snatched this gem of a painting of Johnny Cash by the artist Michael Potts. I was really pleased to learn that Mr. Potts actually resides in the Kansas City area. I’m going to have to look him up and share the joy of yanking this baby away from the fine folks in Nashville….
So there you have it…..one of the best weekends I’ve ever had, and without a doubt the fanciest. I just want to thank my “sponsor” for the weekend, and everyone who shared in this wonderful event. I have foregone my usual “rustic” blog banter in describing this weekend in order to create something that you can all look back on with fond and hazy wine-soaked memories.
And oh yes, I will be back next year……