Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Days of Wine and...More Wine.


No cause for alarm. This isn't turning into a wine blog.

I just thought I'd take a small, one-post detour into wine territory since I found myself attending the Pittsburgh Wine Festival recently. Now normally when I go to a gathering where adult beverages are served, I'm usually looking for a cold beer or a colder Martini. But I'm amenable to the occasional glass of wine, so when the opportunity came up, I took it.

But before we go any further, I should mention a couple of items just so we're all on the same page:

1) I know squat about wine.

2) That being the case, at no point in this post will there be tasting notes.

You see, a big reason I wanted to hit up this event was in order to remedy item #1 above. And since I'm approaching this whole enterprise as a rookie, the last thing I'm going to do is attempt to describe and evaluate a bunch of wines when I have neither the experience nor vocabulary to do so effectively.

Back to the event: Normally, finding myself in situation like this would result in my lurching randomly from vendor to vendor, hoping to stumble onto something I liked, and also remembering to write down its name for future reference. However, I have a secret weapon.

A good friend of mine is studying to be a sommelier, and I enlisted her help in plotting out a plan of attack. She kindly reviewed the vendor list and provided me with detailed written instructions on which vendors and specific wines would be good to try. This information proved crucial, and I printed an extra copy for my stalwart companion who dubbed it our "cheat sheet."

Now that a battle plan was in place, we laid siege to Heinz Field, the very same venue where I previously pillaged the liquor offerings at the Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival. Erupting from the elevator with my wristband held high, I embarked on 4 (or so) hours of wine education, and my observations of the proceedings are as follows...

~ The event took place on Cinco de Mayo. I'm betting there were a lot of people who thought starting the evening with wine and ending with Tequila would be a seamless transition. I'm also betting the next morning many of them were proven wrong.

~ Despite the event being located in two very large lounge areas, it was still incredibly crowded by the third hour. I recommend attending the first session unless you are an intensely extroverted person who thrives in loud, sardine can-like environments.

~ There was a truly astounding amount wine on offer. I don't have hard numbers, but suffice to say if you attempted to sample even a tenth of it, paramedics would be involved.

~ As far as I could tell, I was the only dork running around with a clipboard furiously taking notes on the various wines I tasted. I guess everyone else's memory was better than mine. Or maybe they just didn't want to look like they were going to ask someone to take a survey.

~ The attendees were a relatively diverse group, and it was nice to see people of all shapes, colors, sizes and ages. There was a noticeable upscale vibe, with much of the crowd using the event as an opportunity to show off their shiny new jewelry, formalwear and trophy wives.

~ Despite this, there was the occasional scruffy-looking oddball.* I found it refreshing, and my favorite attendee was a guy in a tie-dyed t-shirt emblazoned with the National Bohemian mascot. I'm not certain this guy actually knew where he was, but he seemed to be having a good time.

~ In a feat of engineering and creativity, the PLCB managed to erect a temporary but fully-functioning State Store on the premises in case anyone wanted to purchase a bottle of something they sampled during the event. Maybe someday they can bring this same know-how to bear and figure out how to open their stores on Sundays.

~ Domestic vendors and imported vendors were placed in two completely separate locations, but you could travel from one to the other on chauffeured golf carts provided as courtesy. This was a nice touch, and proved that you do not actually have to be playing golf to enjoy riding on a golf cart while hammered.

~ Unlike similar events showcasing beer and spirits, there was virtually zero swag given out by vendors. This was disappointing, because I really wanted to get my hands on one of those Château Margaux baseball caps I see all the kids wearing.

~ Kudos to the venue for providing ample food & water throughout the evening. Based on how several of the attendees looked and sounded a few hours into the event, I'm guessing there would have been a hell of a lot of pizzas being delivered to Heinz Field had the organizers not kept the grub in good supply.

~ I had the good fortune to run into local wine guru Sean Enright, who helpfully directed me to a handful of really good wines to try. As with many things, recommendations from people in the know are a great way to get acquainted with stuff you're unfamiliar with.

And speaking of wines I thought were pretty good? Here are a few in no particular order...

Bertani Villa Arvedi Amarone '06
Terlato Boutari Naoussa '07
Marchesi Di Barolo Dolcetto '09
Château Moncontour Vouvray Predilection '09
Cono Sur sparkling brut
Blue Coast Château Vignelaure '05
Valckenberg Maximin Grünhäuser Herrenberg Riesling Kabinett '08
Grapes of Spain Genium Cellar Ecologic Priorat '06
Terlato Gaja Magari '07
Vineyard Brands Château Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge '08

All things considered it was a very decent event. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what they put together next time around.

But I'll still likely require a cheat sheet.

* I fall firmly into this category.


frederic said...

I went to my first wine event last month as well. Unlike beer, part of the problem with wine is that much of it is meant to be appreciated with food. Also, most of the wine I really liked was pretty pricey. Luckily, I didn't need to take notes for the event (Wine Riot) has a mobile app/web app that you can rate things and make notes (also gives information about the wines there, the wineries, and where to buy the stuff).

"There was a noticeable upscale vibe, with much of the crowd using the event as an opportunity to show off their shiny new jewelry, formalwear and trophy wives."

This event was pretty mixed but the level of pretension and sense of entitlement of some of the people was pretty high -- something I never see in beer or cocktail events. But I guess in wine, having lots of dough does mean you're often getting better wine which really isn't the case with cocktails and only somewhat true with beer.

This weekend is a beer event which I think I'll feel more at home at...

Tiare said...

I´ve never been to any wine event and i`m not sure when and where and if i will..

I`m such a clueless person when it comes to wine that i more often use it for cooking than drinking..even though i really like a good red wine to pasta dishes.

And i have no clue either what wine it is i`m using in my cooking, i only make sure it´s not expensive fine wine that goes into my pots, and that red or white goes where it fits best.

But i won´t learn more unless i try..

Tony Harion said...

I´m sitting next to a half empty bottle of rum on a Tuesday night (my first “weekend” “in days”) so this might alter my judgment… but I just LOVE your list posts!
Just kidding, I enjoy them very much while slacking off at work on a Monday too…

Chris/batgirl said...

I've been *waiting* for this post! :) Needless to say I have copied your list for my own future perusal. The Batcave wine fridge is getting quite low in inventory right now, since we have no water in our complex. I poked around in it tonight and started to twitch. ;)

Admin said...

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