Sunday, September 26, 2010

AMERICAN WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL: HOT TICKET


AWFF Hot Ticket

The scene was set at Universal Studios backlot Saturday September 25, 2010.  The extremely hot - and humid - weather during the day persisted into the evening, but the makeup stayed in place and all the participants were ready for their closeups, Mr. DeMille.  Lights, sterno, clapboard, please!

The American Wine and Food Festival went off almost without a hitch.  That's saying a lot considering how the hot weather caused quite a few last-minute changes for chefs who had planned on serving hot food, only to realize something cool would be more appropriate.

In fact, the biggest hitch I found was at the end of the evening.  When waiting to board the tram back to the parking garage, I found about 300 other people already waiting.  A nice Universal employee named Dave informed me that due to hydraulics problems, they were down to their last tram.  They were trying to cope as best they could by pressing vans and small buses into service.  Those options were not much help in replacing trams which carry 160 people at once.

The event itself, though, was nothing short of spectacular.  The food samples handed out by some of the best chefs in the world were of uniformly high quality.  The wine tasting was great, too.  I only wish the food temptations hadn't been so great.  I wanted to spend more time in pursuit of the grape, but I can't honestly say I was disappointed by dabbling in one culinary treat after another.

The backlot - which you've probably seen on TV and in movies a thousand times - provided several different settings to walk through.  As I turned one corner after another, the cobblestone streets were lined with food and wine booths.

O'Shaughnessy Estate Winery was my first stop.  Eager to pour some big Napa reds, the guy manning the booth seemed a little peeved that I asked to start with the Sauvignon Blanc.  I had just arrived, and already I was dry and thirsty.  The O'Shaughnessy Sauvignon Blanc hit the spot with bracing acidity and a cool grapefruit profile with a sweetness to it that relieved my palate.  I liked his reds, too.  Two Cabernets, the Howell Mountain and the Mount Veeder, were full, rich and intense expressions of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.  If I had to choose one, It would be the Howell Mountain, but the Mount Veeder runs behind only by a nose.

C. Donatiello Winery offered a wonderful Chardonnay, lightly oaked, crisp and laden with citrus.  The Healdsburg outfit has five different Chardonnays available, and I have no idea which one this is.  I liked it, though.

The Whitcraft Winery table was capably manned by Drake Whitcraft.  He talked a little about how his father Chris got him into the family business, and he seems to be getting the hang of it quickly.  Drake is a 100% whole cluster guy.  His winemaking setup includes actual foot-stomping of the grapes, for real, not for show.  As I understand it, he's working on the second vintage which is all his.  His father is battling poor health and couldn't be prouder of the way Drake has stepped in to handle things.

Drake poured a really nice Chardonnay he had just bottled two weeks ago.  His Grenache is bright and full of cherries on the nose, with a very fruity taste and a great finish.  A pair of Pinot Noirs are Drake's real pride.  The '07 vintage is clone 667 from San Luis Obispo, while the '08 has 20% Anderson Valley fruit.  Drake likes the '08 better, and I have to agree with him.  It's full of bright cherry flavors and has an excellent finish.

From Au Bon Climat: Hildegard, a white blend showing bracing acidity and an interesting blend of grapes.  Hildegard is 55% Pinot Gris, 40% Pinot Blanc and 5% Aligote.  It's a very complex white wine with a zesty lemon finish.

Hitching Post Rosé '09 is made from what used to be called "Napa Gamay."  Turns out the grape is actually Valdiguie, with roots in the southern France region of Languedoc-Roussillon.  There is some Pinot Gris in the mix, as well.  This is a bone dry pinkie that's loaded with fruit and great acidity.

Paraduxx, the pun-laden label from Duckhorn, poured a stunning blend of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, vibrant and rich.

Lest you think it was all California wine being poured - not that that's a bad thing - Dr. Loosenwas there.  A dry, bracing Riesling was tasty, of course.  I asked for something with a bit of gasoline in it, but the pourer shook his head and said, "Sorry, nothing is showing the petrol yet."

An attempt at getting into the "Sherry Yard's Sweet Sanctuary Champagne and Port Lounge" proved successful, in that I was able to get into the roped-off area.  Live music and the promise of an after-hours "scene" produced such a crushing throng that I was unable to navigate within the area very well, and was completely unable to locate any Champagne or port.  Which was sort of the idea.  As the kids say these days, "#fail."

That's when I decided to check out, completely satisfied.  A full evening of snapping photos of celebrity chefs left me unfortunately unmoved when I saw Robert Wuhl, the guy who plays Arliss Michaels in the TV show "Arli$$," looking about for the next sample to go for.  I might have been more impressed had some other member of the cast been present, say, oh, I don't know, Sandra Oh.  She was after all in "Sideways," too!

Talking with Denise afterward, we ruminated on how much money must have been raised for the Meals On Wheels Programs of Los Angeles in this event and the accompanying auction.  It was inescapably ironic that an event in which food is handed out as a disposable commodity - we noticed how many "unempty" plates went into the garbage cans - was actually helping get food to people who are unable to get out and get their own.

The American Wine and Food Festival 2010 was a success from the standpoint of a food and wine lover who likes to scarf down free samples from world class chefs and winemakers.  It was also a success from the standpoint of someone who is old or ill and can't get to the market to buy broccoli.  And that is the real achievement.

Please see Denise Fondo's guest blog on the American Wine and Food Festival.