If you attend the South Beach Wine and Food Festival (SOBEWFF), you have many opportunities to engage your senses. A champagne seminar with G.H.Mumm? Check. Dinner hosted by Giada De Laurentiis? Check. Events with Guy Fieri or Emeril Lagasse? Seminar on RIEDEL wine glasses or Mondavi’s famed To Kalon Vineyard? Check, check and many more checks. Deep dives into whatever kind of experience you’re looking for are yours for the taking.
We were in South Beach for my birthday – a little sun away from the Northern winter – and Elizabeth chose to treat me to Wine Spectator’s “Best of the Best” event, held on a Friday evening at the iconic Golden Age Fontainebleau Hotel. This was a total immersion to a crazy walkaround sensory blitz: over 60 chefs, many Michelin-starred or James Beard Award winners or named “Food & Wine” Best New Chef, all offering a small tasting meant to showcase their talents and convince you it was more delightful than the most delightful thing you had just tasted before that.
Vérité is one of those quintessentially American/California wine stories. In brief: in the mid-1990s, Jess Jackson (of Kendall-Jackson fame) owned plenty of undeveloped land in Sonoma County. He met Pierre Seillan, who had been making wine in France for 25 years. Jackson asked Seillan if he could make a California wine as good as Pétrus. Seillan replied: “Why not better?” Jackson gave Seillan the freedom to develop vineyards as he wished, and Seillan was inspired to be released from the highly restrictive French wine appellation system, where so many grape-growing and wine-making decisions are proscribed by French wine law. Seillan developed new vineyards in the Alexander and Knights Valleys using classic Bordeaux grapes. The result? Bordeaux blends that rival the best in the world: the Cabernet-dominant La Joie, the Merlot-dominant La Muse and the Cabernet Franc-dominant Le Désir. And they were pouring them at the Best of the Best – Near-100-point wines. This was some party.
Another producer, not as vaunted but one you may come by in a wine shop or restaurant, is Vie di Romans. From Friuli Venezia Isonzo in Italy’s northeast corner, Vie di Romans makes white and red wines and a rosé. I tasted the Chardonnay, one I’ve always liked, as well as their Sauvignon Blanc and Friulano, one of Italy’s native grapes (and sometimes in the past mistaken for Sauvignon Blanc). Both this area of Italy generally and Vie di Romans specifically are recognized as leaders in the development of excellent wines from native Italian grapes. It’s always exciting to see passionate winemakers taking up historical vines and developing them successfully. Vie di Romans wines are regularly scored in the mid-90s and sell for about $25. While not widely available in the U.S., they are making inroads, and if you see them, snatch them up as they represent a great value. And if you are so inclined, they estimate a cellar life of 20 years, with a peak in 10 years. Wow – for $25.
The 2021 Vie di Romans Chardonnay is 100% Chardonnay from 21 year old vines. There is no malolactic fermentation and the wine is matured 9 months on its lees. The wine has a beautiful bouquet of ripe orchard fruit with notes of sweet lime. All this is braced by its bright acidity, finishing with custard, spice and hazelnuts on the long finish. Expect peak maturation in 9 years and a cellar life of 18 years.
As with the beach event earlier in the day, and much like rampaging grade schoolers in a candy shop, we found that we could exhaust our appetites well before we could exhaust the wonders arrayed before us. But it was fun trying.