“G’day, mate,” he said, extending his left hand (more about that later) and a broad smile.  I was standing in front of Luke Marquis, the global sales lead for Mollydooker Wines of McLaren Vale, Australia.  Luke happens to be the son of Mollydooker founder, owner and chief winemaker Sarah Marquis. Not only that – he’s also the “Blue Eyed Boy” for whom one of their classically Aussie Shiraz wines is named.

Luke Marquis of Mollydooker Wines, McLaren Vale, Australia, at SOBEWFF

I had just finished talking with, and trying the wines of, Jonathan Hirsh, owner of Inception Wines in the Santa Barbara area of California’s Central Coast. The South Beach Food and Wine Festival (SOBEWFF) was on, and Elizabeth and I were attending the Wine Spectator Trade Day event held on the sands of South Beach in Miami, Florida. Stands are mostly under tent. It’s a fun, free-flowing celebration of all things food, wine and spirits-related, and as I was learning, purveyors from all over the world come to South Beach (and many other Wine & Food Festival events around the country) to promote their goods.

Jonathan Hirsh, owner of Inception Wines in the Santa Barbara area of California’s Central Coast

And it’s a wild cornucopia. Wine samplings ranged from Napa Valley’s Trefethen, to the Israeli Wine Producers Association, to Mollydooker of Australia, and Kim Crawford and Oyster Bay (I learned that Pinot Gris is their fastest-growing export wine) of New Zealand, and everything in between. The spirits trade was flush with stalwarts like Aviation, Tito’s, Bombay, High West Distillery and many others, including more tequila and mezcal producers than I could count. All were mixing up sample-sized cocktail potions that delighted and refreshed, fueling enthusiasm for what would come next. Champagne, beer, shochu, spiked seltzers and more were all on tap. As must be obvious, there was no way to sample everything and walk out on your own two feet. (We discovered this after about 45 minutes!)

Walter with a representative from the Israel Wine Producers Association and map of Israeli winemakers

Food vendors provided a welcome diversion. Goya was cooking up fresh street tacos, and local restaurants and some notable chefs offered bit-size samples; the feast was as tempting and diverse as the libations. Entertainers provided a lively backdrop and, for those who were so moved, an opportunity to dance. The SOBEWFF is a multi-day, multi-venue event, and depending on your interest, you could find events hosted by Emeril Lagasse, Giada De Laurentiis, Guy Fieri and more. Interested in shopping for a BMW?  They are there too. All net proceeds from the Festival benefit the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management at Florida International University (FIU).

An outdoor section of the SOBEWFF

“Mollydooker is Australian for left-handed,” Luke said, as we shook with our left ands.  Luke was as open, warm and friendly as his Blue Eyed Boy Shiraz is bold and brassy. Seek out both if you get the chance.

Walter is Always at the Center of Wine

Food and wine fans discuss pairings with Walter at the Walter On Wine booth

Walter explains his simplified reinvention of wine ratings to Very Good, Great, Superb

Walter On Wine delivers Wine Chats to help wine lovers increase their enjoyment of every sip

Sommelier Walter Hartman shares his extensive knowledge of wines with LA WineFest attendees

Walter On Wine pours one of Walter’s recommended wines, the 2021 Daou Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles, for the crowd to enjoy

Walter educates wine lovers on how the olfactory sense affects wine tasting

Walter Hartman launches his Walter On Wine website at LA WineFest with the Executive Director, Scherr Lillico

Mitchell McSorley of Hibou Wines joins Walter to highlight Hibou’s luscious wines

Ja Rule was ‘Always on Time’ to join Walter in tastings with wine lovers at LA WineFest

Callam Clarke of Adobe Road Winery holds a tasting session with Walter On Wine

Bring an Interesting Bottle Night


It started simply enough. A few years ago, we got together with two other couples after the December holidays. We all had plenty of commitments in December, and we figured this would allow us a more leisurely evening to socialize – with good friends, good food, and of course, good wine. The other couples each brought a bottle to share that evening, and I had a couple lined up also, with one maybe a little special. Flash-forward a few years, and it’s become a key part of the evening to bring and share “something a little special.” Everything is fair game, and everyone is entitled to define “special” any way they choose. This has made for a fun evening and a chance to experience some new and often very good wines.


When we think of Greece, we usually visualize sun-bleached islands surrounded by beautiful blue waters – and Greek white wine. But Greece offers much more. Our friend George, who was born in Greece, brought are a red wine, Kokkinos, from the uplands of Naoussa, in Macedonia, Greece. This wine is often compared to Pinot Noir or Barolo, because all these wines have a similar structure, with high acidity and high tannins. The Kokkinos is made from the xinomavro grape and can take some aging to come together. Ours was a 2015 and drinking nicely, a “big” wine with plenty of red and black fruit flavors and hints of leather. Perhaps most stunning, these wines can be had for around $20 per bottle, an outstanding price for a wine with so much backbone, fruit, and aging potential. George and his wife, Lisa, were proud to share a great red wine from his homeland.

Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino

The next wine was one of two I planned to serve, and one I chose because I knew two of our guests like Sangiovese from Italy. And this is a very nice one, the 2013 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino. 2013 was a good year to make wine in Tuscany, and Il Poggione – a well-regarded estate – made the most of it. The wine is big, with dark fruits and velvet-smooth tannins, and continued to evolve in the glass, suggesting it still has many years of life ahead of it. While Brunello di Montalcino is not an uncommon wine, this one earned its “special” designation by being especially wonderful.


Our most senior guest, Herb, a 90-year-old professor emeritus of History at Indiana University, brought the next bottle, another detour for us, and a very welcome one. It was the Montevetrano 2004. Still beautiful after 19 years in bottle, it is made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Aglianico (the grape used in ancient Rome’s most revered wine). And unusually, it is made near Salerno, Campania, Italy, where Silvia Imparato pioneered the production of quality wine from this region. This is like a Bordeaux blend, with the Aglianico adding an Italian twist. The Montevetrano has a reputation for consistently being a very good wine. Described as “bold and explosive” when young, this wine still offers a great concentration of blackberries, currants, and tannins mellowed by the time our guest gave this bottle from his cellar. We all thanked Herb for reaching into his cellar to share this wine with us, to which Herb replied, “Well, I figured, what am I waiting for?” After waiting all those years, we were glad he decided the wait was finally over.

Two Hands Ares Shiraz

Given the stakes, I also wanted to reach into the cellar and offer up something in a totally different direction. So I chose one of my bottles of Two Hands Ares Shiraz from 2006. This wine is 100% Shiraz from Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale in Australia. Shiraz (Syrah in France) is a big wine, and Two Hands built this red to be massive. Unlike today, when many wine makers globally seek more balance in their wines, Two Hands crafted this wine at a time when bold, fruit-forward wines were winning all the critical praise. They went all out, selecting grapes from only the best vineyards, then selecting from only their best barrels, and underpinned all that fruit with a “200% new oak” spine .Mellowed now, but incredibly fresh, the Ares offers up a room-filling aroma of vanilla, pepper, sage, and blueberry. Extracted and still mouth-filling on the palate, there’s a ton of succulent dark fruit backed up by the typical savory flavors of Shiraz. And the flavors went on for a very, very long time after each sip. This is a wine that can astonish, and it did.

Vin de Constance

The next wine, also brought by Herb and his wife Dee, is legendary: Vin de Constance 2012, a sweet wine from South Africa. According to Hugh Johnson, a British wine expert, “Constantia was bought by European courts in the 18th and 19th centuries in preference to Yquem, Tokay, Madeira.” That’s high praise and a remarkable lineage, going back to the founding of the estate in 1685. The labor and care that goes onto the making of this wine is amazing. We, the lucky ones, are able to taste it in every sweet sip. Aged on its lees, it delivers an explosive bouquet of citrus, orange marmalade, nutmeg, and almond toast. The sweetness is braced by a thread of solid acidity that gives the wine beautiful balance and a very long finish. This is a wine that can age for decades, maybe even centuries. The Vin de Constance provided the perfect close to a wonderful evening.


It can be fun to organize wine tastings with wines all from one region or country, to get an idea of the variety or different styles from one place. Another approach is to taste the same grape varietal from many regions or countries, to see how varied styles can be around the world. But sometimes it’s just fun to rely on serendipity, with no structure to the tastings, and enjoy the wonderful diversity generated by a motivated group of enthusiasts.