Tasting like a Sommelier and Eating like a Chef at South Beach

It may seem like one big eating and drinking orgy at the Food Network's South Beach Wine and Food Festival, but we "experts" have to do it right.  For me that meant a day in the classroom and at the booths, learning, but it wasn't difficult work -- especially not the night of eating and drinking way too much.

First, I don't recommend attempting to make it through 12 hours at this festival on three hours sleep.  I managed to get through some sampling yesterday, but was a party-pooper rather early last night. Still, I made it to the highlights of the Perrier-Jouet BubbleQ presented by the Allen Brothers and hosted by Emeril Lagasse and Friends (fortunately, I didn't have to repeat that title at any point during the night).  It was the event to be at Friday night, as hundreds of people spent $350 (and up) a piece for the right to wait on lines for hours.  And it was all worth it. 

When Emeril puts on a barbecue, he knows how to do it right. This was the most elaborate barbecue I have ever been to.  The Perrier-Jouet Champagne was flowing and two dozen Food Network chefs were handing out their versions of everything from pulled pork to lobster rolls.  Unfortunately, details were not so clear, but there was a meat mix in a corn pancake I will always remember. For those who didn't like their drinks so bubbly, there was also Graffignia Wines from Argentina (enjoyed the Pinot Grigio), tequila milkshakes, champagne sorbet and an array of treats from Sweet Street Desserts.  For the real chocolate lovers (like yours truly), there was dessert for your dessert -- Godiva's Chocolate sin.  It was quite a party and only lack of sleep pulled me away before the finish.

Saturday was a new day with a well-rested start.  After breakfast next door at the Front Porch Cafe on Ocean Avenue (some of best homefries I've had, but the California omelet with half an avocado in the corner was a bit strange), I ventured down to the Gansevoort Hotel for my Taste Wine Like a Sommelier seminar.  Seminar was not the right word for anything that was this much fun, as some top wine experts, including Doug Frost (no relation), Richard Betts (of Betts & Scholl Winery) and Laura DePasquale led us through a blind tasting of eight wines.  It was a wonderful afternoon treat and quite a few lessons enjoyed by even a frequent taster like me.  It was also a lesson to many on the wine regions as we explored everything from a $16 bottle of Pacific Rim Riesling to a $105 bottle of Pouilly-Fume Ladouiette from Louire Valley.

After the seminar, I needed to find a contact at the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village.  Even though tomorrow is my official day there, I was not allowed to leave (much to my delight) without doing some sampling.  I discovered a few treats that I would like to pass along....

Voli Light Vodkas-I just had the Vanilla Espresso and it was delicious on the rocks.  These low calorie, electrolyte-enhanced spirits are to be tried and I may have to try some more tomorrow.

Nuvo Sparkling Liquer-Vodka and French wine, infused with fruit. Not as sweet as one would expect.  I really enjoyed this.

Zacapa Rum-This spirit is made in Guatemala, from sugar cane that is grown in volcanic soil.  Very interesting flavor.

I'm sure there will be many more discoveries tomorrow at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, where I am starting my day at the Wines from Spain seminar.


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