Vintners, aficionados get scholarly taste of good life

November 03, 1991|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- It wasn't only wine that drew more than 1,000 people to New York last weekend for the 10th anniversary of the Wine Spectator's Wine Experience, a four-day whirl of swirling, sniffing, socializing, smiling, plus some discreet spitting.

The occasion, which brings together wine makers and wine aficionados, while contributing scholarships to students in the food and beverage industry, commenced on Thursday evening at the Marriott Marquis with a wine tasting and concluded Monday afternoon with a batch of classes called Lifestyle Seminars.

The 1990s may have been declared the Age of Retrenchment, but here the Good Life was not only lived but taught.

Among the one-hour classes offered Monday morning (three for $125) were: Fabulous Foie Gras, The Pleasures of a Good Cigar, The Greatest Vintage Port: Nacional, Caviar: a Regal Tasting, Creative Cheese Choices, the Mysteries of Cask 23, A Celebration of Champagne, A Chocoholic's Dream Come True and Classic Glass Tasting.

The Pleasures of a Good Cigar drew a packed smoke-filled room, including Marvin R. Shanken, the editor and publisher of the Wine Spectator who, between puffs, took the opportunity to announce that he will be publishing a cigar magazine.

In Classic Glass Tasting, many in the audience seemed astonished to hear that there is no all-purpose wine glass and seemed to delight in learning that the tongue has four distinct taste zones.

The seminar participants sighed with relief when they were assured that the amount of lead in crystal stemware was no cause for alarm. ("It requires so much drinking your liver will give out before the lead can have an effect," said Georg Riedel, the seminar leader, who is the president of Riedelglas.)

In Fabulous Foie Gras, Arian Daguin and George Faison, proprietors of D'Artagnan, the Jersey City purveyor, showed slides of foie gras from breeding farm to finished product.

There were also cooking demonstrations and tastes of five applause-getting preparations: a terrine with Armagnac, duck rillettes, smoked duck breast, mousse of foie gras and a terrine of foie gras with Sauternes.

Sunday's events concluded with a black-tie auction -- $175 a ticket -- that raised $649,100 for Citymeals-on-Wheels.

Among the items up for bidding: a considerable array of rare wines, etched Absolut vodka bottles with jeweled tops set in sterling silver, tickets to every show opening on Broadway from November through the spring, a weekend in the kitchen of Le Bernardin and lunch at Le Cirque on the banquette usually saved for Barbara Walters, Beverly Sills and Liz Smith.

Wine, of course, was the biggest draw for those who paid the $750 fee for the four-day event, which alternates between San Francisco and New York. Many of the wines up for tasting were rare, harking back to the 1950s.

Tastings of more recent vintages were open to the public at $150 per evening.

The 165 wine makers (give or take a vineyard), chosen by the Wine Spectator staff as the best in the world, came from France, California and surprising places like China, Japan and New Zealand.

"These are people who are passionate about wine, people who want to get the inside track on the subject," the 48-year-old Mr. Shanken said as the first arrivals eagerly descended on the two ballrooms and headed for the mountains of stemmed glassware.

One woman was overheard saying to Timothy J. Mondavi of Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, Calif., "I feel like I know you just from your chardonnay label."

Many of the participants carried two glasses at once, much like the Atlantic City gamblers who play two slot machines at the same time.

Others, after swirling one wine for a while, spit it out in plastic Marriott Marquis buckets.

"This is the only place I know where you get dressed up to spit," said Patty McCormick, who came from Corona del Mar, Calif. "Killer wines!" her husband, Bill, said enthusiastically.

"We love wine, but this is a social event, too," Mrs. McCormick said. "It's like seeing old friends," she added, referring to the wine makers. "They're very nice, and we enjoy schmoozing with them."

Her only complaint:

A5 "By the end of the weekend my teeth get stained."

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