Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Tastings, people make festival special

Sips: Wine

By Amy Simmons
Enquirer contributor

Earlier this month, the Cincinnati International Wine Festival hosted thousands of wine fans, but it was the presence of one person that made it a special wine experience for this wine wonk. His name is Kevin Zraly.

Founder of the Windows on the World Wine School and author of the acclaimed book, Windows on the World Complete Wine Course (Sterling;$24.95), Zraly was the special star of this year's festival, leading several wine classes and a private tasting and fund-raiser.

Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower, was destroyed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Zraly's acerbic-yet-friendly demeanor, engaging teaching style and common-sense approach to wine made meeting him a memorable, educational experience.

But one person does not a wine festival make.

Amid the classes and winery dinners, the culmination of the Festival is always the Grand Tastings where I sampled among the 600 wines poured. This year's medal winners included:

• Gold: Chardonnay proved the popular grape in this grouping. Winners included Domaine Napa, Cinnabar Central Coast, and Rutherford Ranch Napa. Also check out non-chardonnay winners that included Morgan Double L Pinot Noir and Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant.

• Silver: Red blends and shiraz captured the lion's share of silver. Shiraz winners included Peter Lehmann, Wynn's, Grant Burge Filsell, and Greg Norman. Winning blends were Cocci Grifoni Il Grifone, Waterbrook Melange, and Beaulieu Vineyards' Tapestry. Also look for Seghesio Barbera d' Alba, Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Dry Riesling and Hugel Pinot Blanc Cuvee Amours.

• Bronze: Merlot and cabernet sauvignon had strong showings in this category. Merlot winners included Rodney Strong, Stag's Leap Winery, along with cabs such as Jordan, Cellar No. 8, and McManis. Others to try: Jepson Syrah, Estancia Meritage, Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva and Gruet Blanc de Noir. (For a complete list of medal winners:

Other wines worth noting included a trio of Spanish wines at the Vintner Select booth: Cuevas de Castilla, a delicious white, and a pair of red blends - Portico del Castillo Monastrell and Clos Batllet 2000, from the emerging region of Priorat.

For something different and more intimate, I heartily recommend attending next year's wine seminars. My wine buddy and I attended Zraly's "One Hour Italian Red Wine Expert," where we tasted a range of wines from the Tuscan, Piedmont and Veneto regions. My favorites included fruit-balanced Vicara Barbera 1999 and the sublime, port-like Amarone Le Ragose 1997, which was by far my favorite of the weekend.

One of the most enjoyable wine experiences I've had the good fortune to enjoy came at the beginning of the festival -a private tasting with Zraly - limited to 30 wine lovers. Amid Zraly's lively teaching style, we tasted four whites and four reds. Two winners from that evening were Justin Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 from California and the great bordeaux-style red blend from Tuscany, Gaja Ca'Marcanda Magari 2000.

In addition to wine recommendations, Zraly offered tips for getting the most out of a tasting experience:

• Taste the wine in your mouth for at least 60 seconds, allowing at least 15 seconds between tastings. Tasting another sip in less than 15 seconds makes determining its flavor harder.

• If tannins of a wine still overpower the fruit after 60 seconds, the wine is not yet ready to drink

• Wine tasting is as much an olfactory experience as it is an experience of the palate

• There are four basic tastes - sweet, sour, salt and bitter. Use the tasting experience to determine what components you are experiencing. Well-made wines will be a balance of acid and fruit.

• For an intense olfactory experience, cover the top of the glass with your hand, swirl and then smell. Your hand creates a chimney effect that intensifies the bouquet.

There was one sad note to this year's festival. Just days before it began, Russ Wiles, festival founder and member of its board of directors, died after a battle with cancer.

Contact Amy Simmons by e-mail: or send questions and comments c/o the Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202.

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