Lee Klein

Drinking Our Way Through the Miami International Wine Fair

The 2008 Miami International Wine Fair, at the Miami Beach Convention Center, featured the usual aisles of wines and wine sellers, and the usual throngs of wine enthusiasts, and the usual clique of ink-stained wretches such as me who were there to scribble some notes while, of course, drinking wine (I actually used a tape recorder, but you get the idea). This is one of those events where the saying “You’ve been to one, you’ve been to them all” holds pretty true.

I started with a taste of local wine at a booth manned by the Miami Winery, and spoke with Alexis Paredes, president and CEO. The wines are “100 percent tropical fruit” -- mango, litchi, and guava to be precise -- which are grown on the family farm in the east Everglades. Alexis’s grandfather was a winemaker in Spain, and when they migrated to Cuba, they found “there were no grapes, but a lot of delicious fruits.” So, to make a long story short, the next generation migrated to Miami, bought a farm, made fruit wine for the family, entered the wine in competitions, won medals, and the rest, as they say, is history. “L.A. chefs are loving the mango wine with paella and spicy fish dishes and things like that,” Alexis explains, “while the guava wine works as an aperitif and matches well with crab cakes and calamari.” I know this might not impress a lot of serious wine-ies, but I thought their bottle was the nicest:

Lee Klein

Next I moseyed over to Barterhouse and spoke with Justin Christoph, whose title is director of rare wines. He said all sorts of stuff I didn’t quite understand, but the wines he poured were quite good and will be a lot better in, say, 10 years. Barterhouse’s price range is “$10 to $10,000.” I’m no expert on these things, but I can’t imagine anyone providing much of a better range than that. I was drawn to a bottle with a da Vinci sketch on the label. Turns out those sketches were recently discovered, along with predictions from the artist about how wine technology would become vastly improved in the future. I would buy it just to impress people with my fine taste in art.

Lee Klein

After a few sips here and there, I figured it was time to conduct some man-on-the-street-style interviews. I stopped a tall, lanky fellow who was there to choose wines for his catering company. His name was John, and he told me the name of the company, but I didn’t have my recorder out in time to catch it -- so we’ll just call him John the Caterer (maybe John McCain will want to use him in his final set of stump speeches). He didn’t think he’d be buying any wine, but seemed to be having a great time. “It’s like a chef’s spring break” is the way he put it. He also called himself a “tangential chef,” one of a number of things people told me that I didn’t understand. When pressed, he said the best stuff he’d tasted thus far were “some of the top-end Chilean wines -- really outstanding.” Asked why, he said he liked “wines that dance around on my tongue, and give that sort of....” He couldn’t quite come up with the word, but made an interesting gesture that suggested it had something to do with a closed fist. Either that, or he was subtly telling me to move on. So I did.

My next interviewee was Rich Sayette from Sunflower Wine Tours, an online guide that specializes in providing information for people taking tours in any of the wine regions of the world. He covers 13 countries “that the American public is focusing on.” He came here “mainly to try some of the Italian varietals -- the Barolos, Brunellos, Montalcinos.” In his opinion, these wines “had stolen the show. The Brunellos from 2003, 2001 are fantastic.” He added that as the euro is decreasing in value, “Spanish, French, Italian wines are becoming more affordable. But I’ve also been very impressed by the quality of the New World wines, whether from Argentina, Chile, and some of the lesser-known regions of Spain.” I asked David Santana, also from Sunflower Wine Tours, how many pours it takes to get a good buzz. “I would say about 10 or 12,” he said. That got me a bit nervous, because by this point I’d had about 15.

I was beginning to get hungry, so I asked Rich if he’d found any good food. He recommended “some good cheese from igourmet”, in particular “the one with some truffle in it,” which I tried a little while later. Called Tartufino Speziato, the cheese was not only truffled but also dusted with nutmeg and cloves -- delicious. He also raved about some porcini mushrooms, but I never managed to unearth them. His favorite wine thus far? “A Brunello di Montalcino,” which he said was being served “by a guy in a blue shirt who blinks a lot.” I spent the next half-hour looking for pourers in blue shirts and studying their eyes. Strangely, nobody seemed to be blinking at all.

There really wasn’t much food other than those cheeses, a Costco booth dishing lukewarm empanadas, a few tasty hors d’oeuvres from Miami Chef Services, and a very spicy rice-and-meat dish from Anokha Indian restaurant -- God bless them, it was the only real food I had all day. As I exited the convention center, there was a steady drizzle coming down from the gray sky. “It always rains on us enophiles,” I said to nobody in particular.

-- Lee Klein

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