Congratulations and thanks to the PLCB and Philadelphia Magazine for successfully organizing this event. The place was packed. It was challenging at times to make your way down the aisles and to the tasting tables. Even though I arrived early, some of the more popular wineries were already starting to run out of wine. Given the ground I was hoping to cover, I didn't have time for detailed note taking. So, for what it’s worth, here are a few quick, skeletal thoughts on the wines at the festival that made my Greatest Hits List:
- Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 ($99.99). I had been looking forward to enjoying Silver Oak ever since I learned it was participating, and their wine delivered in a big way. Ponderous. The nose included light notes of cloves and oak. Rich caramel on the palate. Long finish.
- Chateau Palmer 2003 (Margaux) ($147.99). Palmer is a Third Growth Bordeaux. For this reason alone it should have been on everybody’s dance card. Spicy nose. Medium body. Dark fruit. Firm tannins, but well balanced and smooth.
- Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Fay Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 ($74.99). Lavender and violets on the nose. Dark berries on the palate. The warm tannins are the centerpiece of this wine—soft, silky and seductive.
- Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($53.99). This was a popular table, as I suspected it would be. Even though I managed to elbow my way to Cakebread’s table by 6:40, I watched them pour the last of the Cab right after I had my sample. Dark berry and chocolate flavors. Peppery accents.
- Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard 2001 ($134.99). According to the program, this wine was reserved for the VIPs, so I feel fortunate to have sampled this gem. I was impressed that Kathleen Heitz Myers, the President of Heitz Wine Cellars, actually was onsite pouring the wine. Very floral nose with notes of cloves. Dark fruit and spice. Balanced tannins.
- Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($50.29). Plum and dark berry. Finish is long and complex with a savory / umami taste.
- Best Wine: Unquestionably, the Champagne Krug Grande Cuvee NV ($152.99). Stunning. Fresh, crisp and dry. Bold notes of roasted nuts with light buttery accents. Very complex and elegant. Worth the price of admission even if this would have been the only wine in the room.
- PA Wines. The two Pennsylvania wines I sampled were impressive and surprisingly drinkable. I tried Chaddsford’s Merican 2001 ($29.09) and Blue Mountain’s Blue Heron Meritage 2003 ($22.49), both of which are American versions of Bordeaux. Head-to-head, Chaddsford edges-out the Blue Mountain on taste. But the price points for these wines are bafflingly high, especially since there are numerous true Bordeaux wines available that are cheaper and more refined.
- Coolest Wine Name: Oculus. Part of the compelling “Wines of Canada” table. I know, oculus is Latin for eye and it’s the name of the opening in the dome of the Pantheon. But, come on, it’s got a heavy metal ring to it. Probably not the most polished wine in the room (a bit jammy, actually), but you felt like a bad ass drinking a wine named Oculus.
- The Food. The cheese and fruit disappeared quickly and the lines for the hot hors d’oeuvres were too long. Toward the end of the evening, though, I wandered to the side patio where the line at the Canadian foie gras table was curiously short. I soon found out why. This pate was intense, overwhelming and unnaturally gamey, which would have been fine had the experience stopped there. It didn’t. The aftertaste, literally, was nauseating. And it only got worse and more intense the longer you went without rinsing your mouth. It may be a while before I can partake of anything Canadian. Except, of course, the Oculus.
- Next year, spend the extra coin for the early VIP Tasting. You’ll have more time to enjoy the more popular wines before they run out. Plus, you’ll be treated to special selections, like this year’s infamous Joseph Phelps Insignia 2002, that are not available to the regular attendees.
- If you plan to buy anything at the on-site PLCB store next year, do it early. Apparently, there were a lot of impulse buyers at the festival. The Silver Oak, for example, sold out quickly.
- Normally, it would cost $715.23 to experience the seven wines on my Greatest Hits List. I experienced all of them, plus many others, for only $95. Not too shabby.