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500 Wines, Too Little Time 

Sipping and spitting at the Park City Food and Wine Classic

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Five hundred wines and too little time: That pretty well sums up this year’s Park City Food & Wine Classic. I mean, sure, the event is spaced out over three days. But still, break it down and that means you’re attempting to taste approximately 166 wines per day. It can’t be done. But, I tried. I gave it my best shot. And when all the wine glasses were finally put away, there were a few sips that lingered in my memory, both good and bad. I won’t burden you with the bad wines, but here are some memorable ones (plus a spirit surprise).

It’s never a bad idea to kick off the day with bubbly. And, if you enjoy dessert for breakfast, Sofia Blanc de Blancs ($18)— from Francis Ford Coppola’s winery, and named for his filmmaker daughter— might be the way to go. It sort of tastes like wedding cake in a bottle, but with lots of yeasty, brioche flavors. From the same winemaker, Rubicon 2005 ($135) is a luscious Cabernet Sauvignon (made with 1.5 percent Petit Verdot) with great depth, soft tannins and a mochaberry finish that goes on for days.

But, back to Champagne: Charles de Fere Blanc de Blancs Brut technically isn’t Champagne, since it’s not made in Champagne. But you won’t be able to tell from the taste. This bargain French bubbly ($12) is brimming with yeasty aromas of tropical fruit and some nice spiciness (nutmeg and cinnamon) and butter flavors going on in the mouth. As for actual Champagne from Champagne, it’s hard to beat Taittinger Brut La Francaise NV ($47). This Champagne is a very elegant, pure example of what Champagne can (and should) be: crisp and rich, with pretty apple and pear notes, toasty and with great acidity for pairing with foods. Champagne: It’s not just for breakfast anymore!

I sort of got bogged down at the Southern Wine & Spirits booth, where Southern’s Jeff Carter was pouring some of my favorites from wineries like Rosenblum, Trimbach, Domaine Chandon and Banfi, along with some new stuff I’d not previously encountered. For starters, there was a surprising Cabernet from, of all places, Tuscany: Castello di Monsanto Nemo ($45). Who knew? From the New World, I really enjoyed sipping Terrazas de los Andes Malbec Afincado ($44.44), from Argentina. This deep, dark, inky purplish-black Malbec is bold, smoky and complex—a lot of wine for under $50. It’s a heavyweight, like Ali, and as big and brash as Tyson. When you’re ready to get in the ring with the big boys, this is the wine for you.

A more graceful, luxurious red wine option is Cheval des Andes 2005 ($65), where Cheval Blanc’s art of assemblage has been transported to Argentina. The result is a Cabernet, Malbec and Petit Verdot blend that could give some great French Bordeaux a run for its franc.

Finally, from Chile comes a beautifully dry, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc called Amaral ($18.38). My wife has expensive white-wine tastes and this was her favorite, which makes it a bargain.

The biggest surprise at the PC Food & Wine Classic? Gin. Specifically, cheap gin: New Amsterdam Gin, on sale this month for $10.99. Crafted with botanicals, New Amsterdam has typical hints of juniper, along with not-so-typical orange-peel notes. Now, I’m no gin aficionado, but this gin tasted wonderful chilled and served straight. I’m going to be sipping a lot of New Amsterdam Gin on the patio this summer.

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