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Wine Classic Highlights 

New finds/old faves at Park City Food & Wine Classic

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During multiple tastings and seminars at July’s Park City Food & Wine Classic, I discovered a number of new wines destined to become my wine BFFs, and was also reminded of some of my all-time faves—wines that never fail to win me over, and over and over.

My wine adventure began even before I picked up my Food & Wine Classic tickets. My wife and I stayed at the newly refurbished Washington School House Hotel, tucked away near the top of Park Avenue in Park City. Formerly a B&B, the Washington School House is now a boutique hotel, combining its original quarried-limestone exterior (built in 1889) and 16-foot ceilings with amenities like flat-screen TVs, a heated pool on the terraced hillside, gourmet breakfasts, a chic ski lounge and more. The place is simply spectacular. If you’re looking for a posh, high-end Park City getaway, this is the place.

Anyway, at the Washington School House Hotel, afternoon cocktails are served (gratis) and include a very tempting selection of beer and wine. I’ve stayed in other hotels with cocktail hours, where they tend to pour swill purchased for $3.99 a bottle. Here, however, beer choices included Squatters Hop Rising Double IPA and Monkshine Belgian Style Blonde Ale from Uinta Brewing. On the wine menu were selections like Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, Siduri Pinot Noir and Adami Prosecco, just to name a few. Our drinks were served in high-end stemware and accompanied by a plate of smoked salmon with cucumber ribbons, heirloom cherry tomatoes, mixed greens and sesame-seed crackers. Very impressive.

One of the highlights of the Food & Wine Classic for me was a vertical tasting of Cliff Lede (pronounced “Lady”) Vineyards Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, from the 2002, 2004, 2009 and 2010 vintages. Robert Parker wrote about Cliff Lede that, “Readers looking for a future superstar from Napa need look no further.” And indeed, these were magnificent wines. It was interesting to see how Cliff Lede’s winemakers—including Jack Bittner, who hosted the seminar—have, through the years, tweaked their wines: a little Petit Verdot here, a bit of Cabernet Franc there, depending on the annual fruit harvest and other variables. This is a small-production vineyard, producing fewer than 900 cases, annually. So, Cliff Lede Poetry wines aren’t widely available here. The good news is that you can buy the more reasonably priced Cliff Lede Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon for $56 (versus $140 for Poetry). It’s an intense, creamy Cab with lots of mocha, plum, chocolate and espresso flavors.

A seminar on Rosé wines led by Gus Magann of Utah’s Vine Lore, Inc., was a fascinating tour through the world of pink wine, from Italy, France and Spain to Oregon, California, Argentina and Portugal. When the pink dust had settled, one of my favorites was a slightly effervescent Rosé from Portugal: Quinta de Gomariz Espadeiro Rosado 2011 ($11.30), made with the Saignée method, which imparts a tad more tannin to the wine than non-Saignée methods of fermentation.

Another nice discovery was Plantagenet Hazard Hill Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon 2010 ($12), from Western Australia. It’s a racy, citrusy white wine, loaded with guava, golden apple and gooseberry fruit flavors and aromas—really nicely balanced and complex for $12. Another winner from the Southern Hemisphere is Kim Crawford Marlborough Unoaked Chardonnay 2009 ($15). I’ve long been a fan of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc wines, but this was my first encounter with Chardonnay from this dependable New Zealand vintner. Some of the best wines I’ve ever tasted undergo fermentation in oak barrels. However, oak can also serve to hide flaws in inferior wines. With this one, there’s no oak to cloak the plentiful pineapple, white peach and cantaloupe flavors that characterize the wine, along with crisp acidity that makes it a Chardonnay to reach for with seafood dishes. Think lobster bisque.

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