Saturday, January 22, 2011

Capital Wine Festival is Underway!

As the popularity of wine continues to increase, so too has the popularity of wine festivals. A Google search of the term “wine festivals” will return more than two and a half million pages. That’s a lot of wine festivals - with many of them following the same formula: invite as many wineries as possible, throw some food and crafts at the attendees along with a complimentary tasting glass, and price the festival reasonably enough to make sure that said attendees will descend on the convention center/hotel ballroom/park, etc. in droves.

Not that these wine festivals are a bad thing – I enjoy going to them, meeting people from the wineries and tasting the regional food – but it is nice to have a bit of variety. The continuing popularity of wine is a great thing, and big wine festivals help make wine even more approachable and accessible to those who may have an interest in wine, but still want to explore their options.

My point is that it is difficult to create a successful wine festival that breaks out of this tried and true mold. The Capital Wine Festival strives to do just that by creating a more intimate experience for both the wineries and the participants. At the Grand Opening Reception, there was great wine and great food, but gone were the schwag bags, free tasting glasses and regional folk art. Instead, attendees got an evening that focused on wine – good wine – where they could talk to the new executive chef at the Fairfax Hotel at Embassy Row and learn about what they were drinking at a leisurely pace. People did not need to be rushed from tasting stand to tasting stand because of a line four-deep of people more interested in getting drunk off of free samples than tasting and enjoying the wine. The people pouring the wine, in this case some of the DC areas’ top distributors and wholesalers, were happy to tell the guests about the wine they were serving and which food items from the buffet would pair best with it. In essence, the Grand Opening Reception sought to be small, intimate and wine-focused. It succeeded.

The Capital Wine Festival is modeled after the Boston Wine Festival that was started by Chef Daniel Bruce 22 years ago. The festival is really a series of winemaker dinners over the course of several months. The idea, which is still the driving force behind the festival, is to invite winemakers or winery owners to showcase their wines for a small gathering of participants. The wines are paired with a dinner prepared by the host restaurant’s executive chef. Some of the wineries participating in this year’s Capital Wine Festival are Martinelli Winery, Continuum Estate and Silver Oak Cellars. Wines from each of these wineries – as well as the others featured this year – can proudly stand on their own merits. Having them paired with a menu created by the Fairfax Hotel’s new executive chef means that attendees will be in for a special evening.

My favorite wines of the evening were, by far, the Chateau Montelena 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and the Hess Vineyards 2007 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. Both of the Cabernets were smooth, full-bodied Cabernets. The Chateau Montelena had a deep, purple color with lots of plumb, chocolate, cassis and licorice on the palate. The finish was velvety and dry with well-balanced tannins.

The Hess Mt. Veeder Cabernet was a little less robust than the Chateau Montelena, but still had a nice, full body with flavors of dark cherries, oak and dark chocolate throughout. Both wines were fantastic, and a downright steal compared to some other high-end wines I have reviewed recently. The wines, like the Grand Opening of the Capital Wine Festival itself, are definitely worth experiencing. Better than experiencing them on their own would be savoring them well-prepared meal.

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