Got back yesterday evening from the first annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine festival, a three-day extravaganza of tastings, lunches, dinners, seminars and (for those who know which end of the stick you hit that little white ball with) golf.
Highlights for me included what seemed to be unlimited amounts of Dom Perignon 1999 being served before a lunch that included, among other terrific courses, a superb piece of venison cooked by Eleven Madison Park's Daniel Humm. Someone asked him about why the meat was so tender, and he said in his Swiss-French accent, "Yes, first they slaughter the animal, and then they hang the carcass for three weeks." Various looks of slight alarm arose from the less game-obsessed at the lunch. "And then I marinate it for three days," he added, somewhat of an afterthought.
I also enjoyed being on the panel of a retrospective of Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir, every vintage since the initial 1998. Because Gary Pisoni himself was also on the panel, my job was largely to laugh my head off while he regaled the audience with vintage Gary Pisoni stories (corner the man sometime and ask him to tell you about digging wells). The wines were impressive across the board, especially the fragrant, gorgeously composed 1999 and the lush but focused 2005.
Highlights from the Grand Tasting tent were multiple. Among them: the latest vintages of Peay Vineyards' terrific Pinot Noirs, particularly the succulent 2006 Pomarium; a knock-your-socks-off Cabernet from DeLille Cellars, the 2005 Grand Ciel; and several superb Pinots from Papapietro-Perry, including the silky 2005 Peters Vineyard bottling. Also, at the opening night party, the very impressive, flavor-saturated '06 Kutch Pinot Noir (evidently my head was in a Pinot Noir space), which was even better than the '05 I wrote up a while back.
If you want to talk value, though, the best buy of the whole weekend-and a wine that could easily stand up to reds several times its price-was the 2005 Volver, a potent, juicy, structured Tempranillo from La Mancha, Spain, which retails for $17. Ridiculous value, and thanks to importer Jorge Ordonez for finding it (the wine will arrive in the country in the next couple of weeks). Was it better than the magnum of 2004 Screaming Eagle that I tasted at the Heidi Barrett seminar? OK, maybe not. But won't run you $4,000 either....