Karen and Richard Motske from Laguna Niguel have been coming to the desert for 30 years, and this was their first stop at the annual Food + Wine Festival Palm Desert™. “We came out specifically for the event and for Michael Green’s seminar,” Richard says.
Green, who spent 19 years as wine and spirits expert for Gourmet magazine, was leading the aptly titled seminar “Grapes and Regions You Probably Don’t Know, But Should” in the big white tent that has become a landmark for Fashion Week El Paseo™.
During the event, wineries were pouring generously and the pace was just short of frenetic, as the crowd seemed bent on tasting every vintage and morsel from more than 100 booths showcasing fine dining, premium wine, champagne, and beer and spirits.
There were long lines for crispy pot stickers from San Diego’s Island Prime, spicy white gazpacho from Cathedral City’s Dish Creative Cuisine, wild mushroom angel hair topped with prime steak from Mastro’s of Palm Desert, and lemon tiramisu from Bellatrix at Classic Club in Palm Desert.
Amped up on caffeine and bursting with enthusiasm, Green promised his seminar would squeeze “20 years of wine education into 30 minutes.” Within the first five of those, he had participants toasting their seatmates, offering their own views of the four wines, and practicing the “Six rules of tasting: See, Swirl, Smell, Sip, Swish, Spit.” This being a casual, convivial crew, there was no spitting and quite a bit of sipping.
Green’s first tip was how to hold a wine glass: “By the stem or base. No cupping, fondling or caressing. Think of it as a Wine HR Manual.”
Another way to judge a wine is its appearance when the glass is tilted to the light against a light background. A pale, barely there color indicates a light taste and a dense, highly pigmented color tells you that the wine will be full-bodied.
“Smell is one of the most important parts of tasting, “ Green told the audience. “Come on, stick your nose all the way into the glass. If you like the smell, you’ll like the taste.” And, a wine will taste very different when it’s sipped with food. To illustrate, tasters were given small wedges of lemon and cheese. The crisp, somewhat acidic white became softer with the lemon and the deep, sultry red took on a fresher personality when its tannin paired with the protein in the cheese.
Ending his seminar, Green sent his merry tasters to discover more wines with a reassuring bit of advice: “With more than 10,000 different types of grape grown across the world, it can be overwhelming, but wine is about making connections and discovering what you like. There is no relation between price and taste. If it tastes good to you, it’s good. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Leaving with their notes, the Motskes had plans to sample a selection of reds. “The list of wineries represented is really impressive,” Richard said. “We’ve added to our collection all day.” For their 1,200-bottle-capacity home wine cellar, Calistoga’s Clos Pagase whites were at the top of the list by noon.
Their favorite food? “Marriott’s Mikado. We ate there last night and it was excellent — and it was just as good at the festival today.”
Bonita Martin and Susan Arnett came from Atlanta specifically to soak up the seminars and find new wines.
“We take trips to Spain and Portugal, and in the states we go to Sonoma and to this festival to learn and have fun,” Bonita said. “We’ve been into fine wines for around 10 years, and we still feel like newcomers in a way. The world of wine just has no limit, and this festival is a real favorite. The food is fabulous. The wines are top level. And we always meet such interesting people. There’s nothing like it in our part of the country.”
Sunday’s first wine seminar, held in a private tent adjacent to the larger venue for food and wine tasting and cooking demos, proved one of the most popular of the event. Iron Horse Winery owner Barrie Sterling and Dish executive chef/owner Joane Garcia Colson offered sparkling wines paired with different foods.
Green, who moderated the seminar, also shared one of his tips on serving wines at their peak: “Most Americans serve white wine too cold and red too warm. Take your whites out of the fridge 15 minutes before serving and put your reds in the fridge 15 minutes before serving. When whites warm up a little, they’ll be creamier and softer. Reds that are cooled a little will be more complex and cleaner.”
In separate seminars, Richard Sowelsky of Clos Pegase in Calistoga presented a lively tutorial on “The Four Noble Grape Varieties,” and Jesse Katz of Roth Estate and Lancaster wineries in Sonoma shared his take on the most important A.V.As in California, with “The Beauty of Terroir.”
Green, With Envy
Michael Green, who served as Gourmet magazine’s wine and spirits expert for 19 years, curated the wine selections for Food+Wine Festival Palm Desert™. “We wanted to expose guests to new things,” he says, “because for some people, wine is about comfort, and for others it is about discovery.”
He made these selections because they are unusual, or off the radar, yet still readily available:
- Royal Tokaji Dry Furmint, Hungary 2011
- Pierre Sparr Pinot Blanc, Alsace 2011
- Gerard-Bertrand Tautavel, S. France 2007
- Allegrini “Palazzo della Torre,” Veneto 2008
Photography by Gregg Felsen, Gerry Maceda, and Greg Peterson