Nantucket Wine Festival 2002 Review

Horace once said, "Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it." Although he was born over 2000 years before the Nantucket Wine Festival began, his words shone through the festival weekend this past May. Despite some of the heaviest rain Mother Nature could produce and chilly temperatures, the festival was great fun for those lucky enough to get out to it. Denis Toner and his crew made sure buckets caught leaks, walkways went around puddles, and heaters kept the chill away. The results were brilliant. Walking under the tents, sipping wine and chatting with new-found friends was actually more fun with the outside world wet and rainy.

The Grand Tasting ran Saturday and Sunday, and both were sold out in advance. Unfortunately for some who tried to come over on Saturday, the fierce storm prevented many ferries from crossing. Wine lovers should keep this in mind for next year! Be sure to come over a day early, and enjoy the sights and sounds of this lovely island. There are dinners and seminars running all week up to and including the tasting weekend. Free shuttles run from the center of town and the Nantucket Inn to the festival.

It's always important to have a plan at a wine festival, even if it's a simple one like "taste Chardonnays" or "taste wines over $40". I always begin the first morning with tasting Champagnes. That way my tongue is fresh for their light flavors. Nantucket offered quite a selection for those who love bubbly - and especially for those who haven't yet found one they enjoy yet. With such a variety, there's sure to be one here to suit any taste. There were sparklers of all types, including Nicholas Fuilette, Westport Rivers, Gloria Ferrer, and many more.

The representatives at Gloria Ferrer talked about how their Carneros operation is allowed to operate independently from the main company in Spain, well known for its Freixenet sparkler. The company had originally considered bringing in traditional Spanish varietals to its Californian location, but in the end stuck with the traditional Chamapgne grapes. It actually took the California sparkly a long time to overcome the Frexenet perception, that they were an inexpensive, not necessarily high quality sparkling wine.

Gloria Ferrer is now introducing straight varietals as well, but interestingly, now the resistance is from people who think of them as a fine sparkling wine house and not a still wine maker.

At the Pommery table I went looking for the Pop Girl, who had always offered the small blue bottles of Pommery Pop with a straw and a smile. We were told by the person manning the table that she'd gone and gotten married! He told us that Pop is doing very well, and had become extremely popular at weddings, with its cute blue bottles and sweetish flavor.

Another great wedding wine we happened to taste next was the Collabrigio prosecco, a sweet Italian sparkler which goes nicely with wedding cake and peaches.

As we moved from sparklers into still wines, we had a great deal of fun talking with Bonaterra. This winery is very environmentally conscious, and it was fascinating to learn about their methods. They organically grow all of their grapes, even though some of the labels don't explicitly indicate it. They use cow manure and vegetables to enrich the soil, which means fewer pests to control. They grow clover, poppies and bachelor's button as cover crops to keep weeds down. Their glass bottles come from recycled glass, their labels are hemp based, their inks are soy. Even the cardboard in their cases is recycled.

The story I enjoyed the most, though, was about the chickens. They take chickens out to a different area of the vineyard each day and let them chow down on whatever grubs and pests they find there. Apparently bugs don't like to travel far - just about any small ridge or stream will define their world. By moving the chickens around daily, they're able to keep the pests under control naturally.

I spent the rest of Saturday enjoying non-Chardonnay white wines. There were Rieslings from Australia, Viognier and white Meritage from California, Gruner Veltliner from Austria, and much more. Even with my focus narrowed, I wasn't able to hit each one.

The cooking demonstrations were, as usual, a delight to watch and the results were delicious to sample. Rob Gonzales of Olives had planned a fun light summer dish for the expected hot weather, but even in the chill, his gaspacho was quite scrupmtious. Anthony Ambrose of Ambrosia explained how flavored vinegars and oils are the key to delicious dishes.

I ended Saturday with two of my favorites - ice wine and port. Inniskillen from Canada was there pouring their 1999 Riesling icewine. They pick the grapes in -6C winter mornings for ultimate flavor concentration. Its smooth, sweet, complex flavor was a delicious blend of lychee, mango and peach.

The ports were all delicious, but the special this year was the chocolate table nearby. Port and chocolate is a classic combination. There were a number of chocolates available to sample in a variety of styles and cocoa content. Local chocolate vendors include the Northampton Big Y or at Bread and Circus. Apparently the cooking chocolate they sell and "eating chocolate" in pretty wrappers are the same.

Part of the reason for increases in chocolate prices are the base cocoa bean prices. Because of speculation, they have gone up quite a bit recently. In September a ton of cocoa beans went for under $1000, and by April they had skyrocketed to $1550 a ton. A word to chocolate lovers - buy early!

All too quickly it was Sunday morning. What a difference a day makes! The sun was shining, the air was warm, and people laughed jovially about the rain of the day before. I started on my quest for the day, interesting reds.

Merich had a 1997 Zinfandel which was jammy and dusty with a nice long finish. The representative explained that the high elevation of the vineyards gave it a hot spring and a cool evening, for a slow start and great finish. It gave the "finesse style of Zin and not just *boom*", as he put it.

Quite a few Shiraz from Australia were present, with their fruity, light mellow flavors. There were easy drinking Chiantis from Italy and spicy, licorice of vintage Riojas from Spain.

For the end of the day, there were higher-alcohol offerings that pleased the palate. There were rums from Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad, with a delicious set of flavors from banana to coconut. The final treats of the festival were the peaches mathilde and framboise - both at 18% and tasting incredibly fresh. I love the flavors of these two, they taste like fresh fruit from an orchard.

At last it was time to head back to the ferry. One more stop to go, though. I swung by Sushi by Yoshi to get a take-out order of fresh sushi. As I ate it on the ferry, many people passed by and asked if it was Yoshi's sushi, and regretted not getting some for themselves. A perfect way to end a wonderful weekend!

Be sure to keep your eyes open for the announcement of dates for the 2003 Nantucket Wine Festival - it's an amazingly fun time in a beautiful location, with something for every level of wine drinker.

All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.