So listen to this, Pooh Bear,
That one of the advantages of being disorganized
Is that one is always having surprising discoveries!
While I wouldn’t go as far as calling the New York Food and Wine Festival (NYCWFF) disorganized, or for that matter any of my many food festivals of the past, chaos feels like an apt word to articulate my sentiment.
However, as is the case with many things in life, its all about finding the calm in chaos. My calm at this year’s Grand Tasting came from a banquet of snacks and foods that I devoured and replayed in words. Thankfully, the drinks edition matched the solids consumption, stride by stride. There was a plethora of social media and influencer marketing at play, with photobooths and twitter-to-print-via-hashtag systems in place. My favorite was a the barn set up by Cupcake Vineyards, a brand I’d devoured in the past owing to its namesake.
I was cordially invited to the GEMS showcase of rare and precious wines, which in their stellar and often heroic or macarbre history, sealed the deal of alcoholic exploration for me. For over recent years, my appreciation for wine has begun growing rather exponentially.
Several Napa wineries flocked to be part of this elitist group of wine enthusiasts. I was familiar with Black Stallion Wines and their legacy of full bodied reds. Argentina’s Caro selection showcased Bordeaux reds which had familiar notes of vanilla, spices and mocha. Caro was actually an alliance France and Argentina over two grape varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec, giving it an unparalleled cultural context. My fashion senses were drawn towards the box of Acciaiolo vintage wine of Tuscany, one sip of which transported rich, old flavors of concentrated chocolate fudge, blueberries, cherries and almonds.
Gnarly Head Wines showcased their old fashioned process of growing vines in a way that caused them to look gnarly, and consequently made the grapes juicier. Based out of the Zinfandel capital of the world in Lodi, California, my favorite was the spicy cherry and blackberry taste of their prohibition era wine: the 1924 Double Black.
Faust had an interesting back story and a remarkably macabre package that matched its deep, vintage flavor. An inspiration to German poet Goethe, the story was that an aging scholar bartered his soul for a chance at youth; the founders believe that great wines must reflect their vineyards similarly. Known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, it was as full bodied and rich as they get. One that I sipped lusciously while listening to a tale.
California based French inspired Belle Ambiance had pastel hued packaging and one of the sweetest and lightest of Pinot Grigios I had ever kissed. Bathed in baby pink while the less sweet Chardonnay donned baby blue, the entire display made it feel like an adult baby’s birthday party, much to my childish joy.
Many know my affinity towards vodka, exceeded by even my own expectations by a trip to Krakow in Poland. However, never had I tasted something as fresh and light (and almost gin-like) as cucumber vodka by Pearl Vodka. Bathed in shimmering mermaid pearls and mixed with hard lemonade and a cucumber martini, these were pitchers that I could guzzle down like a car in a gasoline sale.
“Isn’t this the best kiss you’ve ever had?” asked one chap to me as I indulged in what looked like a post workout chocolate milk shake. Not wishing to divulge my kissing history, I instead gobbled up several glasses of what tasted like liquid spiked chocolate with a hint of coconut. Called Coconut Kiss, it was two double chocolate liquer Dorda, with one part coconut rum and a splash of the flagship Chopin vodka.
Made in Poland, the hospitality and friendliness of the pourers was unmatched by others. Or maybe it was my sweetened palette owing to dessert. The flagship potato vodka in isolation had hints of creaminess owing to the starch, with undertones of apple and vanilla.
Right out of cowboy kingdom Texas was Tito’s Handmade Vodka, made in a place I’m itching to visit: Austin. Apparently made in the oldest legal distillery in small batches using pot stills, theirs was a more pub style display with an authentic, tough and wildly aromatic vodka. Served with ginger ale, I felt transported to a more laid back life that I craved in the concrete jungle.
Having tried the flagship Negroni in Florence, Italy, I have an affinity towards this part gin part Campari blend, which I have many Italian tales to blame for. Blood red in hue and with a solid scent, it plunged me right into my memories of the Tuscan spring.
Tequila on the other hand is a sworn enemy when consumed in isolation (except when interlaced cleverly into desserts: thanks Chicago). However, the Taste of Mexico exhibit had two delicious cocktails made with agave based Mexican Tequila Corralejo. The Spicy Paloma with the jalapeno, grapefruit juice, lime and gigantic salt crystals, was a spicy wake up call.
The uninventively titled Green and Yellow with triple sec, lemon juice and cilantro syrup was a sweet, refreshing sipper which reminded me dangerously of morning lemonade with a kick. Definitely a better idea than the Halloween styled Espolon tequila shots that followed, though!
Bourbon holds a special place in my heart, being the first of liquors I tried. Four Roses Bourbon, with its bouquets of Valentine fresh roses as decor, held a history of hand mingling family and award winning recipes, which as they said, survived Prohibition, The Great Depression, Two World Wars, and 40 years of exile from the US. With accolades on display, the taste was deep, rich, potent and definitely one that evoked a rosy, romantic emotion.
Comparatively, Larceny Kentucky Straight Bourbon had a more eccentric display with open bulb lighting. As one of the first wheated Bourbons to emerge from Kentucky, the display seemed more Urban Paris than American South, but the wheat taste of this glutenous drink was solid.
Coca Cola had quite the display with neon lights and retro bottles to make bourbon and whiskey based cocktails in plentiful sizes. With an unmissable cola bottle chandelier that whisked me right back to my childhood, the brand lived up to its name by sharing happiness and joy by all passersby.
Comparatively, its hipster cousin Coca Cola Life offered smartphone clicked social media sharing incentives for their precarious green vials of stevia sweetened cola. Marketers in the crowds couldn’t help but notice how disparate these brands looked, despite being from the same masterbrand. Which was an accomplishment in the world of digital differentiation.
The afternoon ended remarkably quickly, a testament to the enjoyment. My favorite part of this year’s festival was not just the quantity of physical consumption, but the ample wealth of knowledge that I had acquired on my favorite beverage types.
For after all, chaos or calm, disorganization or discovery,
An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.