They call it the South Beach Wine & Food Festival — in that order. But the “food” part, with its megastar TV chefs, tends to obscure the lesser-known winemakers and their wares, no matter how fabulous.The festival’s culinary stars are so famous they need only first names — Emeril, Rachael, Bobby, Jamie, Ming, Giada. But can the casual wine fan even name a winemaker — Silvio Jermann, perhaps, or Louis Fabrice Latour? Dozens of the world’s finest wines — Tunina, Guado al Tasso, Romitorio, Badiola, Cabo de Hornos — will be poured at the festival, but can the casual wine fan recognize them? Still, wine lovers are almost giddy at the opportunities the festival presents. “I always taste something I’ve never had before and learn something I didn’t know,” says Ron Burger, a Detroit mortgage specialist and hardcore wine fan. This year he’s looking forward to a tasting of five vintages of France’s vaunted white Burgundy, Maison Latour’s Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru. “It’s stunning, he says. “Where else could you taste all those years in one place?” The festival isn’t just for expensive wines. Washington State’s Chateau Ste. Michelle winemaker Bob Bertheau will host a tasting of his wares, some of which regularly score 90-plus in blind tastings and sell for as little as $9 a bottle. “And to have the winemaker there to talk about it adds an extra dimension you don’t get if you buy it in a shop and drink it at home,” says Eric Hemer, educational director for Southern Wine and Spirits. “It can be a real eye-opener.” Hot new wine trends also are on display at the fest. Organic winemaking is so 20th century, it turns out. To be cool, you have to meet a newer, higher standard — biodynamic winemaking. Organic, as many know, means growing grapes without chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Biodynamic goes beyond this to treat not just the vines but the entire farm with nettle “teas,” locally acquired compost and finely tuned microbes. It means pruning vines by the phases of the moon, even the positions of the planets. No, seriously. “It’s actually very scientific,” says Violet Grgich, co-owner of Grgich Hills, a biodynamic winery in Napa. She will explain it all in a Sunday seminar. When the moon is full, it pulls the sap high up into the vines, she says. Prune then and you lose vital nutrients. Prune beneath a new moon, she says, “and the sap is down in the roots where it belongs.” In more casual festival events, cheese expert Laura Werlin will demonstrate what kind of wine goes with grilled cheese sandwiches. Master sommelier Andrea Robinson will discuss what to pour with chocolate. Hemer and two other wine experts will reveal the secrets behind that most baffling of feats — tasting wines blind and deducing the grape, the country and sometimes even the winery that made them. Here’s a subjective list of some of the more interesting wines at the festival: • 2006 Jermann Capo Martino in Ruttaris IGT: Silvio Jermann is a shy man who seldom ventures from his winery in far northeast Italy’s Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region, between Austria and the former Yugoslavia. But knowledgeable wine fans consider him a genius. “Jermann should be a superstar, but even most wine people have never heard of him,” says Frank Castiglione, a private investor with a 10,000-bottle cellar in Fort Lauderdale. Heir to a family winery that dates to 1881, Jermann spent time studying wine in Canada and returned to bring modern methods to his historic winery. His wines are known for intense fruit and mineral qualities, purity and depth of flavor. The grapes Jermann uses in his $99 Capo Martino are equally obscure. It’s a blend of malvasia, friulano, picolit and ribolla, all white grapes with herbal and mineral qualities. His Capo Martino is described as intense, with powerful herb, nut, melon and grapefruit flavors. It will be featured at the festival’s public tastings on Saturday and Sunday. “It’s a fabulous wine,” says Castiglione. • Vertical tasting of Maison Latour’s Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru White Burgundy: Louis Fabrice Latour, seventh-generation owner of Burgundy’s famed Maison Latour, will lead a tasting of his wares. It’s a “vertical” tasting because fans will sample the 2007, 2006, 2005, 2002 and 1999 vintages of Latour’s Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, one of Burgundy’s top wines. Vertical tastings show how wines change as they age. Powerful, concentrated fruit, big tannins and acids in younger vintages can mellow to subtler, more complex aromas of roses, tar, earth and truffles. It’s why serious fans store wines in their cellars, sometimes for decades. Fine white burgundies are exceptions to the rule that white wines don’t age. The 1999 Corton-Charlemagne is described as “opulent, with an abundance of tropical fruit, spicy vanilla and toasty richness.” “There’s almost nowhere else you could do this,” says Hemer. Since 2008 is the current vintage of the Latour wines in retail shops, consumers could not buy the older vintages in any shop — perhaps not even in professional wine auctions, he said. • Penfolds’ ‘RWT’ Shiraz, Barossa Valley, Australia: Aussies are an odd lot, sometimes giving their wines such colorful names as “Pig in the House” and “Mollydooker,” other times mundanely naming them “Bin 389” after the part of the storeroom in which they’re kept. So it’s not surprising that Penfold’s “RWT” Shiraz stands for “Red Winemaking Trial.” Penfolds was founded in 1845, but it made mostly modest, sweet wines until 1950 when then-current Penfolds winemaker Max Schubert visited France’s Bordeaux area and brought back the knowledge and passion that resulted in a fabulous shiraz called “Grange,” after the stone house in which he lived. Grange was, and is, considered Australia’s finest red wine — powerful and august, needing long aging. So in 1997 Penfolds held a red winemaking trial to come up with a lush and approachable shiraz that would contrast with Grange. In a Saturday festival seminar, Penfolds spokesman Matthew Lane will host a vertical tasting of the 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008 vintages of Penfolds “RWT” Shiraz, Barossa Valley, to show how it has developed. • 2008 Grgich Hills ‘Violetta’ Napa Valley Late Harvest white dessert wine: A sweet, luscious blend of sauvignon blanc, riesling and gewürztraminer, it’s made by letting the grapes hang on the vines far past normal picking times. In foggy areas, the grapes are attacked by botrytis cinerea, “the noble rot,” a fungus that pokes holes in the grape skins, letting out the water and concentrating sugars, acids and flavors. The wine, which sells for $50 a half bottle, is described as “sweet and snappy, fresh, with flavors of lemons, nectarines and apples.” At a Saturday seminar, Violet Grgich, co-owner of Grgich Hills winery with her father, Mike, will pour the wine. It was named after her by “the gals in the office,” she says, over her dad’s initial objections. “He thought I’d get a big head.”
Live festival coverage
For live coverage from the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, read the Uncorked blog at www.Miami.com and follow @Miamicom on Twitter.
If you go
Tickets remain for a limited number of South Beach Wine & Food Festival events; www.sobefest.com, 877-762-3933.