Creative Drinking Events

Tents at the JBF Chefs & Champagne event.

Mark Your Calendars: Barons de Rothschild Champagne Featured at JBF Chefs & Champagne Event

One of my true hall-of-fame experiences as a wine writer was visiting the ultimate shrine of Bordeaux, Château Lafite Rothschild, one of four First Growths of Bordeaux awarded during the 1855 classification.  Not only was I invited to tour of the winery in Pauillac but also to stay at the guest house on the property and dine in the evening at the chateau with family members and export director, who at the time was speaking about developing a wine property in China.

The dinner started with Champagne and hors d’oeuvres on the terrace atop a small hill overlooking the herb and rose gardens and the many ponds on the great front lawn. And to my surprise the label of bubbly read Barons de Rothschild Champagne and pictured the family crest. My hosts explained that it was their friends and family brand, a small production made from only Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. The blend was 60% Chardonnay from Grand Crus of the Côte des Blancs and 40% Pinot Noir from top villages like Verzenay and Bouzy.

A bottle of Barons de Rothschild champagne.

That was in May of 2011 and now I have come to discover that this exceptional Champagne, which has aromas of pears, almond, ginger and a creamy texture,  is now available as a brand in the United States and in fact, being showcased at the prestigious James Beard Foundation’s Chefs & Champagne event in the Hamptons this July. The precious bubbly is pricy at $100 a bottle for the Brut Multi-Vintage. The Rosé Multi-Vintage ($125), is salmon pink hued and has fragrances of rose petal, strawberry and citrus. With 100% Chardonnay crus from Avize, Cramant and Mesnil-Sur-Oger, the Blanc de Blancs ($125) displays lovely citrus, white fruit and almond hints and persistent delicate bubbles. Barons de Rothschild will be exclusive Champagne sponsor for this year’s Chefs & Champagne and the bubbly will be flowing all night throughout the event. Tickets are selling out fast so I thought I’d bring you this heads-up.

How to reserve: The Chefs & Champagne main event will take place from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm on Saturday, July 23, and is open to the public—reservations are $200 for James Beard Foundation members and $275 for non members. VIP premium admission, beginning at 5:00 pm, is $375 for James Beard Foundation members and non-members. VIP tables of 10 are available for $4,000. The VIP experience includes an additional exclusive reception hour with early access to all tastings, reserved table seating, advanced silent auction preview, gift bag and access to the VIP after-party. Reservations can be made by calling (212) 627-2308 or at

Round-up of Creative Events

Chateau Minuty's rose.With the overwhelming success of rosé comes the need for rosé brands to go all out for journalists to get our attention, hence renting yachts to introduce their new cuvées.

Case in point, we board the Sundancer Yacht at World Yachts Pier 81 on the Hudson to meet with third generation winemaker Francois Matton of Chateau Minuty, a family-owned Provencal estate in the appellation of  Côtes de Provence considered a Cru Classé. Together we sip different expressions: Minuty’s classic Cuvée “M” ($20), Rosé & Or ($40) and Cuvée 281 ($60)–its label design a gorgeous blue meant to match the color of the Cote d’Azur waters. All good so far, except the boat is pretty rocky—and I am feeling a bit seasick—and the weather on this night is not balmy St. Tropez but cloudy, cool Manhattan.

With a casual attitude and warm sensuous smile, Francois tries hard to evoke the mood of St. Tropez during this talk despite the lack of sun. He speaks of the color of Mediterranean waters, of the easy pleasure of drinking rosé all summer along the beaches of the South of France. We raise a glass of pale pink-hued Cuvée “M” in a toast. Then he goes on to explain why his rosés are exceptional, how his family-owned vineyards, situated on the peninsula of St.-Tropez, are the last estate in Provence to harvest entirely by hand. We try another cuvée, Rosé & Or ($40) and I prefer this to the lighter style Cuvée “M.”  It’s more flavorful and concentrated. Now we compare the Cuvée “M” with the Cuvée 281 and it’s totally different. It’s a more serious food wine, which has been aged in oak and tastes more like white Burgundy. By the third glass, I am closer to a Provencal state of mind.

Champagne in a bucket on the La Nuit Rosé yachting excursion.Next yachting excursion aboard the Hornblower Infinity Yacht at Pier 40 is another step up in luxury. Billed as La Nuit Rosé, it involves a dock side Champagne hour and then a two-hour dinner cruise with a rosé wine pairing dinner. Not just any dinner but one prepared by famous chef Marcus Samuelsson with dishes from his Marcus’ Bermuda property at the Hamilton Princess Hotel & Beach Club. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw the rosé list: Champagne Pommery Rosé Apanage (pastel pink hued and made from top crus); Mathilde Chapoutier Grande Ferrage Rosé (the first wine release by the 24 year old daughter of Michel Chapoutier of the renown, southern Rhone wine empire) Chateau D’Esclans Garrus Rosé (priced at around $100 because the wine sees French oak); and Ferrari Perlé Rosé (one of Italy’s best sparkling producers). It all is as wonderful as it sounds and this time I took along my seasick bracelets.

Making Bitters With a Central Park Forager

The Botanists's Island Dry Gin.Spirits companies can get as creative as rosé producers. Probably this year’s most innovative event was an evening to introduce The Botanist, a gin distilled on the island of Islay, Scotland which an infusion of 22 botanicals foraged on the island.

The scene was Bouley Botanical on Church Street in TriBeCa, a special events space with floor to ceiling boxes of plants. Expert Forager Ellen Zachos was on hand to conduct a seminar on The Art of Foraging and later instruct a group of 40 journalists on how to make bitters from ingredients she had foraged that afternoon in Central Park. Along the high top tables we beheld a little laboratory with beakers and measuring cylinders.

First was the cocktail hour where we tasted excellent G&T’s made with foraged bitters. Since The Botanist Gin is higher proof than most gins, we felt no pain and soon were ready to face the challenge of the seminar and bitters class. We learned about some of the exotic sounding botanicals that are foraged on Islay like creeping thistle, lady bedstraw, gorse flower, mugwort and bog myrtle. Whatever they put in, this is a delicious gin with its juniper flavor a bit muted by the 21 other ingredients.

Meeting Some Legends of the Wine World

Legendary wine critic Robert Parker.And the tastings go on and on. In the past months, I’ve had the unique pleasure to meet two of the legends of the wine world: Robert Parker, the mighty critic, and Michel Rolland, the leading, international wine consultant. Robert Parker staged a press conference at the Mandarin Oriental with journalists to introduce his improved The Wine Advocate website. He drew a full house both to see the great critic and also because of the notice that Krug Champagne would be served. The next day we were invited to a Matter of Taste Grand Tasting with wines that received scores in the high 90’s and even 100 points.

I tasted through the 100 point wines: Abreu Vineyards Madrona Ranch 2012, Chateau Haut-Bailly 2009, Chateau Léoville Poyferré 2009, Chateau Pontet-Canet 2009, Clarendon Hills Astralis Syrah 2010, Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder 2012, M. Chapoutier Ermitage Pavillion 2012 and Vérité La Joie 2005. So, how do 100 point wines taste? A heady feeling overwhelms you and a feeling that you are drinking perfection. It’s like seeing a perfect Olympic athletic performance or tasting a perfect dish that you know can never be replicated by anyone but that particular talented chef. So too with wine, it’s a sense of concentrated blend of flavors and textures that hit the mouth like a symphony of notes—and often with a long lingering finish.

Michel Rolland held a lunch at Restaurant Daniel to showcase two Lurton wines—the 2012 Château Bonnet Red and 2012 Château La Louvière Red. He is the new consultant winemaker for Les Vignobles André Lurton. I sat at the table with Michel and asked him how he managed to consult with around 100 wineries a year and remember each wine and what he needs to do. “It’s like a professional golfer,” he responded. “How does he know what golf club to use for which hole? It’s a matter of doing this for decades and just having the instinct on which driver to use.”