When I attended the Zins and Cheese event at the 29th Annual Kapalua Wine and Food Festival, I expected to learn about Zinfandels; I didn’t expect to sit on the panel alongside the experts.
The ballroom was crowded and empty seats were nowhere to be found. A few minutes before the event was to start, I stood up to move so a couple could sit together. Fred Dame, Master Sommelier and Festival host, held out his hand. I thought he was helping me move to another row, but faster than I could blink, I was being led up the aisle and placed in his seat on the panel while he stood at the microphone.
There I sat, facing nearly 300 wine enthusiasts, on a panel of prestigious winemakers and Master Sommeliers. I’m more of a wallflower and although the first wine I bought after turning 21 was a Zinfandel Rosé, I didn’t know much about the wine itself. To say I was in shock as I sat on the panel would be an understatement.
“Okay,” said Fred Dame. “Nadine, why don’t you tell us about the first wine.”
My heart rate escalated as I glanced at the label on the bottle of Quivira in front of me. “It’s a 2007 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Anderson Ranch.” I paused and looked into the crowd. “How am I doing?”
The audience clapped and a wave of relief swept through me. Fred took over at that point, discussing the Quivira and sharing that “90% of the wines sold in this country are drunk within eight hours of purchase.”
“Now, Nadine. Why don’t you take a sip of the wine and tell us what you think.”
Panic. I wasn’t qualified to talk about wine and I wasn’t used to being put on the spot. But I reached for the glass and took a sip, letting the flavors flow over my tongue. I leaned towards the microphone. “Very smooth.” If I hadn’t been suffering from stage fright, I would have continued, saying that I could taste a variety of fruits in the wine. But I’m more of an observer than a panelist and it was all I could do to keep my face from matching the color of the wine.
Brian Cronin, Master Sommelier, stated, “Zins are brilliant wines to pair with.” And the six featured Zinfandels had been paired with six unique and beautiful cheeses from The Cheese Shop in Carmel and Santa Barbara.
A special treat was the nine year old Parmigiano Reggiano Reserva. “Think back to what you were doing in 2001,” said Kent Torrey, owner of The Cheese Shop. “That’s when the cow gave the milk for this cheese.”
I was sampling two of the cheeses, the Noord Hollander and the Old Quebec Cheddar, when Fred asked me to state which of the six wines was my favorite. I froze.
I was sitting next to winemakers who truly loved their wines. Who was I to judge?
“I like them all.”
“No, seriously,” said Fred. “Which one is your favorite?”
I glanced at the six glasses in front of me, their deep red glow shimmering in the ballroom light. But I knew what it was like to truly love something and not have it chosen and I couldn’t disappoint these distinguished winemakers representing their wines.
But in truth, although all six wines were fantastic and I would recommend every one of them, I did have a favorite.
I knew the moment it touched my tongue, my taste buds savoring every drop. It was the Estancia Zinfandel. Smooth and clean, I finished the entire glass. Fortunately, after the panel was over, I was able to tell Scott Kelley how much I enjoyed his wine. I’m not sure he believed me but I hope he knows now.
As for the experience, I will cherish it always. Thank you Fred Dame. It was truly an honor.
To learn more about the wines and cheese presented, please visit the following links:
Hartford Family Winery
Quivira Vineyards and Winery
Sapphire Hill Winery
Carlisle Winery and Vineyards
The Cheese Shop