Wine Wednesday: l'Eté du Vin Rises Up From the Drink

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l'Eté du Vin has been Nashville's premiere wine event for over 30 years, but they really had a curve ball thrown at them by the May Day floods. Their plans to hold their big auction at Gaylord Opryland Resort were scuttled when the resort was forced to close for flood repairs. Having already secured wine and representatives from five great wineries, the l'Eté du Vin staff and organizers scrambled to arrange events to take advantage of their patrons' largesse. There's a reason why this event still ranks among the top 10 highest-grossing wine events in the country every year and why they have raised over $16 million in the fight against cancer.

With guest vintners and sales representatives from Casa Lapostolle, L'Aventure Winery, Moët et Chandon, Morlet Family Vineyards and Torbreck Vintners already booked for late June arrivals, the annual Vintner's Tasting was moved to Hillwood Country Club. A couple hundred eager tasters assembled Thursday, June 17, to meet the vintners, taste their wines and hear the stories behind the grapes. After a short reception to enjoy some hors d'oeuvres and some delightful local Arrington Viognier, guests assembled in the main dining room in front of a beautiful array of pre-poured wines.

Elise Loehr of F. Scott's "moderated" the presentation, but that's really not the correct word since her ribald commentary added a lot to the enjoyably PG-13 discussion among the winemakers that included everything from a comparison of champagne and Viagra to a running "F bomb" count when Aussie maverick Dave Powell of Torbreck was speaking. Each winery representative spoke for about 10 minutes and led the assemblage through a tasting of their wines.

Particularly entertaining was Dominique Giovine of Moët et Chandon, who encouraged the crowd not to save champagne for special events, but instead to enjoy it often with such unexpected pairings as Mexican food, sushi, hot wings and potato chips. Also a riot was the aforementioned ribald Powell, who described his Aussie upbringing and French winemaking education as meaning he had "one foot in the Southern Hemisphere and one foot in the Northern Hemisphere." I'll leave it to you to imagine what he said was hanging over the equator.

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One highlight wine was the 1999 Casa Lapostolle Cuvée Alexandre Apalta Vineyards Merlot, a spicy version of this frequently timid grape that had a hint of wasabi on the palate and an extraordinarily long finish. Stephan Asseo of L'Aventure told the story of how he fled France to escape some of their strict appellation rules and settled in Paso Robles to make Rhone-like wines that nonetheless reflect the essence of California terroir. His 2007 Estate Cuvée was a wonderfully balanced big wine with bold red fruits and a sense of grace. Look for it in your local wine shop.

Eben Drucker of Morlet Family Vineyards offered a delicious Bouquet Garni Syrah made from 100 percent Syrah, including 20 percent whole clusters. It's a wonderful fruit bomb of a wine that paired incredibly with the small plate of goat cheese offered to each taster, but unfortunately we were told that the winery only produced 150 cases of that vintage. And that we had drank almost half of them that night. Oops. You should have been there.

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The anchorman of the vintners crew was David Powell of Torbreck out of the Barossa Valley in South Australia. Not only was Powell supremely entertaining, he also makes some kickass wine. The 2005 RunRig was the wine of the evening. A blend of 98 percent Shiraz and 2 percent Viognier, RunRig is sourced from eight different vineyards with an average age of 124 years. The fruit from these old vines is run through both new and old oak, where the wine spends over 30 months taking in the character that lends such an amazing complexity to this wine. Plummy and rummy on the nose, RunRig exploded with tastes of blackberries, raspberries and apricot. Long, firm tannins held everything together and made it a really memorable wine to end the evening. Especially since I'll probably never be able to afford another bottle of it.

The Vintner's Tasting is aimed at the average wine drinker/collector and is priced at a reasonable $100, keeping in mind that this is intended to be a fundraiser for cancer research. The Friday night Patron's Private Collection dinner and tasting took place at the Hermitage Hotel. I was not in attendance, but from all accounts the food and wine offered was transcendent. Maybe that's something we can all aspire to.

Since the big event at Gaylord was cancelled, l'Eté du Vin organizers wanted to take advantage of one more opportunity before the vintners left town, so they planned five Guest of Honor dinners at 360 Bistro, F. Scotts Restaurant & Jazz Bar, Red Pony, Sunset Grill and Watermark. These generous restaurants agreed to set aside tables on a busy Saturday night on the evening before Fathers Day to help raise even more money for the cause. For this they deserve special recognition.

I was lucky enough to attend the Sunset Grill dinner hosted by Dominique Giovine of Moët et Chandon. We chose this particular dinner because it was within staggering distance of home and, as we learned on Thursday night, it's always time for champagne. Dominique kept the crowd entertained with her stories of the original Monsieur Claude Moët's friendship with Emperor Napoleon and with her dramatic "sabre opening" of each bottle including cutting the top off of an Imperial Rose with a butter knife. The stories of her half French/half American upbringing included the revelation that she calls herself "A Philly Cheesesteak on a croissant." I'm going to have to try one of those some day.

Served with a fresh seafood menu from the Sunset kitchen, the meal and champagne courses were a steal at $75. WIth such an intimate audience, there were also some real bargains to be had at the silent auction table. I certainly hope that l'Eté du Vin keeps some incarnation of these events for next year even if they are able to return to a more normal schedule like in their antediluvian years.

There is still one big event left for this year to mark on your calendars. Although the venue has had to be changed to the Hutton Hotel, l’Eté du Vin's signature event, the l’Eté du Vin Auction. will be held on Saturday, Aug. 28 from 5:30 to 11 p.m. This is the big one, with over 100 live auction items including luxury automobiles, travel, jewelry, celebrity dinners and tastings and of course the finest and most rare wines on earth. Bring your checkbook and help out this great cause!

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