Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It was a Veritable Playground for Oenophiles and Foodies - The Wine Enthusiast Toast of the Town 2011 in Washington DC

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller at 2011 Wine Enthusiast Toast of the Town in Washington DC at the National Building Museum

The Wine Enthusiast – one of the leading US wine journals – came to Washington on May 20, 2011 for the annual Toast of the Town event. Similar events were already or will be organized by the Wine Enthusiast in Chicago (June 17), New York City (May 5), Miami (September 23) this year. In each city, the event is held in a setting of historic and/or cultural significance. In Washington DC, the event was held at the National Building Museum – a stunning venue - and featured wines from wine producers from around the world and dishes from top Washington DC area restaurants. See Wine Enthusiast and Toast of the Town for more information.

The Wine Enthusiast contacted me and asked for a write-up on schiller-wine, which I happily agreed to.

2011 Taste of the Town in Washington DC

The Toast of the Town is quite an event. It is not a trade event, where people from the retail and restaurant scene taste and compare wines with a view of including them in their portfolio. It is a big party, aimed at the end-consumer, where she or he can leisurely taste the wine poured by representatives of top wineries from around the globe and the food prepared by the chefs of top restaurants from the Washington DC area. While I focused on the wines, I heard many guests comment how the food was the best part of the evening for them. And all this to the sounds of live Jazz music. In sum: Gorgeous locales. Delicious wines. Gourmet food. Top jazz music.

The event is not exactly cheap - $ 169 for a VIP ticket and $ 109 for a regular ticket. Before Toast of the Town opened its doors to general admission from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm, VIP ticket holder could enter the event an hour earlier. That gave them the opportunity for better one-on-one time with the winemakers and restaurateurs while the venue was a little quieter. Also, the wines poured in the first hour were different from those poured after 7:00 pm. Several hundred people, all dressed their best, turned out the 2011 Toast of the Town in Washington DC and – I am sure – had a lot of fun.

Pictures: 2011 Wine Enthusiast Toast of the Town in Washington DC

As far as the wines are concerned my guess is that about 2/3 of the tables were importers/distributors and 1/3 wineries. Though I did not see any winemakers at the tables, the choice you had in terms of wines was amazing: William Hill, Beaulieu Vineyard, Hess Collection, J. Lohr, Symington Family Estates. Yalumba, Hogue Cellars, Alexander Valley Vineyards, just to name a few. Many of my favorite Washington DC restaurants were present: Bastille, Eatonville, Mon Ami Gabi, Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar, Capital Grille, and Palm. Here are a few restaurants and winemakers/importers/distributors, where I spent more time than at others.

The Hess Collection

On my recent tour in South Africa, I also stopped at Donald Hess’ Glen Carlou Estate in Paarl valley. We visited the fascinating contemporary art exhibition, had lunch in the fabulous restaurant and tried some of the excellent Glen Carlou wines. Donald Hess is well known in the US for being the owner of the Hess Collection winery in California. But he has owns several other wineries all over the globe in Australia, Argentina and in South Africa.

(1) The Hess Collection Winery on Mount Veeder in Napa Valley with a vineyard area totaling 270 hectares marked the beginning of Donald Hess's venture into the 6 New World cellars and vineyards.

(2) Artezin Wines in Napa Valley, which specializes in handcrafted wines from the heritage grapes Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Carignan.

(3) Sequana Wines produces single vineyard Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma and Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey.

(4) Glen Carlou Vineyards in South Africa. Located in South Africa's Paarl region, the Glen Carlou Winery is known for its Chardonnay and Bordeaux varietals.

(5) Bodega Colomé in Argentina, with presumably the highest vineyard in the world at 10,200 feet/3,111 meters above sea level in the northern part of the Calchaqui Valley. Bodega Colomé focuses on Argentina's two traditional varietals, Malbec and Torrontes, in biodynamically farmed vineyards.

(6) A major share (85 percent) in Peter Lehmann Wines, Australia. Founded in 1980 by the legendary Peter Lehmann and now managed by his son, Doug Lehmann, Peter Lehmann Wines is one of Australia's most respected wineries, located in the Barossa Valley.

Pictures: The Hess Collection Table at the 2011 Toast of the Town in Washington DC, Hess Wineries in the World and Christian G.E.Schiller with Sequana Vineyards Winemaker James MacPhail

I was a bit sad that Glen Carlou wines were not poured. But I enjoyed very much the 2009 Sequana Vineyards Pinot Noir. I met James MacPhail, the winemaker, recently; his Pinot Noirs are stunning.

Symington Family Estates

I am not a regular Port drinker, but when Rupert Symington came to town a few weeks ago, I got very excited and had to meet him. Symington Family Estates is the leading producer of premium quality Ports, with the combined sales of the family’s Port companies making up over a third of all premium Port sold throughout the world. In addition, the group also produces Madeira and non-fortified Duoro wines.

I was thrilled to find the Symington Family Estates wines at the Wine Enthusiast 2011 Toast of the Town in Washington DC.

Pictures: DOW’s VALE DO BOMFIM 2008 and Christian G.E.Schiller with Ruppert Symington

While the Douro region is associated primarily with Port wine production, it produces just as much table wine as it does fortified wine. While table wine has always been produced in the region, for a long time little of it was seen outside the region itself. A few Douro wines made their appearance on the international market from the 1970s, but it was not until the 1990s when a large number of wines made their appearance. My wife Annette liked very much the DOW’s VALE DO BOMFIM 2008, which was poured at the Toast of the Town. I think it retails for $ 9.99, which is a steal.

The company was founded by Andrew James Symington who arrived in Oporto from Scotland in 1882, and initially joined Graham's. By 1905, Andrew James Symington was a partner of Warre & Co and in 1912 he became a partner in Dow's Port. In 1970, the Symington family bought both Graham's and Smith Woodhouse. In 1989, the Symington family became a partner of the Madeira Wine Company. From 1999, dry Douro wines were added to the Symington range. Today no less than seven Symingtons (six from the 13th generation in the Port trade) work in the business.


Beringer in California was founded in 1876 by the German brothers Jakob and Friedrich Beringer from Mainz, where I had spent 10 years before moving to the US. I recently lead a tasting about American wines in Hochheim, Germany, near Mainz, and of course included a Beringer wine. I am always pleased to have a Beringer wine in the glass and was so very much at the Toast of the Town.

Picture: The Beringer Table at the 2011 Toast of the Town in Washington DC

Domaine Select Wine Estates

Domaine Select Wine Estates (DSWE) is an importer based in New York, focusing on wines that are not really mainstream wines, but special, off-the-beaten track premium and ultra-premium wines. At the Toast of the Town, DSWE's Daniel Hubbard offered a selection of amazing Austrian wines. But the DSWE portfolio includes wines from all over the world, including Germany. I had organized with Daniel a tasting of German Rieslings a few weeks ago for the German wine society in Washington DC, where he presented an astonishing line-up of mainly dry and all biodynamic German Rieslings. I would have loved to see some of these wines at the Toast of the Town, but the Austrian wines he brought were also outstanding.

Pictures: The DSWE Table at the 2011 Toast of the Town in Washington DC and Christian G.E.Schiller with DSWE's Daniel Hubbard

Michael Skurnik Wines

These were all wines of the Terry Theise portfolio. Terry is one of the US’s most influential wine importers who focuses on German and Austrian wines as well as on Grower Champagnes from France. I like the 2009 Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg Quarzit Riesling, Hexamer, not because it was the only German wine at the event, but because of its amazing minerality.

Picture: The Michael Skurnik Table at the 2011 Toast of the Town in Washington DC

Alexander Valley Vineyards

Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley was mostly prune orchards and pastures when, in 1962, Maggie and Harry Wetzel purchased a large portion of a homestead built by Cyrus Alexander, the valley’s nineteenth century namesake. They raised livestock, cultivated bountiful gardens and restored Alexander’s original home, making it the center of family life. With an eye to their neighbors in nearby Napa Valley, the Wetzels boldly planted premium grape varieties, among the first in the area. Then the family built a small winery. Hank Wetzel, oldest son of Maggie and Harry, produced Alexander Valley Vineyard’s first wine in 1975. Now the third generation of Wetzels has joined the winery. Harry Wetzel IV, who I met recently in Washington DC is assistant winemaker while younger brother Robert is the National Sales Manager.

Pictures: The Alexander Valley Vineyards Table at the 2011 Toast of the Town in Washington DC and Christian G.E.Schiller with Harry Wetzel IV

Today, the Wetzel Family Estate grows fourteen grape varieties, on diverse sites stretching from the banks of the Russian River up onto the hillsides. Alexander Valley Vineyards produces 100,000 cases annually, 17 varietal wines and proprietary blends. Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon constitute roughly half of total production. Other varietals include Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Gewurztraminer, Syrah, Sangiovese, Viognier, and Cabernet Franc.


Eatonville is a very important town for African-Americans in Florida, as it became the first African-American town in the US in 1887. The Restaurant Eatonville is located in the historic U Street Corridor, where Zora Neale Hurston and fellow writer/poet Langston Hughes, both famous African-Americans, enjoyed a lively social and cultural life during the early 1920s. Zora Neale Hurston, a writer and anthropologist, was one of the brightest lights of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930s. Hurston was considered by many to be the pre-eminent black female writer in the country. The Restaurant Eatonville pays homage to Hurston’s Washington DC’s connections. It is named for her childhood hometown in Florida, the setting of her most famous novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God”.

Pictures: The Eatonville Table at the 2011 Toast of the Town in Washington DC with Eatonville's Michael Chan

The House-Cured Duck Prosciutto with Toasted Hazelnuts, Citrus Mascarpone and Pickled Fruit was delicious and reminded me of two evenings at Eatonville not so long ago. One evening was organized around Deborah Brenner. She is the author of the book “Women of the Vine” and she is the CEO of the “Women of the Wine Cellars” winery, featuring hand-crafted, limited production wines, all made by female winemakers. The other one was a winemaker dinner with one of Oregon's pioneering winemakers - Myron Redford - and his Amity Vineyards wines.


Finally, I was very happy to see my dear friend Klaus Wittauer, who has done so much for promoting Austrian wines on the US East Coast. I know his wines very well. They are all great wines from interesting winemakers in Austria. Among others, Klaus poured the 2008 Hillside Syrah-Zweigelt-Merlot from Leo Hillinger, which I was very happy to finish the evening with. I had tasted this and other Hillinger wines recently with Klaus and assistant winemaker Michael Hoeffken in Washington DC as well as in Vienna, Austria.

Pictures: The KWSelection Table at the 2011 Toast of the Town in Washington DC and Klaus Wittauer, Leo Hillinger's Michael Hoeffken and Christian G.E.Schiller

schiller-wine: Related Postings

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Morton’s Steakhouse Presented Peter Mondavi Jr. at a Charles Krug Winemaker Dinner

Meeting a Rhone Ranger and Tasting His Wines - Sherman Thacher from Paso Robles in California

Wine, Art and Food: Donald Hess’ Glen Carlou Estate in South Africa

German Winemakers in the World: Swiss-German Donald Hess, US, South Africa, Argentina, Australia

The Pinot Noir Specialist Sequana Vineyards, California

Meeting Rupert Symington from the Symington Family - One of the Oldest Families of Port Producers

Christian G.E. Schiller Leads Tasting of US-American Wines in Hochheim, Germany

The Focus on Dry German Riesling – Daniel Hubbard Presents the German DSWE Portfolio to the German Wine Society (Washington DC Chapter)

Terry Theise’s Top German Wines of the 2009 Vintage

The Excellent Wines of Alexander Valley Vineyards in California

Wine and International Women Day 2010

One of Oregon's Pioneering Winemakers - Myron Redford - with his Amity Vineyards Wines in Washington DC

Tasting Leo Hillinger Red Wines with Leo Hillinger’s Assistant Winemaker Michael Hoeffken and US Importer Klaus Wittauer

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