Finding yourself in Barbados in November should be ambrosia enough but this year the enhancements were many at the First Annual Barbados Food & Wine and Rum Festival held from November 19-22. The assorted events of the festival opened the eyes of participants (mostly those from off the island) to the excellent local fare and choice of wines, and (surprise) some outstanding rums. In addition to the local culinary talent, the event itself starred world class food and wine personalities who demonstrated, workshopped, answered questions and generally mixed with all. But despite being wowed by all this, the real star was the island itself.
Barely more than a quarter of a million people live in this paradise, where pristine beaches and cutters (salt bread sandwiches, often featuring local flying fish, and never complete without Bajan hot sauce) abound. Night life surrounds the placid southwest coast but the northeast coast is wild, as winds from Africa pound the shore, attracting surfers at all times of the year. The Soup Bowl at Bathsheba has just hosted this year's Independence Surf Festival, open to all comers.
The specific wine event from the festival was hosted by Anthony (Tony) Guglio, and featured wines supplied by Wine World, a sponsor of the event, and the leading wine and spirits chain on the island with a modest but excellent, well priced list. For those who haven't thumbed through Guglio's Food & Wine's Annual Wine Guide, you should know that Mr. Guglio lectures and writes extensively on wine, and we were all beneficiaries when he passed a smidgeon of his knowledge on to us at his seminar.
The first three wines showed the very different sides of Sauvignon Blanc, from the exquisite, beautifully balanced 2009 Henri Bourgeois Sancerre to the pungent, herbaceous 2009 Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to the oaky, rich 2007 Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc from the Napa Valley in California.
Sporting the vanilla notes of oak, the Napa Sauvignon was the stylistic opposite of the Sancerre. After the others, the taste sensation was of melons in a butter sauce. Certainly less then crisp, perhaps lacking in acidity, this would be a very pleasant drink in front of the fire on a winter's afternoon. This is California in a bottle, but as a food wine, we had our suspicions.
Bracing acidity was present in both of the first two samples, although the grapefruit and lichee notes of the Kiwi product suggest it could stand up to a dish with an abundance of strong Asian spices. Elegance with balance describes the Sancerre. This is a wine to enhance grilled fish and more. Excellent!!!
I should mention that our tasting took place in one of the meeting rooms at the stunning Sandy Lane Resort. One of the great resorts in the world, until recently Sandy Lane included the (first) marriage of Tiger Woods in its promotional materials. Still, Tiger Woods or not, just being there is a breathtaking experience. This was our view the dining area:
Whether at Sandy Lane or elsewhere on this diverse island, heat is everywhere and even when rooms are air conditioned, they remain at summer-like temperatures for those of us from cooler climes. This led to Tony's rant against the serving of red wines at modern room temperatures. He pointed out that the concept of drinking red wines at room temperature came from the days when from September to June, rooms were generally kept at about 18 C (about 65 F). Today, even in northern climates, central heating has meant room temperatures tend toward 22 C (72 F), much warmer than was the case in the days when serving red wine at room temperature was being promoted by the wine pundits.
We have learned our lessons gradually, beginning with Beaujolais and other wines made from Gamay Noir, which benefits considerably from being well chilled down to the white Burgundy range. But Tony's point is that many other wines as well, including great red Burgundies and even massive Napa Cabernets demonstrate a superior range of flavours when cooled to what was once considered room temperature, or even cooler. Tony validated his hypothesis by cooling the soon to be tasted reds while we settled down for the red flight.
For this stage, each of Tony's selections contained some Shiraz (the original name, but also known as Syrah in France and elsewhere) but were very different wines. First came the juicy 2007 Perrin Gigondas, followed by the elegant but powerful 2007 Torres Priorat Salmos and then a tannic fruit bomb, the 2004 Eileen Hardy Shiraz from McLaren Vale in South Australia. The proportion of Shiraz ranged from 20% in the Gigondas to 100% in the Australian wine.
With a large percentage of Grenache (Garnacha in Spain) in the cepage, the Gigondas led with a velvet fruity fist. Dried berries on the nose, as it opened up this wine was full of the flavours of ripe cherries. Passing over the tongue, we noted the fruit was well balanced by acid, showing this as a real food wine, ideally with dishes from the south of France.
The Priorat was a surprise to me, and to most of us in attendance. Although also composed mainly of Grenache (Garnacha in Spain), this wine from the area just west of Barcelona included some Syrah and the local Carinena (really Carignan). Showing power with elegance, the fruit of the Garnacha led the way, but overall was quite subdued until it began to open up, but even then this wine showed its underlying power and balance, the Syrah playing its role. Only three years old, any of us would be glad to serve this wine tonight with a Catalan stew but give it a few years and it would make any dish proud.
2004 was a difficult year in Australia which I feel was demonstrated by this wine. Big, fat ripe berry nose, the top of the range Eileen Hardy Shiraz gave the sensation of almost overpowering ripe cherries on the palate and more. Although rich and pleasant, the wine was soft, perhaps lacking acidity, which I suspect will stop it short of its potential as one of the Australian icons, and for food, will prove a difficult match. Perhaps a disappointment, particularly at a cost in the $100 plus range but not enough to erase my palate memory of the magnificent 98.