Much like in past years Wine Enthusiast's 2008 Toast of the Town was amongst the best large-scale public tastings in New York. For those wanting to sample a large array of wines, from around the world, under one roof Toast of the Town provides that. Quite a few New York restaurants were also present, each preparing one signature dish for attendees to sample. A Jazz combo played music in the background that added to the ambiance and feel of the tasting. The event ran from 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM. The first two hours were a VIP tasting. Tickets to get in early went for $185, while tickets for the Grand Tasting, which started at 7:00 PM, were priced at $95. As it has in past years the venue was Lincoln Center.
The benefits of the VIP ticket were essentially three fold. Of primary importance was the fact that just about every exhibitor was pouring several higher end, and reserve wines during the first two hours that were not available during the grand tasting. Secondarily there are fewer VIP tickets sold and thus it's easier to get around during that portion of the evening. While it's not uncommon for an event of this scope, the Grand Tasting can be a crowded event, where it's sometimes necessary to jockey for position at a particular exhibitors tasting table. The final benefit of the VIP Ticket is the simple fact that you have 5 hours instead of three to make your way around. With all that time, there is no need to attempt a dizzying pace.
One of my first stops of the evening proved to be amongst my favorite tables of the tasting. The wines being poured at this table were several labels that Susana Balbo of Argentina produces. From her entry-level wines in the Crios line, to the BenMarco and Susana Balbo labeled wines, the selections were impressive. What I enjoyed about these wines was a combination of consistency in style and true varietal character. Look for more detailed coverage of her wines her in the future, as I'm confident they are worth taking a close look at.
Throughout the night there were a solid handful of wines that really stood out from a potpourri of exhibitors and producers. A Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon from Louis Martini was noteworthy as was the newly released 2005 vintage of Don Melchor, the undisputed King of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. Dead Letter Office from Henry's Drive was the best Australian Shiraz I had at the event. Amongst a number of Italian wines I really enjoyed, the Biondi Santi Rosso Di Montalcino was a stand out. A bit more locally, the wines I sampled from Carneros producer Artesa Vineyards and Winery, particularly their Pinot Noir, really resonated with me.
Another table that was a highlight of the tasting for me also featured Argentine wines. In this case the producer was Luigi Bosca. Several Malbecs, Cabernets and blends were exquisite as well as excellent values. As with the Susana Balbo wines I plan to take a closer look at them in the future.
Outside of the wine realm there were also numerous exhibitors pouring fine spirits at Toast of the Town. Amongst these I found Domaine De Canton's French Ginger Liqueur unique, refreshingly different and well worth seeking out.
My one gripe with this event is a situation with the tasting glasses. At some point later in the evening I misplaced my glass. It was a bit of a struggle to get a second glass. The folks handing them out said they were under strict instructions that each person could only have one glass. Since there appeared to many boxes full of glasses right behind the folks I was speaking to, I'm not quite sure what the issue was. Eventually, I was able to get another glass, but it shouldn't have been so difficult. I noticed a few other people having a similar issue soon after. If there is a policy that each person can only have one glass for the evening, it should be made clear as people walk in. If I had known of such a policy I would have been more protective of the first glass I received.
As a whole, Toast of the Town continues to be an excellent event for lovers of fine wine, food and spirits. Lincoln Center is an elegant setting that lends additional class and an air of importance to the proceedings. Whether one chooses to attend only the Grand Tasting or the VIP tasting is going to be dictated by their own tastes and budget. If feasible the VIP tasting is the recommendation here as it does add significant value. If you have never been to Toast of the Town and you love wine, mark you calendar for Spring 2009.
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