We just returned from New York City this weekend, after pouring at the Wine Spectator's CA Wine Experience. It was an amazing trip, with three days spent in Baltimore visiting friends, eating and drinking, and Wednesday through Saturday in Manhattan for the Wine Spectator event. Here are some highlights from the trip:
Our flight out to Baltimore was uneventful, except for losing track of our wine because we didn't realize all cardboard boxes got rerouted to the "oversize baggage" carousel. Then we waited for them to fix the oversized baggage carousel, which was jammed, and we were finally on our way. Once in B-more, we proceeded to eat, drink and walk our way through the city. Joe was determined to get his name memorialized for eating the most blue crabs, ever, so we begged our friends to take us to a crab restaurant while we were in town. Needless to say, they don't do plaques or names on the wall of any kind there, and Joe didn't break the record, but it was fun trying. After enjoying a crab pretzel (yummmm) and crab dip, the server brought a tray of 12 extra large blue crabs, just out of the steamer and coated in Old Bay seasoning, and dumped them on the table. They were delicious and super fresh, but I do have to admit the idea of having to clean them yourself at the table, intestines and crab butter included, grossed me out. The least they could do is give you some rinse water because that stuff gets everywhere. The crabs themselves, however, were delicious. I'm usually a pretty expensive date, but Coors light hit the spot with blue crab.
While in the city we also dined at Charleston restaurant, which I had visited years before for work. We called ahead to ask if we could bring a bottle of our 2006 Charles Vineyard Pinot Noir (the one we were going to show at the Spectator event) and, suprisingly, were told by the person who answered the phone that they didn't know if we could bring in wine. Apparently, they have such a nice wine list that no one brings in bottles. This struck me as odd, but I let her take our info and ask the sommelier. Of course, he said we could bring the bottle and pay $20 in corkage, so we did. We all did the chef's menu and wine pairings. They food was delicious - courses of salad, cheese, fish, lamb, dessert and lobster and crab bisque were spot-on. Most of the wine pairings were French, with a heavy emphasis on Rhone wines. We all had our critiques of the wine pairings - not quite as spot on as the food, but it could also have to do with the fact that Rhone is definitely not our favorite region. Regardless, it was a fun night and the splurge of the trip.
The worst part of our travels was the drive to New York from Baltimore. Not only did it cost us $250 to rent a car for one day for a drive equivalent to Boonville to San Jose, CA (3.5 hours), but we paid about $35 in tolls to get there. And then, on top of it, the Hertz people gave us the wrong address to return the car in Manhattan. It was a nightmare. We drove around the block where we thought we were supposed to go about 6 times, with no luck. Then we decided to find a place to park along the street so we could figure this out and call them, and that took 20 minutes. If you've ever been in NYC you know there are crazy cabbies and pedestrians everywhere - if I lived there I wouldn't even have a driver's license. We got the correct address and, lo and behold, the directions they gave us were wrong, so we ended up just down the block from them, by a police station. We're pretty frustrated at this point, so I called and asked if someone from Hertz could come get the car and drive it back to the garage, to which the receptionist answered that no, they didn't have the staff for that and we'd just have to find the place on our own. We had one more try in us, after which we were going to call a cab to lead us there, so we drove back around the block and finally found the garage. Of course, then we had to flag a cabby and drag our three suitcases and five cases of wine to the curb while he impatiently waited to take us to the hotel.
Once in New York, we checked into the hotel, which was more of a megaplex right on Times Square than a hotel. It had a theater, full dining level, and about12 elevators with an electonic keypad that told you which elevator to take according to where you wanted to go. Insane. The entire 5th and 6th floors were ballrooms, where the Spectator tasting would take place. We checked in, promptly asked the concierge for the nearest vegetarian restaurant (we hadn't had anything green since we arrived I think) and strolled around Times Square. Then we went to bed. The next few days we saw the sights in the morning: Wall St., the 9/11 site, Central Park, Grand Central Station, 5th Avenue and Park Avenue, the Statue of Liberty from the waterfront, and a few others. We found some great, cheap eats in the city, and spend most of the afternoons getting ready for the tastings, as that was our purpose in being there anyway.
The tastings were great. People loved the Pinot, and thought it was a great value as it was one of the few there under $50. It was tasting fantastic - all fruit and spice and toast. We were in between Goldeneye and Kistler, so there were tough times when we were empty and they weren't simply due to name recognition, but everyone who visited seemed impressed with the wine and the fact that it was our debut vintage and we were there pouring. We didn't get a chance to taste many other wines because, being our first year there, we were very all-hands-on-deck the entire time, but I did foray out to the surrounding rows for a few sips. We also got a stack of business cards from brokers, distributors, restaurants and retailers who wanted the Pinot in their portfolios or lists. It's something we'll be looking at in the near future.
After the tastings we went out for a late bite (11:30 p.m. or so) and a glass of wine. The first night was at Otto - Mario Batalli and Lidia Bastianich's pizzeria, and the second at the NYC Bubble Lounge. Both were great. The first night we had some Montefusco and Nebbiolo wines and prosciutto pizza. The second a 1992 Delamotte and some brie, smoked duck and fig jam sandwiches. We're poaching that recipe, by the way, and substituting smoked pheasant. I'll let you know how it turns out...
On Saturday night, we came home. It was a fantastic trip and I sincerely hope we get to do it again. Here's a slide show, with more pictures to come from our friends in Baltimore, I hope.