The long and wining road

Michael Cummo

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Occasionally an assignment is handed down from the editors that’s so grueling it’s hard to find the right candidate. Sampling wines last Friday during the Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival was just such an assignment. Thankfully, when the editors asked, I was ready to report from the front lines.

Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles

I was able to catch the tail end of Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles at l’etoile and got to taste eight sparkling wines. Ideally tasting them over the course of an hour (as opposed to 15 minutes) is best, but it does lend itself to instant comparison. My take away favorites were the 2010 Naveran ‘Dama’ Cava Brut Reserve and the 2013 Piazzo Moscato d’Asti, dry and sweet respectively. The moscato in particular was interesting for its feathery body — unexpected with something so sweet.

Sommelier Throw Down

To be clear, this event was not about wine, it was about personalities. Wine was simply the vehicle. Rachel Klein, the executive chef at Liquid Art House, the ‘it’ restaurant right now in Boston, would send out a course (beginning with Faroe Island Salmon) and the  sommeliers Carr, Decker, and Fine would each pitch a wine to accompany the dish. Mr. Decker, sommelier at Atria, warm and informative as he was, swiftly lost ground to the theatrics of his colleagues. Mr. Carr, owner of the Napa Valley Winery Dylan’s Ghost, comported himself as much in the vein of Jimmy Kimmel as he did Hugh Johnson. Mr. Fine, the Eastern Division Sales Manager for Vine Connections, kept the audience riveted by clacking a chef’s knife against a wine bottle and then employing the knife like a conductor’s baton. Both Mr. Carr and Mr. Fine enjoyed razzing whoever had the floor, but it was Mr. Carr who won the most votes from the audience in the end.

Sake 101 and o ya parings

This event, at the Edgartown Yacht Club, featured food and drink from a restaurant considered one of the best sushi venues on the eastern seaboard. Nancy Cushman, co-owner of o ya, gave a detailed seminar about sake while we ate and drank. The first dish, Kumamoto oysters with ponzu marinated watermelon pearls and cucumber mignonette, was balanced and light to a fault. I could have eaten those oysters for the rest of the afternoon. The next dish, which featured a piece of Japanese amberjack sashimi elevated with Vietnamese mignonette, fried shallots, and Thai basil, set the standard for which o ya is famous. This was paired with what was my favorite sake, a milky number: Rihaku “Dreamy Clouds” Nigori Tokubetsu Junmai from Shimane. Given comparison, sakes can vary so much in flavor, let alone variety.

Germany vs. Argentina

Back under the Mayhew Lane tent, I found Mark Fine clacking a knife against a bottle once again, and it readily brought folks to attention. The premise of the session: German food can accompany Argentine wine just fine. While touting several wines and their strengths as paired with chef Mandeep Shankar’s Germanic interpretations, Mr. Fine performed magic tricks. Again, the wine was terrific, but Mr. Fine’s charisma was the x-factor. Mr. Shankar’s sauerbraten — gingery, red wine marinated cabbage, was absolutely delicious, a masterful merger of traditional and modern.

Gourmet Wine Cellar

At six o’clock, I moved on to the Gourmet Wine Cellar event at the Harbor View Hotel. Each table at the event was hosted by a dedicated wine expert, and I found myself seated at Mark Fine’s table. Mr. Fine (sans knife) treated the table to two magnums of Malbec (unblended with other varieties of grape) that he’d had specially flown in: a 2006 Susana Balbo Nosotros and a 2008 Tikal Amorio. The four-course dinner was everything you’d expect when talents like Robert Sisca of Bistro du Midi, Philippo Gizzoli of A Voce, and the Harbor View’s Nathan Gould get creative together in the kitchen. The entrée deserves special mention: jerk duck breast magicked with foi gras, baby turnips, plums, and a type of grits. If I was on death row and my day had come, a repeat of this dish is what I’d ask for.

The After Party

The After Party, as its name suggests, was the last leg of the day’s wine odyssey. It was also my inaugural trip to The Boathouse Restaurant (above The Atlantic). At the bar, cocktails, not wines, ruled the roost. Jonathan Pogash, a bona fide cocktail consultant, served a variety of custom drinks. My favorite was the Chappy Collins: Brockmans gin, meyer lemon juice, jasmine syrup, and bitters with a hibiscus flower garnish. Several of these were insufficient to get me to dance. Nevertheless, dozens of others cut up the floor.

After roughly nine and a half hours of wine sampling culminating in cocktails, I wasn’t about to go grab my pickup over on North Summer Street, but I feared the cabs would be mobbed. However, the taxi gods looked favorably on me, and Antoniya Sebeva, co-owner of Lighthouse Taxi, just happened to roll up to the curb as I exited the Boathouse. For a quite an affordable fare, I got a safe ride home to West Tisbury: the last ingredient to a perfect day of drinking.