In its 11th year, this month's Bern's Winefest delivered what wine fans expect: big white tents, boisterous crowds, lots of food, a great cheese spread and a very international offering of wines, many of them $50 to $100 treats.
And cheap thrills. Great wine for under $15.
Even the magical Rhone vintner Jean-Luc Colombo, the weekend's guest star, brought along a lush $11 red blend, as well as the rich viognier of Condrieu and a stunning 1997 red from Cornas. The delicious cheapie is a Cotes du Rhone called Les Abeilles (the Bees), dark purple, warm and spicy like a trail mix of dried stone fruits and cranberries spiked with licorice.
It wasn't the only one. Colombo's companion from Provence, Anne Poniatowski, wowed 'em with a dry rose of grenache and syrah rose for $14: Mas de la Dame from 2006, full of strawberries and flowers but sturdy enough for all occasions including a full summer dinner. "People have to understand,'' she said, "in Provence, rose is our lifestyle.''
At a tasting seminar, Colombo demonstrated again the strong environmental consciousness of the Rhone valley. He minimizes pesticides and fertilizers, and he refuses to irrigate, even in dry years.
Irrigation is unnatural, dilutes flavors and wastes water, he said. "To irrigate when the whole world needs water is tragic.''
And there was a delightful blend from the friendly folks at Peachy Canyon, called Cirque du Vin (see review, this page), from California's cowboy version of Provence.
Other big-top revelations:
• Vintages are important. And current ones are very good. Lucky for the French, given the strength of the euro, most vintages on the market are worth the price. The 2000 and 2003 are getting scarce and pricey while the fabled 2005 shows fine drinking from Burgundy and the Rhone to Bordeaux and in all price ranges.
• Looking east pays off. The whites of Germany and Austria keep getting better and still get too little attention. Fine rieslings from Markus Molitor and S.A. Prum are great summer drinks for under $20.
• Everybody loves a "sticky." Once you admit you do like a sweet wine — only once in a while, of course — look to Spain as well as Portugal and Australia. Pedro Ximenez is the name of the richest grape in the sherry houses. A 1979 PX from Toro Albala was the festival sweetie.
• Peasant food matches noble wine. Robust stew of oxtail and fava beans, bison sliders and a "slaw'' of marinated sardines was the best eating passed out by the culinary team picking up the banner of former chef Jeannie Pierola.
• Wine beautifies. The changing demographic of wine drinkers was obvious in a goodie bag you might get at a department store cosmetics counter: glitter lip gloss, mascara and Kenneth Cole cologne.
Chris Sherman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8585.