A day (or two) at the Wine and Food Festival

Cy, Dare, and I spent last weekend working at the DC International Wine and Food Festival.  We had a first vine tasting table.  And, like last year, we also set up and ran the wine shop to sell both first vine’s wines and wines from some of the other exhibitors too.

A good time was had by all!

I’m still totaling up the sales and trying to get all the paperwork done.  So instead of giving you my usual wine insights (or ramblings, depending on your point of view), I thought I’d recap the show and recommend some of the wines we really liked.  (It’s still not going to be a short post, because I just don’t write short posts 😉 )

First, though, we want to thank our friends Lynn and Chuck and Darrene and Chris for so ably running the tasting table for us, and our new friends Natalia and Steve for helping us in the shop.  We couldn’t have done it without you, and we hope you weren’t just humoring us when you said you had fun!

Many of the tasting tables were grouped in islands, mostly with a single theme: South African wines, “Wines from Don Quixote’s Spain” (thankfully with no windmills on the labels), New York State wineries, Virginia wineries, the Côtes du Rhône trade association, and the Wines of Hungary. 

Then there were the rest of us.  First Vine, a couple of Spanish producers, a couple of Italian producers, and a few others were on our own island of misfit toys otherwise unaffiliated wine merchants.  We had a good time, though.  The producer to our left, Marco Rigo of Terre di San Rocco, spoke only a little English, but somehow we winos always manage to communicate.  Marco is the winemaker and makes fabulous single-varietal Italian wines.  He’s here looking for a U.S. importer.  I hope he gets one, because these are wines you won’t want to miss.

The two-day show included dedicated hours for trade only – those in the wine and/or food business, press people and other writers, and…LOTS of other people who seemed to be there for a free wine brunch rather than a networking opportunity.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, we all take our perks where we can get them.  But it did make ferreting out the serious business people more difficult.

In spite of the brunchers, we got some business nibbles and an introduction to Lauren DeSantis, who has a cable TV cooking show here in DC.  First Vine wines are going to be featured on her French Bistro episode to be taped February 26 (details to follow).  Lauren told me that her show is going to be shown on WETA here in the DC area, which is really exciting because as a cable-free household, Cy and I get all our cooking show entertainment from public TV.  We also met chef Mike Isabella, formerly of DC’s Zaytinya and Bravo’s “Top Chef” Season 6, who did a cooking demo and will be opening Graffiato restaurant in Chinatown soon. 

OK, so it wasn't quite Black Friday at the show, but there were a whole lot of people there.

Once the trade-only hours were over, the general public arrived … in force.  Approximately 2,500 tickets were sold for each day, and by mid-afternoon people were standing four-deep at the tasting tables, which made things a little hectic.  Some of our fellow exhibitors closed down hours early because they ran out of wine, which meant we got to spread out a bit more and keep pouring (you know first vine: dedicated to customer service, and we never run out of wine  😉 ). 

Back in the wine shop, sales started off slowly – after all, people have to taste all of the wines before they decide which ones to buy – but by later in the day, the shop was hopping.  We sold over 50 cases of wine from eight exhibitors!

Now for wine recommendations.  We didn’t get a chance to taste everything, but we made an effort to try all the wines that were for sale in the shop plus a few others.  Here’s what we liked:

CAVU Cellars, a family business in Walla Walla, WA, has a wonderful portfolio.  Joel Waite, the winemaker, was pouring his wines at the show.  “CAVU” is an acronym for “Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited,” a flying reference.  (CAVU is near the local airport, and Joel’s father was a pilot in Vietnam, so “CAVU” is a good family omen.)  I liked all his wines but particularly the Horse Heaven Hills Barbera.  It’s a little disconcerting when a wine so associated with another country is made in a U.S. winery because your taste buds are expecting something different.  Joel’s Barbera doesn’t taste anything like Italian Barbera, but it’s a great wine.  His Cabernet Sauvignon is also a nice, well-balanced European-style Cab that I liked a lot. 

Veleta wines, produced near Granada, Spain, also had a neat portfolio.  Veleta has a U.S. importer but was looking for distributors at the show.  The wines are moderately-priced and all very good.  My favorite was the Vijiriega white, named for the grape, which is only grown in a small area of Spain.  The rosé made from Tempranillo was also nice, and reminded us of our Cave la Romaine Sénsation Rosé.  Among the reds I liked the Nolados, a Tempranillo blend.  You’d think by the name it would be pronounced noh-LA-dos but it’s noh-la-DOS for the two Nolas:  Nola Palomar, one of the winery owners and her daughter, Nolita.

An outstanding wine, from a family of ten sisters (and one brother)

One of our favorite wines was the Ten Sisters Sauvignon Blanc.  It’s imported from New Zealand by Ellie Stables, one of those ten sisters (yes, ten of them.  Really).  She lives in Alexandria, VA, so the wine is pretty widely available in the DC area.   (Ten Sisters’ website does a good job of showing you where you can buy it in wine shops and restaurants.)  It’s definitely one of the best Sauvignon Blancs we’ve ever tasted, and a great all-around white wine. 

Bellingham Wines, a South African producer, was pouring a red called Dragon’s Lair.  It’s a Rhône-style blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, and Viognier, and we sold out of it the first day.  Although it doesn’t have the earthiness of its French originator, it’s a lovely, tasty wine.

Glenora Wine Cellars, in the Finger Lakes area of New York, has an Alsatian-style portfolio of wines.  Cy’s favorite was the Gewurztraminer, which had just the right balance of sweetness, spice, and acidity.  We drank a lot of Gewurz in Alsace a couple of years ago, and this is the only U.S. version we’ve tasted that really reminds us of the wines back there.

The Williamsburg Winery, from Willimasburg, VA, brought a wide variety of wines.  My favorite was the Hening’s Statute Barrel Aged Claret, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend.  I think it’s a legal requirement in Williamsburg that every product have a name of some historical significance.  But it’s good enough to buy for the taste and not just the story.

Nice Legs, a Virginia distributor, brought several wines from New Zealand including two from Puriri Hills.  The 2006 Reserve was rich and smooth.  It’s not surprising this wine is featured at the Inn at Little Washington.

Of course, we sold a lot of first vine wine too.  Our Domaine la Croix des Marchands “Methode Gaillaçoise” demi-sec sparkling ($18) was our biggest seller.  It’s always popular, but I think it made a nice treat for Valentine’s Day weekend.  We also sold a lot of our Château de Roquebrune Lalande de Pomerol 2005 ($25).  It’s a rich, marvelous red from Bordeaux that’s just now starting to show at its best.   Although it’s over 60 degrees today here in DC, you know we’ve still got some cold weather ahead, so I’m making it this week’s featured wine.

Ina Garten always says that her most fabulous dinner parties are the ones where she serves comfort food, so I’m pairing the wine with – wait for it – meatloaf.  Not just any meatloaf, but the one I’ve had since I was a kid.  I’ve made lots of changes over the years for extra flavor, but the secret ingredient is still the same:  lots of little cubes of cheddar cheese.   It’s so flavorful you can make it with ground turkey instead of beef.  And you can even leave off the bacon if you must, but you’ll want to keep it on.   So surprise your guests with an old-fashioned meal and a terrific wine.   Even if the groundhog was right this year you may as well enjoy the winter we have left!

Bon Appetit!


Childhood Meatloaf, Updated

Serves 4 to 6


1-1/4 pounds lean ground beef (90-93%) or ground turkey

1 slice sandwich bread (white, whole wheat, or other)

¼ cup milk

1 large egg

½ of a large green pepper, finely minced

1 small onion, finely minced

2 garlic cloves, finely minced or put through a garlic press

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

5 ounces sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, cut into very small cubes


1 tablespoon butter

¼ cup ketchup

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

½ teaspoon vinegar

A splash of white wine (a tablespoon or so)

One large pinch of freshly-ground black pepper

2 thick slices of bacon, cut in half crosswise

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and grease a 9 x 5 –inch metal loaf pan (for glass, lower the oven to 325 degrees F).

Tear the bread into small pieces and put them in a small bowl.  Pour the milk over the bread and let it soak for a few minutes while you get the other ingredients ready.  Put all the other meatloaf ingredients into a large bowl.  Squeeze the bread to make sure it’s completely moistened with all the milk (add a little more milk if you need to), then add it to the other meatloaf ingredients.  Using your hands, gently mix it all together so it’s nicely uniform.  Scoop the mixture into the loaf pan and even it out.

Combine all the topping ingredients except the bacon in a small saucepan and heat until the butter is melted and it’s nice and bubbly.  Spread the topping over the meatloaf, then arrange the four half-slices of bacon on top, running diagonally if they don’t fit straight across.  Put the pan in the oven and bake for 45 to 55 minutes.  The internal temperature should be around 140 to 145 degrees for beef, 160 for turkey.  If the bacon isn’t crispy, turn on the broiler and put the pan under it for a couple of minutes – watching carefully – until the bacon is nicely browned.  Take the pan from the oven and let the meatloaf rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

This entry was posted in Bordeaux, Château de Roquebrune, french wine, Meatloaf, recipes, Tom Natan, Uncategorized, Washington Food and Wine Show, wine delivery washington dc and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A day (or two) at the Wine and Food Festival

  1. Pingback: The Best Fine Wines » A day (or two) at the Wine and Food Festival « Vine Art … from the …

  2. Sue says:

    How did I miss this – that you met Mike Isabella? He’s been on my blacklist for awhile…UNTIL last week. Now I kind of see his slightly disgusting boyish charm… So how was he? I’m sure he was affable if he was walking around swilling wine.

    • firstvine says:

      I’ve never seen him on Top Chef, so I had nothing to go on. He seemed very nice, and so did his wife. He did a cooking demo at the show, which I didn’t get to see. Some of the other vendors know him already (he has been around in DC a while) and they all like him. Now we’ll see if he wants any of our wine — I hear through others that he wants to feature New Jersey wines at the new restaurant.


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