story and photos by April Robertson
Animated conversation, unique flavors and savoring a warm summer night were just the main course.
Wine lovers and food aficionados met at a rich culinary crossroad Saturday evening at the 13th Annual Art of Wine’s Premier Wine Tasting event at the Walton Arts Center.
Saturday evening’s Premier Wine Tasting took place in the Baum Walker Main Stage and the McBride Studio of the Walton Arts Center, where the stage was expanded by several feet to accommodate the 400 patrons, 15 restaurants and seven wine distributors.
Tickets, which sold for $150 individually, covered an Art of Wine Festival wine glass, three hours for the patron to sample the wide array of wine and culinary treats from local restaurants and distributors, as well as a chance to participate in a silent auction filled with high-end items.
“Our vendors and restaurants are wonderful,” said Missy Darwin Kincaid, development officer at the Walton Arts Center. “We couldn’t do it without them.”
What’s different about this year is that “we expanded the stage, which was a really good move,” she said. “Last year we had about 600 people on the stage, so the additional space is great.”
One of the wine distributors, Will Herrin of Glazer’s, was glad to see a change in layout of the booths at this year’s Premier Wine Tasting, which included a middle row of vendors, making it easier for patrons to mill about and experience everything.
“The new design is making it so much easier so keep that,” he said, complimenting the WAC staff present.
Many of the vendors guided patrons with their wine pairings, making suggestions for samples based on their personal tastes and their alleviated knowledge.
Beat Kotoun, area manager of Kobrand Fine Wine and Spirits, made some of these nuanced observations. As he served a patron, he explained that the flavor they’d experience is “Oak, but not (a flavor that hits) on the forefront of your palette,” he said. “It’s on the back.”
Gary Ramona, vice president of marketing and sales at Antigal Winery & Estates passed the evening by making detailed conversation exploring wine flavors, wine making and blends with patrons.
“What’s unique about Antigal is that the grapes are grown south of equator, it’s very intense and the skins get ‘sunburned,’ which protects the (flavor),” he said. “Most (winemakers) use one vine to make one bottle, but we take from 38 clusters to 12 or 13 for a bottle,” which, he explained, heightens the taste.”
Ramona enjoyed dispelling some popular notions about a refined wine palate.
“Some people think the flavor of wine blends isn’t as full, but in fact it’s the opposite,” he said. “The blend serves two purposes. It is to stretch and to enhance the flavor component.”
The Art of Wine Festival is a series of events and while one could be tempted to associate some of them as similar in nature, the truth is that the “same” event can be entirely different from one day to the next. “Uncorked: Friday night tasting” took place the evening before the Premier Wine Tasting event and vendors unanimously echoed a change in atmosphere and audience.
“Tonight’s a little different crowd than last night,” said Anna Eberle, who represented Glazer’s, Arkansas’ largest wine spirits and wholesaler. “The wine brings a different demographic.”
Caitlin Mahoney of Impressions boutique expressed it similarly, emphasizing that Friday was busier, more active than Saturday. Mahoney has attended the event in past years and enjoyed the experience (even while working) so much that she plans to attend next year.
A number of this year’s servers, who represented local restaurants and businesses, have returned several years in a row. One of those is Robyn Bowen of Bordino’s Restaurant and Wine Bar. Bowen served guests dessert and fruit options at the Premier Wine Tasting.
“It’s a great event,” Bowen said. “I’ve been here four years in a row. These (guests) are happy, smiling people.”
Area restaurants spent the better part of a week preparing for Saturday’s wine tasting.
“Our pastry chef put in 80 hours this week,” said Bill Lyle, owner of Ella’s Restaurant. “He made about 4,000 desserts.”