It was everything we could have hoped for and more! From vintage champagne that smelled like wildflowers to the ice wine that tasted of honey and pineapple to the braised veal cheeks that tasted like . . .like . . . a little piece of heaven – our taste buds certainly got a workout at the Grand Tasting 2004.

This annual event sponsored by PJ Wine to raise money for City Harvest featured over a million wines. Okay, we're totally exaggerating, but it sure felt that way. When we first arrived we received a book of all the wines and food at the event. We knew that the only way to get good coverage was to develop a drinking/eating strategy. After consulting with NASA strategists, industry professionals and the innocent bystanders trying to get to the Foie Gras, we had our plan in place. First Champagne, then go by country – Italy, Spain, Australia, Greece, the Americas, France -- then Sherry, and end on the dessert wines. Yeah, right. Once we got started we were lured by the A-list wine and our plan was thrown out the window.

While we would love to tell you about all the great wines we had, it would take up too much room and quite frankly the latter part of the evening is a little hazy. However there were a few that were so great, we just have to share.

NV Gaston Chiquet Carte Verte Brut, Champagne, France, $23.97
When it comes to champagne Gothamist prefers a Cuvee or blend style. A cuvee is often a mix of the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Muenier grapes. This champagne was a perfect expression of that. It was complex, had great effervescence and appropriate acidity. For $23.97, this Champagne is a great value.

NV Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial Rose, Champagne, France, $129.97
Ah, the good stuff. This Rosé was fresh and vibrant with hints of raspberry and strawberries. At $129.97, it is a bit of a splurge. If you are looking to spend a little less on a rosé, Veuve Clicquot makes a great one.

2001 Paul Jaboulet Aine Crozes Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert, Rhone Valley, France, $24.99
If there is any change of you remembering this name this next time you go to the wine store, you’re in for a treat. This wine, made from 100% Syrah grape was unbelievable. It had just the right balance of smokiness and fruit. We loved it without food, and could only imagine how great it would be with BBQ.

2000 Lo Piot, Bodegas Cesca Vicent, Priorat, Spain, $37.99
The texture on this wine was so smooth and rich that it was love at first sip. The nose has hints of vanilla and dark fruit and the finish went on forever. Although this wine is a little more difficult to find, once you try it you’ll probably wish you had gotten a case.

2004_11_food_dyquem2.jpgDessert Wine:
1995 Chateau d’Yquem, Sauternes, France, $199.97
This dessert wine was so luscious and sweet that we had to go back for seconds –- shhh, don’t tell. Perhaps, the most famous sweet wine, this Sauternes certainly lived up to its reputation. Imagine rich golden honey, caramel and apricot – is anyone else getting hungry?

We certainly expected the wine to be amazing, but we were just as dazzled by the food. Between our swirling and sipping, we made some very important detours to visit the chefs who had set up shop at the event. Our first stop was Zoë for garganelli with a braised veal cheek ragu that was so tender, it simply melted in our mouths. A little more wine, then our second food stop, at Aquavit, for a light and delicate oyster smoky cream, croutons, and salmon roe. More swirling, more sipping, then we hit @SQC for a tuna tartare with a side of edamame in an avocado vinagrette that made us declare our love for Scott Campbell (in front of his wife, apparently). We must admit, we fell in love several times during the course of the evening, most frequently at D'Artagnan. Between their fois gras with truffles and their black truffle butter with wild boar prosciutto, we grew concerned at the number of times we stopped at their table. We tried changing our hairstyles, taking glasses on and off -- whatever we could do so that they wouldn't notice how frequently we were there.

When we weren't stalking the folks at D'Artagnan, we nibbled on Spanish cheeses from Cheese from Spain, and tapas from Solera, the two tables conveniently sandwiching our friend Tony who was pouring samples of sherry. A sip of sherry, a bit of manchego on our left, some more sherry, a bite of tortilla espanola to our right.

A visit to a table serving Tuscan wines was a perfect match for the comfort of braised short ribs and creamed spinach from Strip House, and the decadent chocolate truffles and delectable pastries from the Peninsula complemented our Chateau d'Yquiem and ice wine quite nicely.

And finally, as our last stop of the evening, our last stop at the wine event was . . . D'Artagnan. We needed one more hit before we headed home. They laughed at us for coming back yet again, but gave us some truffle butter as a parting gift.

Full photo gallery at Sweet Blog o'Mine.

(co-authored by Laren Spirer)