2005_11_food_pjwineguy.jpgTo our delight and downfall, the answer was yes. With a year of experience under our belt, we surveyed the scene at P.J. Wine's Annual Grand Tasting to raise money for City Harvest and thought that we had a solid strategy in place for attacking the hundreds of wines at our disposal. Unfortunately, we fell victim to the pretty colors and sparkly bubbles, so strategy failed us -- mission aborted. With planning out the window, we did what any wino would do, we drank anything that crossed our path. With 67 wines sampled, enough stew, serrano ham, and foie gras to harden our arteries, and a wheel of grana padano big enough to swim in, our gluttony led us to some solid conclusions (and a nasty hangover -- damn you, oloroso sherry!).

2005_11_food_granapadano.jpgWith the crazy number of wines we tried, it was hard to pick our favorites (we spit for the first half and then decided out of respect for Dionysus, we would swallow). There were three wines, however, that we still can't get out of our heads:

2000 Larmandier-Bernier Cramant, Champagne, France $44.99
Artisanal champagne is alive and well and it made a big splash at the Grand Tasting. Michael Skurnik Wines featured 8 different small production champagnes that were bursting with personality, flavor and effervescence. This Champagne has that perfect balance of fuit, fresh baked brioche and a touch of love. Pair this sparkling wine with an artisanal triple creme and let the magic happen.

2001 Traslanzas, Cigales, Spain $32.99
We stopped at this table to try the Caymus, however it was the Translanzas that stole our heart. This bold Spanish wine had an intense aroma of fruit and spice that paid off on the palate. The flavors were intense and concentrated, and the finish stayed with us for at least three tables afterwards.

2000 Monbousquet, Saint-Emillon, France, $111.97
The line for table number six stretched almost as long as the length of the building. People were scratching and pushing to get a sip of the Chateau Margaux or the Cheval Blanc. It got so bad, we nicknamed this table number "666." However, we put in our time, stayed low, used our elbows and made our way to the promised land. While the usual suspects were excellent, as you would expect, there was a quiet, unassuming wine that caused quite a stir. Matched against the great first growths of Bordeaux, the Monbousquet held its ground. Slightly austere upon entry, this smooth and seductive Bordeaux opened to reveal lusicous fruit, well-intregrated tannins and a depth that knocked our socks off.

And of course we hit the D'Artagnan table every time we walked by. How could we resist the foie gras and black truffle mousse in its delectable pastry shell? We were also completely overwhelmed by powerful flavors of the boeuf bourguignon from Les Halles -- We were so sad that we hadn't bothered to pick up a piece of bread with which to soak up each drop of burgundy goodness. Sigh. But we made up for it at the Vento table, where chef Michael White made a short rib to die for, perched atop a crusty bit of garlic bread and garnished with just a touch of horseradish. Amen.

We left another year of the Grand Tasting with our stomachs full, our livers taxed, yet our palates yearning for more. Promising that this was our last wine at least three times, we finally made our way home. We're actually glad that it may be a full year before we get to come back, as that will give us ample time to pefect the drinking and eating strategy that we will ultimately abandon upon our return.

co-authored by Laren Spirer