The bacchanalia were rites originally held in ancient Greece to honor the god Dionysus. By the time these festivals spread to southern Italy, though banned by the Senate, they were held in secret and attended only by women. The historian Livy described the shenanigans that took place at these raucus girl-power celebrations. These wild women danced around with “hair disheveled” and reveled in such a manner that partygoers who refused to get into the spirit were “sacrificed as a victims,” as “there was no crime, no deed of shame, wanting. Sounds kind of like ladies’ night at some of the bars around here, but I digress…
This year I had the pleasure of being invited to Forks and Corks, a four-day food and wine fest that brought winery owners and winemakers from all over the world to Sarasota, where 50 members of the Sarasota-Manatee Originals showcased their mad epicurean skills. I did actually eat enough to be ashamed of myself, and there was an incident in which my hair became disheveled. After four days of wishing I had a second stomach and possibly an extra liver, however, the only thing sacrificed was an inch on my wasteline and a brain cell or two.
In honor of my dishonorable ancient table-dancin’ sisters, and in light of my recent dating disasters, I decided I was going stag for the weekend. On Friday I attended the Ophelia’s and Oregon Wine Dinner, where I had the chance to nosh on some of Chef Dan Olson’s finest foodie creations while having the incredible honor of being seated next to Bill Hatcher, the master of American Pinot Noir. A to Z Pinot noir (Oregon) has been my absolute favorite bottle of wine since I first sampled it at a Trader Joe’s in Chicago. Food & Wine Magazine is also a fan, awarding it the best American Pinot noir under $20.
Wine people sometimes scare me because I don’t have any idea what they’re talking about. I know what I like, I know what tastes good and I’d rather drink it than pontificate on it. After meeting Bill, I realized he was my type of wine guy, and also why I liked his wine so much. Bill doesn’t like to talk much about wine because he’s too busy meticulously and precisely creating a bottle of wine that is almost unbelievably consistent year after year, an extremely difficult task in the wine business.
He also knows his food, and though Ophelia’s was an almost impossible act to follow, Bill was gracious enough to allow a few of us writers from This Week In Sarasota to show him and the staff of A to Z around town the following evening. We sampled Darwin’s on 4th, the Selva Grill and Café Epicure, all three of which got the thumbs up from the P. Diddy of Pinot noir.
I also had the pleasure to attend the Grand Tasting in the Ringling Museum of Art courtyard, which may be my most bombdiggity experience as a Sarasotan so far! I was having a good hair day, and there was wine and food as far as the eye could see. Everyone was wearing their Sunday best, and I had my favorite little blue dress on. While the sun shone without a cloud in the sky, the music floated through the courtyard on a gentle breeze. The smell of grilling steak and coconut rice that Harry’s Continental Kitchens cooked up had me in a swoon. The Tuna Nachos from Madfish Grill were a close second, and after enough trips to their respective tables I worried that they might ban me from further sampling. I felt like I had somehow arrived at the pinnacle of Western civilization. I was so incredibly grateful to be there soaking it all in, and I felt in that moment that all was right in the world.
Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better, I spotted my crush— sans date. A normal girl would, of course, walk up to him and say hello, but as I often do, I got a case of the nerves. Remember Linda Evangelista in George Michael’s “Freedom” video? Yeah, I decided to channel my inner supermodel and impressively strut past him in the hopes that he would notice me first. In the middle of my imaginary runway, however, I tripped on a plastic plate and fell on my bum. Hair disheveled, I picked myself up, my girlfriends and I whooping it up with laughter as we scurried off. We circled back to the A to Z tent, where Bill was a sport enough to let us pour for a few of the patrons. The plate-induced ass plant was one sour grape in a weekend that had come together like a near-perfect vintage. If I were Wine Spectator, I’d give it a 94.