Was I in Naples, Florida, or Hollywood, California?
By Judi Gallagher
Wednesday morning I loaded up the car with loads of luggage (pairing food and wine with Ann Taylor is not always easy), my camera charger and enough super enzymes (for digestive purposes) to last through more than a few extra meals. Not only was the Naples Winter Wine Festival about to begin (no worries there of gaining weight, since the media is kept at a distance from all food and wine), but I had several wine dinners planned for restaurant clients I have in the region.
Thus, after checking into my hotel, I spent a little time neuros-ing about what to wear. I wasn’t as concerned with matching colors as making sure I chose elastic waistlines. I was taking acclaimed artist Thomas Arvid to dinner at Fleming’s, and I have dined with him before and know his fondness for a good steak and a nice bottle of red wine. I headed off for a big, juicy, bone- in rib eye and a bottle of Faust with Arvid, who is known for his lifelike portraits of wine bottles and wine glasses and was in town for a gallery showing concurrent with the wine festival.
“Life without art is like dinner without wine—why bother?” Arvid told me. And with that, he ordered the Fleming’s potatoes with his own touch of chopped bacon on top. I agree whole-heartedly Thomas, with your view of both wine and bacon atop cheesy potatoes.
The next day I attended a retrospective wine tasting with Robert Parker, comparing the nine vintages of Château Latour, along with the exclusive wines of honored vintner Ann Colgin. Although we were not invited to actually taste these fine vintages, I did manage to work up enough of an appetite to head over to Charlie Chiang’s, at the Doubletree Inn in North Naples (239-593-6688). Why do I have to drive to Tampa or Naples to find good Chinese?
VIP moment: Happiness is being surrounded by Emeril and his culinary team.
With full belly and another costume change, I readied for a few interviews at the festival VIP party at the Ritz-Carlton beachfront. Emeril Lagasse was his flirty self, impassioned by the trustees’ ability to raise millions for needy children. Tom Colicchio shared his views about future seasons of Top Chef (I haven’t been this addicted to a television series since The West Wing) and the culinary trends, or lack of in the coming year. The outfits at the parties over the weekend are as thought-out as the food and wine pairings; and I spent another hour marveling at the fashionistas before heading out to dinner and a fine bottle of Nickel and Nickel Dragonfly with a few media friends.
Top Chef: Colicchio's TV appearances are as mesmerizing as his food.
Speaking of fashion—on the following two nights I enjoyed the company and outstanding wines of Il Borro, with the handsome and charming Salvatore Ferragamo—in Naples on Saturday night and Sunday in Sarasota. Il Borro has three Italian wines that I recommend; my favorite is the Sangiovese, easily found at ABC liquors and wines.
Italian flavor: The always charming Ferragamo with his wine.
While Naples Winter Wine Festival may be the philanthropic playground for super-sized wallets, they are serious about fundraising, having raised more than $50 million dollars in the past seven years for the children of Collier County; and I was happy to witness another record-breaking weekend—more than $16 million raised in just five hours.