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Discovering Some New Favorite Wines at Forks & Corks

Our wine writer names his top picks from the huge annual wine bash.

By Bob McGinn May 17, 2023

Pouring Wölffer Estate's chardonnay.

The Sarasota-Manatee Originals—a group of independent local restaurants—recently pulled off an incredible feat: planning and executing the extravagant wine weekend that was Forks & Corks.

With more than 300 wines poured, it was nearly impossible to determine the best, so to narrow down the field, the group employed 20 industry professionals to taste the wines that were submitted for judging. The result was nearly 90 wines that received gold, silver or bronze medals. In a nod to the pros, the organization showcased all of the wines featured at the Grand Tasting after the weekend in a trade-only event.

I attended this tasting and planned my route by looking for quirky names, new regions and unaffordable wines. Arriving early, I was able to meet with Erin Jolley of Drink the Rent. Her selection of Loire wines with whimsical names belied the quality in the bottles. The May Georges, a cremant (sparkling) rosé, was delightfully crisp, with a nuance of strawberry. Bande De Louve ("Gang of Wolves") is a reference to underground people coming out to drink at midnight. The Muscadet had a nice steely minerality, with good body and finish. Le Passage, Jolley's only red, was a Côtes du Rhône from a shaded vineyard near Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Not as robust as other Rhônes, it had a nice body and finish with pleasant fruit flavors, and is even chillable. All Jolley's wines are affordable, with most priced at under $20.

According to Tooth & Nail founder Rob Murray, Paso Robles, California, where his vineyard is located, is a tough place to grow grapes. The sauvignon blanc, a gold medal winner, was very clean, with grassy flavor. The red blend, a bronze medal winner, was made up of cabernet sauvignon, petite sirah and syrah. It showed bold flavors with a rich finish.

Wölffer Estate's selections.

Wölffer Estate, meanwhile, was the sole entry from the east end of Long Island, New York. It was founded in 1988 and is one of the oldest and most successful in that area. Chardonnay and merlot are the best grapes for this difficult climate. The Perle chardonnay was luscious, with excellent body and lingering fruit flavor. The cabernet franc was also pleasant, with nice fruit flavor but a short finish.

The event also provided a rare opportunity to revisit classified growth wines from France. Château Lagrange and Château Pontet-Canet showed wines that were even better than I remembered. Lagrange’s 2020 vintage was very young and tannic, but showed much potential. The 2010 vintage, after 13 years of aging, was much mellower, and the 2005 vintage was full-bodied, rich and impossible to spit. It was bold yet smooth and delicious—absolutely spectacular and, in my mind, best of show. Pontet-Canet's 2015 was similar, showing a solid cabernet sauvignon base with strong tannins masking lovely fruit. At $240 a bottle, however, it was certainly above my price range.

Can’t wait until next year.

Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.

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