What I’m Drinking

By John Bancroft April 1, 2009

This year’s Florida Winefest and Auction, which over the past 18 years has raised $6.6 million for charity, takes the town by storm April 23 for four days of winemaker dinners, tastings, parties, seminars and an auction to haunt a collector’s dreams. More than 50 winemakers and chefs will be on hand to lead the revels.

The festival kicks off the public festivities with Thursday winemaker dinners in local restaurants and private homes. Tickets begin at $125 per person. Friday begins with a public food and wine tasting from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. ($65) at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, which is the bash’s home base, and winds up with a dinner dance from 6:30 p.m. to midnight ($300) at the hotel.

Saturday is the really big day. Well-heeled sons and daughters of Bacchus fortify themselves for the bidding to come with a grand brunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and get down to business at the charity auction at 1:30 p.m. Coveted bottles from around the winemaking world will go under the gavel of David Elswood of Christie’s London. Tickets for the daylong event go for $175.

The auction lot that has most piqued our interest this year is a case of 12 different wines, each of them rated a perfect 100 by the Wine Advocate’s influential critic Robert Parker. Also making us feel a bit swoony is a case—the original wooden case—of Chateau Leovile Barton 2000 Bordeaux, which Wine Advocate described as "enormous, even monstrous in the mouth, with tremendous extraction, broodingly backward, dense flavors, and copious tannins."

The shindig winds up Sunday with an al fresco tasting on the hotel grounds from 1 to 5 p.m. ($15). Tickets and details are available online at

An editor, writer and online publisher, John Bancroft has reviewed restaurants, books, movies and music for many magazines, Web sites and newspapers, most recently for the St. Petersburg Times.

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