Tastings: Wine festival is a hit

Last Thursday, 2,600 faithful wine-lovers decamped to Heinz Field to taste a whopping 600 wines from 216 wineries. These included wines from 11 other countries as well as from California, Oregon, Washington and Pennsylvania.

This is more than twice as many wines and wineries than were present at the birth of the festival six years ago.

All of the vendors I spoke with claimed that Pittsburgh is definitely among their favorite festival destinations.

They love the enthusiasm and curiosity of our local wine crowd and the great views from their booths on the club level of Heinz Field.

In order to taste the maximum number of wines and remain standing, a serious taster doesn't swallow (it's sort of like not inhaling!).

That's a tough call when it comes to Grand Cru Bordeaux, Super Tuscans, and cult California cabernet sauvignons, but swallowing isn't necessary to analyze the wine's qualities. Among my highlights of the evening were:

• Vall Llach Idus Priorat 2004, PLCB #26257, $29.99

This Spanish blend of carinena, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, granacha and syrah is a huge mouthful of ripe berries, spice and chocolate with great balance and structure. The Chairman's Selection price makes it a fabulous bargain as well.

• Grosset "Polish Hill" Dry Riesling 2007, PLCB #28160, $17.99

An Australian riesling with apple blossoms and lemon zest on the nose, spice and herbs in the mouth and a long, smooth finish.

• Santa Cecelia 2005, PLCB #24319, $31.99

Sicilian wines are latecomers to the Pennsylvania market. Made from the nero d'avola grape, sometimes called Calabrese, the wines are thick and flavorful, bursting with aromas of red berries, plums and black cherries. Well structured and balanced, this wine is a fine example of the grape and the terroir.

The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute reported a total of $4 million raised in conjunction with the wine festival for cancer research. The monies went to the Frieda G. and Saul S. Shapira Foundation for BRCA Research, the UPMC Deptartment of Neurosurgery, UPMC Medical and Clinical Research Center, the UPMC Heart, Lung and Esophageal Surgery Institute and Magee-Women's Hospital Research Foundation.

This money was raised from individuals who pledged from $25,000 to $50,000 or more through the UPCI development office.

The wine festival raised an additional $27,185 through a live auction at the Carlton kick-off dinner and the silent auction of prized bottles at Heinz Field. Proceeds from ticket sales and booth rentals are not part of the charitable donations.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board on-site wine shop had almost $75,000 in sales the night of the festival, which is an indication of how much the wine-lovers appreciated the wines they tasted.

Elizabeth Downer can be reached at edowner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1454.


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