2005 International
Food & Wine Festival

Wine School

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Wines sampled:
1990 Lindeman's St. George Koonawarra Cabernet ($60)
1991 Penfolds Koonunga Hills Shiraz ($4 when released; no longer available)
2001 Wynn's Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon ($12)
2002 Coldstream Hills Pinot Noir Screwcap ($22)
2002 Penfolds Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz ($19)
2002 Penfolds Macgill Estate Shiraz ($65)
2003 Penfolds Thomas Highlands Chardonnay ($12)
2004 Penfolds Shiraz ($9)
2005 Penfolds Sauvignon Blanc Screwcap ($12)

Review by

Gloria Konsler

Having been to the Napa Wine School during the 2004 Epcot Food & Wine Festival, my husband and I signed up for the Advanced Aussie Wine School as our "learning experience" in 2005. We weren't exactly sure what "advanced" meant since specific information on Food & Wine Festival events is a bit difficult to come by.

We arrived at Epcot Guest Relations about 8:30 a.m., were greeted by a Disney Cast Member and waited just a few minutes for the town car that would shuttle us backstage to the Wonders of Life pavilion. (An interesting benefit of the wine school is this rare glimpse of the backstage areas of virtually all the other Future World pavilions.)

At Wonders, we were escorted through a back entrance to an elevator to the third floor private "retreat" in the pavilion with large windows overlooking the display area below. (Unlike last year when some of the exhibits and displays were still intact and the display floor brightly lit, this year everything had been stripped from the interior, displays, plants, etc. There were still lights, but they were much dimmer.)

As in 2004, there was a continental breakfast with pastries, muffins, fresh fruit and beverages for the wine school participants. It was early in the morning and everyone was rather quiet waiting for the "school" to begin, but once the doors to the classroom opened, everyone seemed to be ready to learn.

Matt Lane, sommelier from Penfold's Magill Estate Restaurant and world-recognized wine expert, stepped forward and outlined the day's agenda. First we would have about an hour of "basics" about wines, but since this was an "advanced" school, they wouldn't spend much time on types, of wines, world wine growing regions or the basics of wine tasting. Following would be another couple of hours of learning geared specifically to the major wine regions of Australia, types of wines produced and the basic characteristics of those wines. Lunch would be served with wines paired to the various courses and then we'd do a number of blind tastings. The final part of the afternoon would be spent evaluating some "unfinished" blending components, then blending them, trying to duplicate the combination of grapes in a finished sample wine.

Jerry Comfort presented the hour of "basics." Mr. Comfort is the Gourmet Chef and Culinary Director for Beringer Wine Estates. The class did two "blind tastings," one white and one red, where we were asked to try to identify the varietal simply by looking, smelling and sipping.

Matt Lane then spent some time identifying the main grape-growing regions of Australia, the varietals grown there and what sort of aromas and flavors one might expect from each region.

Lunch consisted of salad, baby lamb chops accompanied by mushroom-topped green beans and herbed whipped sweet potatoes. Dessert was a chocolate and mousse layered gateau garnished with mango-passion fruit puree and a white chocolate "straw." The lunch wines were a Penfolds Riesling with the salad (Unfortunately, I didn't get the exact name or vintage.); the 2002 Penfolds Magill Estate Shiraz was paired with the main course.

When we returned to the classroom after lunch, there were two "aged" reds and four young reds in front of us for blind tasting. Also, the three "unfinished" component wines for blending and a sample of our "target" finished blend.

By the time 3:30 p.m. rolled around, I think most of the students had a bit of "palate fatigue" and definitely "fanny fatigue." It was, however, an extremely interesting day, chocked full of learning and tasting. If Matt Lane and Jerry Comfort hadn't been such excellent presenters, the seminar could have gotten a little "long in the tooth" by the end, but with their senses of humor and animated presentation styles, they kept everyone interested right to the end.

As an interesting side note, at lunch we talked with Mr. Comfort about "screw caps" for wines instead of the traditional cork. During the class someone presented the question to Matt Lane. Interestingly, both answered almost exactly the same. They liked the screw caps a lot because of how much "fresher" they keep the wines, how much less a chance of drying out and contamination, the ease of opening a bottle and the elimination of cork bits in the wine. Asked when he thought screw caps might overtake corks as the preferred method, Mr. Comfort said, "As soon as enough recognized sommeliers and other wine experts get out there and promote their virtues."