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MOUTHING OFF

Taste's good: Despite the fact that Greyhound lost my luggage, one of the babysitters drove our child nuts and the electricity disappeared throughout Vail an hour before the big event (while I was ironing my one dress, I might add), the fifth annual Taste of Vail was a blast. Where else could we have tried wines from 80 wineries--and we tried them all--and tasted exceptional food from 25 Vail restaurants as well as the inspired creations of Mark Militello, whose cuisine I'd fallen in love with at his Mark's Place in Miami?

The three-day Taste included cooking classes with Militello, among others, and wine seminars, along with those food-and-wine matchups. Our favorite by far was the one pairing caviars such as Russian beluga La Fayette roe with sparkling wines such as Chandon Reserve 188. After an experience like that, there's little left in life to look forward to. But lest you think the Taste was some frou-frou ordeal for diamond-clad socialites, take heart--the majority of attendees were plain ol' folks, and some of the seminar speakers, such as the rep from France's Louis Latour, were downright down-to-earth. "At Latour, we don't sit around saying things like, `It's filled with chocolate and raspberry tones,'" said Michel Veniet. "We say things like, `Ooh, this is good, this isn't good,' or `This really stinks.'" Of course, he was talking about Burgundy, which I'm convinced is France's great joke on the rest of the world. You can find more exciting wines on our West Coast.

One of those is Zinfandel (we're not talking about that white crap, either). The Zinfandel seminar featuring five wineries was like guys' night out--of the 75 people in the audience, only 15 were women. Zinfandel's higher alcohol content--usually 14 to 15 percent--and its robust flavors have given it a reputation as a man's wine. This woman, however, loves it: particularly the 1992 from Rosenblum and the 1993 Eberle, which actually tasted of raspberries. Seminar moderator Josh Wesson, a nationally recognized sommelier, said Zinfandel goes "good with road kill."

My favorite Chardonnay was the 1993 from Markham, with just enough oak and a classic, rich taste. And the 1993 Sauvignon Blanc from Sanford was incredible. When we asked what tasted so "vegetal," the rep corrected us to "herbaceous"--but either way, it's a winner. The most well-represented wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, had a lot of top contenders, but I would shell out for a case of the 1991 Arrowood--very grapey, smooth and strong. The winery that blew us away, though, was Benziger, a small, family-operated joint in Sonoma brought to us by the same people who founded, and recently sold, Glen Ellen. Their 1992 Chardonnay, the 1993 Fume Blanc and the 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon are the best buys of the year--each retails for about $9 but packs in $30 worth of flavor.

Still, the Taste's price tag ($250 for the whole deal, some seminars extra) caused even some well-heeled Vail residents to cringe. "The thing is great, because I know it's a fundraiser," said a fellow passenger on a shuttle from the hotel to the Lodge at Vail, where most of the cooking and wine-tasting seminars were held. "But me and my friends who live here feel there should be some kind of discount for locals or something." He did, however, add that he had already bought his ticket.

 
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