Pebble Beach: Nation's Premier Food & Wine Event When it Comes to Wine

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Opening Night Reception at Pebble Beach Food & Wine (all photos courtesy PBFW)

The country's greatest annual food and wine event with an emphasis on wine -- featuring some of the world's finest and most exclusive wines -- ended this past Sunday in Pebble Beach, California.

This was the seventh edition of Pebble Beach Food & Wine (PBFW) based at the Inn at Spanish Bay in Carmel, but utilizing additional locations throughout the area.

When this annual event began in 2008, it followed in many ways in the footsteps of the legendary Masters of Food & Wine extravaganza that was likewise very much focused on the world's most elite wines. That event had taken place in nearby Big Sur for two decades until 2007.

As far as other food events featuring the world's top chefs, PBFW probably runs second only to the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. That event, in late June, has been running for over 30 years. Its wine seminars, however, led mostly by celebrity somms, are easily outshown by those of PBFW.

The event is well supported by local residents, but I met many attendees who had flown in from the East Coast and elsewhere.

Conrad Kenley is a longtime food and wine event veteran and prominent wine collector based in Washington, D.C. He told me he previously attended the Masters of Food & Wine and now regularly attends PBFW because of the wine seminars and presence of representatives from some of the world's great estates. He credits the latter with a lot of what he's learned about wine.

This year's high end wine seminars included a vertical tasting back to 1990 of arguably the greatest, and certainly most innovative, of the Bordeaux First Growths: Château Latour, with Latour President Frédéric Engerer on hand.

Château Latour's Frédéric Engerer

Spain's most famous wine was featured in a seminar on the wines of Vega Sicilia Unico with samples going back to 1983. Napa's storied Mayacamas -- which began in 1889 on Mt. Veeder -- was the subject of another tasting seminar, with a panel that included internationally renowned wine critic Antonio Galloni and winemaker Andy Erickson. That tasting included wines representing five decades of Mayacamas.

Galloni himself was featured at four different wine seminars, including one devoted to top Barolos from the excellent 2008 vintage. Other wine experts and leading sommeliers on hand for wine seminars included Raj Parr, wine book author Jordan McKay, Food & Wine's executive wine editor Ray Isle, Master Sommelier Larry Stone and Somm film stars Ian Cauble, Dlynn Proctor, Brian McClintic and Eric Railsback.

For me, the single most memorable wine seminar this year was a vertical tasting of one of Champagne's rarest and most sought-after top cuvees, Salon. Champagne Salon head Didier Depond was on hand for this very unusual retrospective, which included magnums going back to 1983 and the first public showing of the soon-to-be-released and highly anticipated 2002 vintage.


Antonio Galloni and Didier Depond at Champagne Salon seminar

For a little perspective on the level of wines poured, I taste over 7,000 wines per year. Usually only one or two of those per month merit a rating of 96/97 points. At this event alone, I got to taste 13 wines I rated 96 points or higher -- i.e., for me, essentially a year's worth of very top wines -- including two I rated 99 points (both of them Salon Champagnes).

Like other major food and wine events across the country, PBFW also includes grand tastings featuring hundreds of wines. PBFW actually hosts three such tastings that go for three hours each: a welcome event Thursday evening, and Saturday and Sunday afternoon grand tastings. The latter two took place in the 66,000 square foot Lexus Grand Tasting tent erected on the grounds of the Equestrian Center.

Big commercial brands are among the wines featured at these large scale tastings, but there were also many high quality, smaller production wineries represented. This year those included Archery Summit, Arietta, Blackbird Vineyards, Carlisle, Donelan, DuMol, Hestan, Jonata, Kistler, Kosta Browne, Pisoni, Ridge and Sandhi. I also enjoyed a very interesting lineup of Aussie wines thoughtfully selected by Wine Australia.

For these grand tastings, top chefs from restaurants around the country create specialty dishes for attendees to nosh on between sips of wine, cocktails or spirits.

Guy Fieri cooking at Saturday Lexus Grand Tasting

Among the dozens of chefs creating dishes this year, many of whom also offered cooking demonstrations during the event, were the following San Francisco Bay area luminaries: SPQR's Matthew Accarrino, Plumed Horse's Peter Armellino, Tracy Des Jardins, Hubert Keller and Charles Phan. They were joined by other prominent national chefs like José Garces, Masaharu Morimoto and Nancy Silverton, as well as by TV celebs Guy Fieri, Tyler Florence and Andrew Zimmern.

The special lunches and dinners at this year's PBFW included one in memory of Chicago restaurateur Charlie Trotter. Restaurant 1833, where I enjoyed a delicious meal on the Friday evening of the event, hosted a "4 Martini Lunch" featuring some of their signature cocktails alongside those of Las Vegas's new club at The Cosmopolitan, Rose. Rabit. Lie. Stars of the Los Angeles food scene were featured at another dinner that included Ori Menashe of Bestia, Animal's Jon Shook and Michael Voltaggio of ink.

setting for Grand Finale Dinner

I attended the Grand Finale Dinner, which was held in the relatively intimate dining room of Pebble Beach's The Beach & Tennis Club. The glassed walls there afford diners a glittering view of Monterey Bay. Chefs Masaharu Morimoto, Dean Fearing, José Garces, Ken Frank and Johnny Iuzzini each prepared a dish for this dinner, which included wines from Champagne Louis Roederer, Rochioli, Burgundy's Domaine de Bellene and Napa's Brand.

The event's co-founders are Robert Weakley and David Alan Bernahl, II, and it is currently owned and run by Coastal Luxury Management. Major sponsors include Food & Wine Magazine and Lexus. Although passes for the entire weekend run about $5,000, tickets to individual events are priced as low as $100. PBFW has also raised over 1.5 million dollars for local charities since its inception.