If you are ever around Nantucket in May, I highly recommend attending the Nantucket Wine and Food Festival. Last weekend I had the great fortune of being invited to join the weekend festivities. I can honestly say my high expectations were shattered – it was incredible. From the Harbor Gala, to the sit down luncheons and final Grand Tasting, the festival was as delicious as it was eye opening. My personal favorite was the Bordeaux luncheon, which highlighted everything I love about the Nantucket Wine Festival; of all the events, this is a must for true wine enthusiasts.
The food was absolutely first rate, and the wines that were served were from renowned Chateaux, with a focus on older vintages, all from outstanding years. Each food course and its accompanying wine combined to accentuate the beauty of each. The pairings showed just how the right wine can improve the experience of food, and how the food can bring out subtleties in the wine that are not apparent when the wine is drunk unaccompanied.
The first two wines tasted were white Bordeaux, from Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte and Chateau Talbot, located about an hour away from one another on the Left Bank of the Gironde River. Despite being both delicious and complex, these wines couldn’t have been more different. Both wines are predominantly Sauvignon Blanc, but the difference comes from the varietals that the producers blend in. Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte blends in Sauvignon Gris, which adds more citrus, floral and mineral notes, while Chateau Talbot adds Semillon which adds a riper and tropical fruit flavor and is very aromatic as well.
Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc 2013 had a nose that reminded a bit of a Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, with zesty citrus and mineral aromas but also with a sweet caramel and hint of butterscotch scent. The palate was extremely clean and crisp with medium acidity and flavors of lemon, grapefruit, wet stone and a floral hint. In comparison, the Chateau Talbot Caillou Blanc 2015 had more rich and creamy aromas such as ripe peach and lemon curd. On the palate there was good acidity but it felt a bit more structured than, not as delicate as the Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte. Flavors of guava, peach and exotic tropical fruits awaken the fore-palate, while the lively and bright acidity hits you on the finish.
The wines were paired with a halibut crudo that was very bright and fresh like the wines. The acidity of both wines was smoothed out by the creaminess of the halibut and the acidity helped temper the sea flavors of the fish. The buttery creamy flavors of the fish and the mineral and exotic fruit notes of the wines blended beautifully together.
The next two wines we tasted were the 2005 Chateau Lynch-Bages and the 2006 Chateau Talbot. Despite being only nine minutes away from each other, both Chateaux produced immensely different wines due to the difference in vintage. 2005 was a particularly excellent vintage for Bordeaux and 2006 was looking like it was going to be the same, but right before harvest there was a lot of unexpected rainfall. Because of this, the 2006 grapes didn’t ripen as much at the end and this caused the wines to be what some people have described as more “masculine”, meaning big wines, with chewy tannins that need more time to round out and let the fruit come forward. On the other hand, 2005 was a warm year throughout and did not have any late rain or weather problems, which allowed the grapes to ripen perfectly. This created a more delicate wine. Nonetheless, it is a Bordeaux so it is still a big wine, but the tannins were more velvety and the fruit was present more on the fore-palate. The 2005 could age longer but is drinking beautifully now, especially after it has been double decanted for several hours.
The Talbot really blossomed when paired with the second course, duck caillette, which is essentially a duck sausage with foie gras mixed in; absolutely mouthwatering. Duck is a nice fatty meat to start with, but with the foie gras added it becomes almost overwhelmingly rich and creamy. Big wines like the 2006 Chateau Talbot pair very well with foods like this because the creaminess and fat in the food helps to soften the tannins, which in turn helps bring the flavors out in the wine. In my opinion, it was the perfect match.
The 2005 Chateau Lynch-Bages was more “feminine”, soft on entry, delicate and elegant with really nice earthy and fruit flavors. It went nicely with the duck dish, but was perfect on its own. I ended up drinking the Talbot while I ate the duck and drank the Lynch-Bages while I waited for the other wines and courses to come. The 2005 Chateau Lynch-Bages was my favorite wine of this event.
Course three was lamb two ways. One was a confit with breadcrumbs on the outside and the other was a spiced piece of loin, and both were cooked beautifully. We had the 1998 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte and the 2001 Chateau Lynch-Bages with this course; both wines had great age on them but could still be held for several more years.
The 1998 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte was delicate and had light silky tannins with that delicious musky, earthy and meaty gaminess that comes through in a nicely aged Bordeaux. It was perfect for the lamb loin because it had really softened up and had soft tannins so it didn’t need much fat to round it out, and it went perfectly with the gamey flavor of the lamb.
On the other hand, the 2001 Chateau Lynch-Bages had a nice roundness to it, but its tannins were more structured. The fat in the lamb confit helped to smooth out the tannins and accentuate the fruit and the earthy flavors of the wine. Unlike the 1998 Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, the 2001 still featured a lot of fruit flavor and aromas and it also had a nice earthiness.
After experiencing the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival for the first time I would definitely say that these sit-down events are one of the best ways to experience complex wines. You are given the chance to taste wines from different vintners, wines that most likely you would not get to taste very often. The whole experience is carefully crafted. Each wine is perfectly paired with courses from master winemakers and incredible chefs, which is not possible at large tasting events where you go from booth to booth. One of the most valuable aspects of this event was hearing the personal stories from the producers whose wines you taste. They are happy to answer questions and interact with you on a one-on-one basis; it is a much more personal and intimate experience. You are not just another person in the crowd like the Gala and Grand Tasting. The Festival was truly an eye opening experience that I will long remember, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves wine and or food!