Wine has always been the most inaccessible of the spirits. Terms like terroir, and oaky aftertaste and floral hints make unseasoned wine drinkers feel like they have the palate of a labrador, as they swirl, sniff and take sip after sip of their beverage, attempting to locate subtle notes of some plant, wood or mineral.
I mean, a wine expert is called a sommelier — how much fancier can you get?
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Born of this perception was the wine festival, a place where sommeliers can meet with schmos to explain away the mysticism associated with a good glass of wine. Golden Nugget’s take on this gathering is its International Winefest, this year with the wine and jazz reception taking place 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25, and the grand tasting 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 26. According to Scott Tarwater, corporate director of wine and special events for Landry’s Inc., Golden Nugget does its best to put the most qualified experts in front of its guests at Winefest.
“The fact that we have as many winery representatives involved is a very, very big deal. This just makes the event more authentic. You get to talk to the people who work directly for the winery,” Tarwater says. “Most wine festivals at best have the local distribution person. They could be extremely adequate, but on many occasions they’re not. So that really is a big differentiation for us. These folks work directly and only for the winery. They’re not sales people, they’re wine people. You can see that they enjoy talking to people. They can get as in-depth with the wine as you want. The guests are getting very accurate and current information.”
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On top of the quality of information being offered at International Winefest, Tarwater says what sets Golden Nugget’s festival apart is the quality of food prepared, led by Executive Chef Bobby Hettmannsperger.
“Our food, I believe bar-none, is the best wine festival food. I think with a lot of companies, the food is an afterthought at best,” he says. “Or, they know they have to put something out but they don’t do their best effort. Our chefs relish in this opportunity. They get excited and want to make certain things that complement the French wine table, or tantalize the Italian wine table. It’s as much a showcase for the food as it is the wine.”
Along with the top-notch food, guests can expect over 100 wines from 10 different countries including Italy, Spain, Germany, New Zealand and Uruguay — a new addition to the international lineup, and one that Tarwater is particularly excited about. Amidst these jet-setting varietals will also be wines with nationalities a little bit closer to home.
“This year we are going to pay homage to the great state of New Jersey,” Tarwater says. “We feel that the quality and effort and the talent level that these wineries have needs to be reckoned with. We are an ideal venue to help showcase the quality that New Jersey state wines have.”
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Home-state offerings will include a selection from Milford’s Alba Vineyard and Hammonton’s Valenzano Winery. But, no matter what wines you choose to sample — be they domestic, imported or both — Tarwater promises that you’ll walk away in-the-know, prepared for your next trip to the liquor store.
“What we notice is, throughout the entire United States, when consumers walk into their favorite wine shop, they’re browsing up and down the aisles and they don’t have familiarity with what’s inside the bottle. That lends them to either buy based on advertisement, or they’re going to pick out the grooviest looking label,” Tarwater explains. “This is the fact of the matter: at Winefest, you can try as many different wines as you want and take a picture of it on your phone so you remember what it is. After coming to Winefest, people are armed and dangerous when they go to the wine shop — armed with knowledge.”