By Doc Lawrence –
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, The High Museum Atlanta Wine Auction, the largest charity wine auction in the U.S. benefiting the arts and the fifth largest overall has brought more than $22 million over the years to the museum. The entire Southeast directly benefits from the educational and exhibition events made possible from these funds.
For a few days, the auction events – a genuine gourmet festival – offered gourmet excitement including dine-around dinners at Atlanta’s top restaurants, an all-inclusive global wine trade tasting plus in-home winemaker dinners. One of my favorite programs (and what I believe separates this celebration from others) was the highly popular and meaningful tasting seminars. After a full day of wine education, there was the highly anticipated “Friday Night Fête,” a special evening under the big-top tents with acclaimed guest chefs preparing a multi-course menu served with fine wines while couples dance to live ballroom music.
Saturday was the big day with wine and more wine: The Vintners’ Reception and Live Auction.
2012 marked my 20th year at the Auction, confirming that almost everything I know about the importance of wine to the arts has been acquired by these enlightening encounters and priceless experiences. Over the years, learning from authentic celebrity chefs, legendary winemakers, authors, and television personalities, all intertwined with the culinary culture of the South and beyond has enriched thousands.
Seminar day began with a blind tasting challenge featuring 20 Oregon wineries, an event that was equal parts competition, classroom and mingling with winemakers.
Another special seminar was titled Discover Your Alter Ego with Château Palmer. The heralded wines of Château Palmer express the estate’s unique terroir and long history. With precision and concentration, Palmer’s wines represent finesse, elegance and emotion, the pinnacle of Bordeaux wines. Jean-Louis
Carbonnier, U.S. manager of Château Palmer, shared insights into this acclaimed estate, conducting a “tasting for the ages” of six vintages of Château Palmer and Alter Ego.
I walked a short distance to the Intercontinental Hotel to spend time with heralded chef Art Smith, a Florida native who matriculated at FSU who became as a household word with his years as Oprah Winfrey’s chef, plus producing New York Times best-selling cookbooks, opening major restaurants and appearing on network television shows like Today including cooking Thanksgiving dinner on ABC last year with Lady GAGA.
We met at Chef Smith’s Atlanta restaurant, Southern Art and Bourbon Bar. Spectacular and original are faintly descriptive. More than play on words, this is a work of art.
Art Smith created a ham bar here. It is fascinating, regal and showcases everything from Virginia legends to Kentucky country ham. While enjoying hams served from acclaimed Benton’s in Tennessee, South Carolina’s Caw Caw Creek and
Finchville Farms in Kentucky, we talked and snacked, accompanying everything with glasses of wines like Dr. Loosen, a Riesling from Mosel. Smith’s well-planned ham experience is a prelude to greatness.
Smith, a native of Jasper, Florida, knows the Southern palette and has enough global experience under his belt to confidently venture and diversify. We talked about good Bourbon, fine wines, the explosion of Southern food into the national scene and shared our affection for the late Southern cook Edna Lewis. Sorghum syrup and fried chicken became part of the conversation along with grits. “My Chicago restaurant gets stone-ground grits from Bradley’s Country Store outside Tallahassee,” Smith revealed.
So does the Seminole Tribe of Florida, I learned.
The wine list included one of the wines I sampled at the High Museum’s Oregon Pinot Noir seminar earlier. The 2009 Penner-Ash Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley paired perfectly with Colonel Bill Nesson’s Kentucky ham, each slice delicately aged 18 months.
Assuming his lofty position as one of America’s genuine gourmet oracles, Chef Art Smith signed my menu, adding an inscription that should be on all menus: “Food is love.”
(Doc Lawrence is a veteran travel, food, wine and spirits journalist.
Contact him at: editors@ docsnews.com.)