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Wine: the best of the best of the best


   My favorite tasting at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival is always the “Best of the Best,'' in which some of the world's top wineries show off their...well...best stuff.
   There's always something new, something exotic, something fabulous. Here are some of my favorites from this year and the stories behind them:
  * 2006 Maison Alex Gambal Clos Vougeot Grand Cru, Appellation Clos Vougeot Controllée, Burgundy, France (pinot noir): pale red hue, aromas of smoke and violets, flavors of tart cherries, cloves and minerals, very smooth, long finish; $170.
   Alex Gambal is living every wine fan's dream. A real estate executive in Washington, D.C., he started poking through a local wine shop and got interested.
   “In 1992 my wife and I took a vacation to France. We had dreamed of taking a sabbatical year and perhaps working in the wine industry. On vacation we met Becky Wasserman [a wine exporter in Burgundy]. During an evening of good food and wine at Becky's we discussed the idea of an apprenticeship at 36 years old, and by the evening's end we had agreed to move to France."
    Today he's a respected Burgundy vineyard owner and exporter. So, keep dreaming.
  · 2007 Chateau d'Esclans “Whispering Angel'' Rosé, Cotes de Provence, France  (grenache, rolle, cinsault, syrah, mourvedre): light and dry and lively, with intense tart strawberry and cinnamon flavors; $19.
   Sacha Lichine, owner of Chateau D'Esclans, runs in lofty social circles. At a dinner party on the Riviera, he met Denise Rich, a socialite who was setting up a foundation to fight cancer in memory of her daughter, Gabrielle Rich Aouad, who had died of leukemia.
   Rich talked Lichine into donating wine for a charity dinner on her yacht in St. Tropez, and he sent his “Whispering Angel,'' feeling it appropriate.
   How did it get its name?
   “We have a chapel at our chateau with two angels at the altar. One time I heard them whispering to me.”
   · Multivintage Krug Grande Cuvée Brut Champagne, Reims: long-lasting pinpoint bubbles, toasty, nutty aroma, fresh citrus flavors with an oxidative quality that reminds one of baked apples, even beer; creamy, lingering finish; $170.
   Krugistes, as its cult followers call themselves, use all the dark and brooding adjectives to describe it … nutty, toasty, oaky, spicy, dense, rich, powerful, oxidative, with flavors
of minerals, ginger, marzipan, almonds, pears, smoke, even beer. Yet it always retains a certain creamy freshness.
   * 2007 Planeta Burdese, Sicily IGT (70 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent cabernet franc): inky hue, rich and powerful with aromas and flavors of black plums, mocha and tar, muscular tannins, good steak wine; $32.
    What's the biggest wine-producing region of Italy? Sicily, of course … more than Tuscany or Piemonte. To be sure, 80 percent of Sicily's wines are bulk stuff, but the other 20 percent is led by the Planeta family, which in just 13 years has established four vineyards and two wineries. This wine will put Sicily on the world map of wine.


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