This article has been published in the May 2010 issue Town Favorites Magazine. You can visit the Town Favorites website at http://www.townfavorites.com/, follow them on Twitter @TownFavorites, and find their magazines at over 150 restaurants and businesses around Baton Rouge! Pick up a copy today!
Unwind with Baton Rouge Uncorked
by Jay D. Ducote
As a city on the move, Baton Rouge is now home to many events that give us first-class outlets for unwinding our tangled lives after work. A prominent example of this type of social and fun-loving gathering is Baton Rouge Uncorked. By combining wine tasting, charitable giving, and an aspect of competition, Uncorked had emerged as a go-to event for the area.
Seven guys living in Baton Rouge came up with the vision for Uncorked and held the first tasting in October of 2007, and the event has taken off from there. Pete Bush, Doug Cochran, Edmond Giering, Doug Allen, Patrick Coogan, Luke Williamson, and Miles Higgins are all wine lovers who thought that providing young professionals with an opportunity to enjoy delicious wine and “pass a good time,” all while supporting local charities, would be a great idea. It turns out they were right!
The group borrowed the format from Louisville Uncorked, where Pete Bush read about the event in a social magazine. After reading the article, Pete passed it along to Doug Allen and Jennifer Guillot to see if they thought it could work in the Red Stick. The two loved the idea, scheduled a conference call with the founders of Louisville Uncorked, were graced with Louisville’s approval, found five other founding members, and the rest is history! Their “Eat, Drink, and Be Charitable” event was born.
The current format for Baton Rouge Uncorked has been the same from the beginning. Each event uses a different varietal such as Pinot Noir, Shiraz/Syrah, Merlot, or Cabernet. Teams register for the event ahead of time at www.batonrougeuncorked.com. Teams can consist of up to three members, and each team is required to bring three identical bottles of wine, including vintage, in addition to their $20-25 registration per person. At the event, which has an average attendance of around 400 people, two of the wine bottles from each team are bagged and numbered so as to hide the identity of the wine while still being able to keep track of the different bottles. Attendees then mingle and socialize while tasting wines from unknown vineyards. Some people take tasting seriously, writing down notes on each glass about the nose, tannins, and legs. Others just drink. Either way, the event offers a unique way to do blind tastings in a social setting. Everyone is then allowed to submit a ballot with the number for their favorite wine, as well as their least favorite wine. The winner (team that brought the best wine) usually brings home around 60 bottles of wine from the third bottle collection.
I attended the April 8th wine tasting at the Baton Rouge Little Theater. The featured grape this time around was Cabernet Sauvignon, which I could not have been happier about. Cabs are usually one of my favorite wines because of their rich and bold flavors without an overpowering sweetness. I like to taste a little fermentation and some notes of darker fruits like cherry and plum. I also appreciate drier wines, which Cabs usually attain wonderfully. The event also featured some wonderful food provided by Executive Chef Scott Varnadoe from the Monmouth Plantation. Chef Scott put together a lovely arrangement of foods to fill our stomachs. He featured dishes from bowtie pasta in a cream sauce to a gloriously roasted pork loin, and also threw in some finger foods like mini-muffalettas.
After tasting just the right amount of wine with some good friends and new faces, the time had come to name the winners of the contest portion of the event. The top rated wine from the balloting was a 2008 Casillero del Diablo from Chile. Coming in second was an Estancia Keyes Canyon Ranch from 2007, followed by a 2007 Decoy from Napa. The people who brought those bottles were handsomely rewarded with the bounty of all the remaining wine from the evening. Not too shabby, especially since everything is for charity.
I asked Jennifer Guillot, who serves on the Host Committee and works with media for Uncorked, what she enjoys most about the tastings. She replied, “These events are all about having fun while supporting a good local cause. Each event is so unique since the charity, venue, and wine are different at each event.” She continued by suggesting, “I think at the wine events it is fun for the ladies to strut their stuff a little bit and for the guys to fake like we are more sophisticated than we really are! But the beer will give this one a new spin, maybe a little more like a cross between a tailgate party and a low key social event. I guess we’ll see!”
A beer event, you say? Indeed, the next Baton Rouge Uncorked event will actually be Baton Rouge ‘Untapped’! The beer event will be held on May 22nd at the Baton Rouge Zoo. Pete Bush explained the upcoming event to me. “After the initial success of Uncorked people started approaching us about other ideas, like a bourbon tasting, martini tasting, and beer tasting. When we approached our friends at Mockler Beverage, they liked the idea as a way to showcase some of the different varieties of beer since they had mostly been known as a Budweiser distributorship,” Pete noted. “We had heard of other ‘Brew at the Zoo’ type of functions around the country and thought it was a natural fit for the first beer tasting event as an offspring to our very successful wine events.” Pete, you had at me beer.
The founders have looked into other directions to morph Uncorked into, but at the end of the day they agree that the simpler, the better. According to Jennifer, “The beauty of uncorked is in its simplicity.” She went on to say, “Well, that and the most important aspect, which is that it gives the 20-30 something demographic an outlet for being charitable within a reasonable budget.” I couldn’t agree more. Many people crave social things to do in Baton Rouge and at the same time are charitably minded. For them, Uncorked is perfect. Uncorked has considered changing the ticket price in the past but opted to stay true to the original format that has been so successful. Jennifer concluded by saying, “Sure, I would love to attend a ‘real’ wine tasting where people swirl and sniff in the glass talking about the wine's tannins, legs, and whatever other fancy pants wine people talk about, but that is not what Uncorked is about!” As far as that goes, I think Jennifer is spot on. While some people swirl and sniff and truly appreciate the blind tasting, the event is casual and promotes a good time in addition to the delicious wine. And, as the motto says, it all really boils to down to finding a good way to eat, drink, and be charitable!
The April 8th wine tasting was the first of four events that Baton Rouge Uncorked will be hosting this year. The rest of the schedule is as follows:
Benefiting: Baton Rouge Untapped at the Baton Rouge Zoo
Location: Baton Rouge Zoo
Benefiting: The Louisiana Art & Science Museum and Teach for America
Location: The Louisiana Art & Science Museum
Benefiting: Best Buddies and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
Location: The Hilton Capitol Center
Jay D. Ducote is the author of the blog Bite and Booze, which chronicles his culinary and indulgent cultural adventures around Baton Rouge, South Louisiana, and the world. It can be found at www.biteandbooze.com. You can also reach him by email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @biteandbooze.
Thanks to Eric Ducote of the BR Beer Scene for taking all the pictures for this article.