Sip is Worth a Thousand Words

A Sip is Worth a Thousand WordsTake a journey through the wonderful world of wine at Taste of THE BeachBy Valeria Lento

The old adage by Chinese philosopher Confucius affirms that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But it could be argued that such a journey could just as easily begin with a single sip … of wine. After all, behind every label of every bottle, there is a story to be told — a history of a fruit, a family and a vineyard. Moreover, there is a story yet to be captured, and that is the story for the drinker. What experience will he or she cherish and share following a sip of that wine?

When Taste of THE Beach kicks off its four-day wine and culinary celebration along the Emerald Coast in November, attendees will have the opportunity to sample 400 to 500 wines, representing more than 15 regions around the world. According to local wine connoisseurs, each of these wines tells a distinct story, revealing a unique history and taking its drinkers on a personal journey.

“When people ask me what the best wine I’ve ever had is, I usually associate it with where I was and with whom when I had it,” says Todd Vucovich, executive director of the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation. “For me, wine represents creating life experiences — whether it’s meeting new friends over it, or getting together with old friends to enjoy a glass of it.”

Vucovich is no stranger to wine appreciation. Having served as a wine judge for Taste of THE Beach since the regional event’s inception in 2007, he has had the opportunity to taste up to 80 different wines in a single day. This year, Vucovich, who for the past eight years has also been involved with the Sandestin Wine Festival, sits on the executive committee for Taste of THE Beach. The event is a collaborative effort between the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce and the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation, and is one of the foundation’s largest fundraisers, with proceeds benefiting children’s charities along the Emerald Coast. Southwest Airlines is this year’s Taste of THE Beach presenting sponsor.

This year, Taste of THE Beach runs Thursday, Nov. 4, to Sunday, Nov. 7, and will showcase eight unique events at several beachside-resort destinations along the Emerald Coast. In Vucovich’s opinion, the celebration poses the perfect opportunity for wine lovers and novices alike to sample and learn about a plethora of wines, embarking on a journey with options for every palate.

“When you get an opportunity to taste through that many wines in just a few hours, you’re going to find some hidden gems in there that you’ve never heard of or even knew existed,” Vucovich says.

Searching for Gems


Hidden wine gems will be scattered throughout the events that make up Taste of THE Beach, which for many have become as much leisurely experiences as educational ones.

“I always find bottles of wine that I like at Taste of THE Beach,” says Dave Trepanier, owner of Firefly in Panama City Beach. “I buy a few cases and take them home, and when a particular wine becomes a preferred choice, I put it on the restaurant’s list if I think it’s something our guests will also enjoy.”

Trepanier, who will serve as a wine judge for the second year, believes experiencing new wines and finding the hidden delights among hundreds of bottles is priceless.

It’s finding these gems — and rediscovering old favorites — that wine enthusiasts most look forward to when selected to participate as judges for the event.

The Taste of THE Beach judging process is designed in a way that ensures anonymity, fairness and consistency, with judges tasting wines blindly. Because it would be virtually impossible for every wine to be poured during the contest itself, the event’s distributor, Southern Wine & Spirits, submits a subset of wines to be evaluated a couple of months prior to the event by four judging panels.

Ultimately, medals — Gold, Silver and Bronze — are awarded to the top three wines in each category. In addition, the top six to eight white wines and the top six to eight red wines are later judged to select “Best of Show — White” and “Best of Show — Red.”

“It’s a great feeling to know, at the end of the day, that you picked a wine that won a medal,” says Brenda Darr, owner of Restaurant Fire in Grayton Beach and a third-year Taste of THE Beach wine judge. “If there’s one thing I can tell people when it comes to wine, it’s don’t be afraid to search out a great glass. You’ll be surprised how many hidden gems you’ll find. In fact, that’s often how the best wines are discovered.”

A Wine Story


The discovery of a great wine begins with a simple sip, but appreciating that wine comes from a deeper understanding of the story it tells.

“Behind every label, there’s a rich story to be told and cherished,” says Todd Reber, owner of Vin’tij Wine Boutique in Miramar Beach. “Farmers labor the land and nurture the soil to create a single bottle of wine. To me, that’s one of the most fascinating things about wine.”

Darr agrees that history is one of the most interesting facets of any bottle of wine and adds another perspective on what makes it so richly unique.

“A winemaker is like an artist,” she says. “He’s a farmer first and an artist second, and a lot of love, attention and dedication goes into making wine and getting it in a bottle.”

The judges all agree that looking behind the label is a great way to understand wine and gain a better appreciation for it that goes beyond the technicalities of tasting. Each wine tends to form a unique story for each individual drinker, who forever recalls that first sip and how it transformed his or her taste for wine.

For Darr, the transformation came in a bottle of Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, the first bottle of wine she ever purchased. Since then, she can’t imagine a meal without a glass of wine and has tried a wide variety of reds. Trepanier, meanwhile, was in his mid-twenties when he had a bottle of Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon, with which he instantly fell in love. To this day, he favors Napa Valley Cabernets.

Moreover, Reber believes wine has the ability — when completely tasted and appreciated — to evoke sentiments and create and draw memories. For him, these sentiments may be more deeply seated than he ever imagined. Shortly after the opening of Vin’tij 12 years ago, he discovered that his surname, of German origin, means “keeper of the vineyard.”

Embarking on a Journey


Events such as Taste of THE Beach provide the perfect opportunity for not only discovering wines’ stories but also exploring one’s preferences. The eight scheduled events take attendees on a culinary journey through the Emerald Coast — and through dozens of wines and dishes from numerous regions of the world. In addition, the tastings provide the perfect atmosphere for interacting with wine connoisseurs and novices alike, sharing impressions and learning.

Remember, it only takes one sip to begin a journey.

Judges’ Tips and Picks

Brenda Darr: Owner, Restaurant Fire, Grayton Beach
Tip: Don’t be afraid to branch out from your usual choices. You’ll never know what you could be passing up if you don’t try it. You’ll discover some of the best wines when you least expect to.
Picks: California reds — big, bold wines, Cabernets and Zinfandels. I tend to prefer Cabernets because they tend to hold longer than some wines.

Todd Reber: Owner, Vin’tij Wine Boutique, Miramar Beach
Tip: Drink what you like. If you like a particular wine, then enjoy it with whatever cuisine you prefer. Don’t let rules deter you from taking pleasure in sampling different wines.
Picks: I enjoy the 2000 vintages of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Spanish Albarino is a great one. It’s a beautifully crisp wine that’s just perfect for the warmer summer weather.

Dave Trepanier: Owner, Firefly, Panama City Beach
Tips: Be classic. Try to pair wines and dishes accordingly. Also, keep seasons in mind. Go for bolder wines in the colder months and for crisp, light wines in the summer.
Picks: I really enjoy Le Mistral wines, and I love big Australian Shirazes. Penfolds Grange is my all-time favorite bottle.

Todd Vucovich: Executive director, Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation
Tips: Be simple and pick the wines you like. Trust your palate. You don’t have to be an expert in wine to enjoy it. Wine drinking shouldn’t be something that’s intimidating.
Picks: I really love Napa Cabernets. Jarvis Winery is one of my favorites; having visited their vineyards and having met them personally and gotten to learn their history and seen their passion has made me appreciate their wines immensely.