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Top Picks for Oenophiles at AF&WF

Wine gurus Mark Oldman and Ray Isle sure to attract big crowds

By Wes Marshall, Fri., April 25, 2014

This year, two of the best wine presenters working the festival circuit return to headline the 2014 Austin Food & Wine Festival. Mark Oldman is not just a pretty face, but he certainly possesses an almost-paranormal ability to attract a crush of enamored women. He is the Pottery Barn's wine expert, a columnist for the Food Network, and a two-time winner of the Georges Duboeuf Best Wine Book of the Year Award. Best of all, he is on the side of people who have to think twice about the financial impact of spending $20 or more for a bottle of wine. He is doing three presentations. Saturday at 11am, he'll start things off by teaching the specifics of how to "Outsmart the Wine List" by carving out the pompous wines and targeting the bargains. Later that day, be prepared to join an SRO crowd at Oldman's class on bubbly wines. Oldman finishes his stint in Austin with a Sunday class at 11am, where he will discuss how to find the real wine bargains at your local store. A word to the wise: Get into the queue early, and autograph seekers should be prepared for a long line of ladies hoping for a cheek-to-cheek selfie.

Ray Isle also draws room-filling crowds as the executive wine editor of Food & Wine, a James Beard Award nominee, and television personality. Ray is also a brainy bugger, with degrees from Rice University, Boston University, and a fellowship at Stanford. Many a wine geek with a fourth of his accomplishments would be an insufferable windbag. Instead, Isle is gracious, has impeccable taste, and is very easy to talk to. Both of his workshops will be fascinating, but if you have to pick one, go for "Spectacular Wines" at 11:45am on Saturday. A warning: This event will be a huge draw for the Savor Pass contingency, and they get first dibs on seats. At this panel, Isle will pick several of the world's greatest wines from Food & Wine's annual wine guide and present them with amusing anecdotes and erudite insights. On Sunday, Ray offers "Wine Pairing 101"; he has developed a brilliant way to use cheese and charcuterie to teach a few easy steps to make sure food and wine are copacetic partners at the dinner table.

The other adult beverage presentations will be presented by local experts. Vilma Mazaite of laV will talk about women in the wine business. David Alan, the Tipsy Texan, will show us how to use some of Texas' finest spirits to concoct his imaginative cocktails. Master Sommeliers Craig Collins (ELM Restaurant Group) and Devon Broglie (Whole Foods) will examine several interesting wines coming from California. Patrón will also offer a tasting of its tequila products.

Finally, I find it ironic that just as Texas wines are winning international awards, they get knocked off this year's list of panels. If that was accidental, all is forgiven. If it is intentional, then I hope organizers rethink this boneheaded move and rectify it next year. If they double down and do the same thing next year, perhaps the Texas wine industry should adopt the guerrilla tactics we see at our other big local festivals, where the left-outs create their own festival at the exact same time at a neighboring location. Just a thought.

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