H-E-B Wine and Food Week 2012 Ventures Inside the Loop for First Annual 80 Sips Around the World Event

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See our slideshow of photos from Wine and Food Week 2012.

This past week, The Woodlands hosted its Wine and Food Week 2012, sponsored by H-E-B. Most of the events, including wine and cheese tastings, multi-course dinners and conversations with winemakers, were held in The Woodlands, with one important exception: the much anticipated Bottlenotes First Annual 80 Sips Around the World event, which took place inside Minute Maid Park's Union Station.

Though 80 Sips Around the World is four years old, it's the first Houston appearance for the event series, which was inspired and created by author and Bottlenotes (a media company dedicated to educating wine enthusiasts) founder and CEO Alyssa Rapp, who wrote the book Bottlenotes Guide to Wine: Around the World in 80 Sips in 2008. The first 80 Sips Around the World events were held in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, and they have now spread to 12 markets, including Houston. Rapp was the "wine wizard" for Wine and Food Week 2012 -- that is, she was the official master of ceremonies throughout the seven-day celebration.

According to Rapp, 80 Sips Around the World is a crash course in in wine for neophytes.

"The expectation is that you're new to wine," Rapp said.

Not quite. For a $125 cover fee, guests strolled in last Friday evening, grabbed a glass, and got to the task of tasting samples from the winemakers -- there were 120 instead of the expected 80.There were also palate-cleansers - cheese, grapes and assorted vegetables. While 80 Sips was already a challenge for the uninitiated, discovering there would be 120 potential pours upon arrival was downright daunting. Getting through the event required more than a rudimentary knowledge of wine. Luckily, there was some help: each "vendor's" table was stocked with two or three (or four or five) different wine brands and types, a cheerful assistant to help pour wine, and a representative from the company to explain each wine's origin and flavor.

There were wines present from every corner of the globe: California, Spain, France, even some from South Africa, and it was quite a delight learning of the stories behind each. Notable "destinations" included Mt. Brave Wines, a single vineyard concoction grown on the top of Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley, California.

"We're this little piece of land," said the table's wine rep, emphasizing the greater concentration of grapes and thus, the stronger potency of the resulting wines. "The flavors are a lot more pronounced."

Brooks Winery, an Oregon-based wine institution owned by 16-year-old Pascal Brooks after the passing of his father Jimi Brooks, and managed by his aunt Janie Brooks Heuck, prides itself not only on possibly being the winery with the youngest owner on the planet, but on the purity of its wines: no additives, no sugars and no acids, said Heuck.

"They taste like grapes, they taste like the earth from where they came from," she said, beaming.

H-E-B's station, manned by wine department manager Sean Ballesteros, stood with quiet confidence near the front of Union Station, offering not wines, but a "food-friendly equivalent to red wines," according to Ballesteros: a red ale beer, and a Canadian Unibroue Grande Reserve 17, a dark ale.

What was great about the event was its accessibility; starting at 7 p.m., legions of "wine-curious" parties were able to take a leisurely after-work drive on over to the baseball stadium, eventually filling the space to capacity over the span of three hours. They, in turn, left with a greater knowledge of wine: all its types, and what it's supposed to taste like.

Just another example of how Houston culture is growing every day.

Proceeds from Bottlenotes First Annual 80 Sips Around the World will go to the Snowdrop Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating all childhood cancers.

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