Dale DeGroff & scenes from the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival

When “Master Mixologist” and “King Cocktail” Dale DeGroff (right) leans into the bar to tell you something, you LISTEN… That’s Master Sommelier Virginia Philip (center), wine director at the historic landmark Breakers Hotel in Florida, and Heath Porter, wine director at the equally storied national landmark Greenbrier resort in West Virginia and one of the coolest people I hung and tasted with at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival over the weekend.

“We don’t need mixologists,” said Dale. “We need BARTENDERS!” Great Bartending is as much about personality and hospitality as it is about palate and creativity — as he told us and illustrated by example. He was mixing classic Margaritas at JCT Kitchen

Dale is simply one of the coolest dudes on the planet. What a treat to get to hear him chat about bartending today, his fav bar in Midtown NYC, and even tell an accordion joke! HA!

I thought the shrimp and grits from Dogwood (Atlanta) was elegant and delicious. It was interesting to get to taste so many different interpretations of grits over the span of a day and a half.

The charcuterie by Table (Asheville, NC) impressed me. From what I saw down here, these dudes in the Deep South may lack the panache of the salumieri in NYC, SF, and LA, but they got the substance… Maybe it’s in the meat and not the motion after all?

Was geeked to hear Anthony Giglio’s talk on Grenache. I’ve known him since my early NYC days thanks to the Scicolones. He and his wife are so sweet and he is a JEDI MASTER at this shit. He had his crowd in the palm of his hand…

Ummm… didn’t taste this… Predictably, lots of Bourbon presenters (a lot of them topflight but all commercial) and even crappy Texas Vodka. You know which one…

This lady was awesome. No marketing schtick whatsoever. Just her trailer and her teacakes. “My trailer’s gonna blush with you taking so many pictures of her,” she said. “No one’s ever taken so many!” She blushed.

My seminars were super fun and so many nice folks came out to taste and riff on wine with me. Food and wine buds Eat It Atlanta and fra’ Aronne came to my afternoon tasting and we ended up eating an early and amazing dinner at Empire State South before I hopped a train, plane, and automobile back to the River City.

But more on our remarkable dinner later…