Why, I remember the Twin Cities Food and Wine Experience back when it was in short pants, throwing zwieback crumbs around the farm, and I can't say as I thought it would ever amount to much. Shows what I know, because this-here weekend of January 31 and February 1 and 2 sees the ninth annual Experience coming up, and hoo-boy, you couldn't fit more food and wine celebrities into the thing if you had a shoehorn covered with goose fat and a whole battalion of Lynne Rossetto Kaspers. Who will be there, hosting a tea tasting on Saturday. Which is the same day that the most personable and charming sommelier in North America, the bubbly Andrea Immer, will be hosting a tasting on Pinot Noir in America attended by Jed Steele, of the Steele Winery, Robert Sinskey, of Sinskey Vineyards, Tony Rynders, of Domaine Serene, and David Coventry, from Morgan Winery. (If you haven't fainted at that lineup, it's simply because you don't read Wine Spectator enough.) Immer will also sign books on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. Have you seen Immer's Wine Buying Guide for Everyone? It's a purse-sized, Zagat-style book that is about as unthreatening and helpful as you can imagine, and each entry comes with a terrifically useful "kitchen countertop (or fridge) survivor" grade, which tells you how popular wines do after a night or two in the, well, you get the idea. If you thought all wine books were pretentious, this one will change your mind forever.
If pretentiousness is more your bag, however, go for it--because if you would like to tell your friends and pool boy that you spent the weekend with the following bigwigs, now's your chance. Expected stars include Jeremiah Tower, who cooked at Chez Panisse when it started changing the world and then went on to open Stars; Nick Malgieri, the most influential Italian pastry person I can think of; Nina Simonds, one of the most important Asian-cuisine authors ever; and, you know, like that. If you need more names, just conjure everyone you've ever heard of in the Twin Cities, food-wise, and chances are they're associated. So how can you get in? Drop by Lunds or Byerly's and buy tickets ($50 per day, in advance; $55 the day of, though they'll probably sell out) or check out the website, www.foodwineshow.com. Buy tickets at Lunds or Byerly's and you'll get some free Riedel stemware too. There are an amazing quantity of specialty tastings and classes at the Experience as well (for more money), on topics ranging from Bordeaux to Spanish wines in California. Well, I guess that's not a very far range, but it isn't the Food and Everything experience, now, is it? Anyhoo, if that's not enough, savvy wine people know that this is also the time to watch local restaurants for non-affiliated superstar wine dinners too. For example, Heartland is hosting a Jed Steele dinner on Sunday, February 2. Check the website, www.heartlandrestaurant.com, for details, or call 651.699.3536. (In the bad-timing department, Luci Ancora has Mark Vlossak, the winemaker and owner of Oregon's St. Innocent, flying into town for a January 28 wine dinner. A dinner showcasing the wines of this pinot noir power would ordinarily sell out, but with everyone gearing up for the other festivities, who knows? If you want in, call Ancora for details: 651.698.6889.)