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Preview of the 2014 Newport Mansions Wine and Food Festival

All photos courtesy of The Preservation Society of Newport County

Event Website: http://www.newportmansions.org/events/wine-and-food-festival

This September  19th thru 21st, the ninth instantiation of the Newport Mansions Wine and Food Festival will be held at various locations in Newport, Rhode Island, with the Presenting Underwriter again being FOOD & WINE.  This is a premier event, and for our money (which is appropriate since we’ve spent a considerable amount of it attending over the Wine-food-glass-logowine-bottles 2years), this is the best event, by far, in the New England region.

Year to year much stays the same, which is good.  Yet every year the wines change some, the food follows suit and there is always a twist or two.  Last year they added Newport after Dark.  The year before that it was the Collectible Wine Dinner.  What might it be this year?  I was fortunate enough to once again have a chance to discuss this year’s event with Ivan Colon, Corporate Sales Manager for The Preservation Society of Newport County, the non-profit organization that puts on the Festival as a fundraiser to help support historic preservation in Newport, and the main contact at the Preservation Society for the event.  So let’s see what’s new first, and then you can read the details of all of the various aspects the weekend offers.

Whats New: Quite a bit is new actually.  The seminars are all new, and this year the Saturday and Sunday seminars happen in the Chinese Tea House on the grounds of Marble House.  Now there is no need to waste time traveling between venues, just stroll into the seminar and then back into the Grand Tasting.  There are new wineries, restaurants and vendors.  The restaurant and vendor booths are already sold out, the earliest that has ever happened.  There will be a Rising Star awarded chef as well as the Peoples Choice Best New Chef in New England as voted in FOOD & WINE.  Martha Stewart will be cooking.  To quote Ivan,”I am excited about this year’s food.”  All I can say is we are too.  There are more details below.

Also new is the cadre of sommeliers who will be lending their talents throughout the event, working with vendors, seminars, participants and basically everyone.  There are at least six coming, maybe more, and I am very interested to see how they integrate into the events.  They represents a wealth of wine experience and knowledge.  I would not be surprised if you found one during the Grand Tasting just wandering around answering questions.  You never know.

The Event: So there are a few things which have changed, but the majority of the event remains the same world class wine and food weekend it has become.  Why do we love this event so much?  We haven’t been to Aspen for their festival, so I can’t compare that, and these days there is a food and wine festival just about everywhere.  You can see our earlier blog here about the sad attempt at one in conjunction with the Providence Flower Show last year.  Hopefully that will improve if it is ever held again.  What I can say is the Newport Mansions Wine and Food  Festival is fabulous, whether you are in the mood for an afternoon of tasting, a serious lineup of culinary talent cooking in front of you, an evening gala, a world class, elite wine tasting dinner or an educational seminar; they have it all.  And everything is done with class and sophistication without being pretentious.  In other words, it’s fun, really fun.  For details you can visit the Preservation Society’s Festival website here.  We’ll cover the highlights of the available events in this preview so you can get a feel for what it offers.

We have attended the Grand Tasting pretty much every year since inception, and have always experienced a fun, sophisticated event with excellent wines, ample and quality food and of course a breathtaking location.  If you are a veteran of local events, even some of the larger ones, you know that you cannot take any one of these things for granted.

pouringIn Ivan’s words, the event strives for “sophistication and elegance”, and has a goal to “not be the biggest, but the best”.   You can see this in the way the events are presented.  At the grand tastings on Saturday and Sunday, you will find the tent on the lawn of the Marble House houses wide lanes between the tasting tables, which accommodate a more relaxed and less frenzied approach to getting your glass some attention.  I’ve been at very large events at the casinos and convention centers which entailed a mass of arms thrusting their glasses past your face.  I’ve been at other events in Newport where the booths were packed in and the crush of people left little opportunity to really enjoy the afternoon.  Not here.  They limit the number of tickets they sell and strive for a quality experience.

Wine and Rosecliff

Wine and Rosecliff

Beyond the grand tastings are a series of events which create a true Food and Wine weekend.  Between them they will cover the full spectrum of the food and wine experience.  My focus tends to be on wine, but we’re foodies as well, so this really works.  If you are a novice you can attend a seminar on the basics and learn how to get the most out of your weekend grand tasting.  If you prefer an elegant affair you can have dinner and wine at Wine and Rosecliff on Friday night, where top wines and select food offerings are presented in one of the most beautiful evening settings you could imagine, especially on a warm, late summer night.  If you are a serious wine aficionado you can attend the Collectible Wine

The Collectible Wine Dinner

The Collectible Wine Dinner

Dinner, an event started two years ago which is limited to 60 people and where winemakers from around the world present the pinnacles of their talents and labor.  These are wines that retail in the $200 to $300 range, and which most wine lovers will never try.  There is a winemaker at every table, and I defy you to find something equivalent at any event anywhere.  The fact that it sells out every year is no surprise.   It is not inexpensive, but when you consider it will allow you to taste a series of the best the world has to offer, presented by the people that make them, it really isn’t expensive either.  This is something I want to go to at some point over the next few years.

We’ve already looked at this year’s seminars and there are many which pique our interest.  One is not even wine-centric, but Lou Di Palo’s The Essential Foods of Italy on Friday seems like a good way to start our weekend.   Then we’ll keep it going with In Pursuit of Balance, which will explore what makes a balanced Pinot Noir as we taste through some of California’s best.  Jordan MacKay, James-Beard-award winning wine and spirits writer for San Francisco magazine, will lead this look at what elements create balance and how they interact.  If you’re interested you might want to check out inpursuitofbalance.com.  There’s a whole community debating this topic relative to California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  We’re also planning on Bond’s Bordeaux, which will be serving wines from the major communes of Bordeaux and pairing them with one of the James Bond actors.  Our son would absolutely love this one.  If you’re just starting out consider Wine 101, which will give you the basics and is presented by Megan Krigbaum, Senior Wine Editor at FOOD & WINE.  Considering the seminars are only $40, it might well be the value of the century.  Along with those mentioned there are a series of other seminar

New - Saturday and Sunday seminars in the Chinese Tea House

New – Saturday and Sunday seminars in the Chinese Tea House

experiences for you to consider and try.  The Friday seminars will be held at the Hyatt on Goat Island, and parking is generally free and plentiful.  On Saturday and Sunday the seminars switch to the Chinese Tea House on the grounds of Marble House, which will provide unbeatable convenience as you can stroll from the Grand Tasting to your seminar and then right back again.  Last year we went to the Antinori seminar, as well as the Young Collectibles, and I can tell you they were well worth the time and the money.  Several of our Top Ten Red Wines of the 2013 festival came from these events.  You can read about them here.  The seminars truly provide an enjoyable and educational hour or two.  You can read more details on last year’s seminars here.

If you have the time you might want to make a weekend out of it.  Lucky enough to have press passes in hand Cheri and I booked a room for two nights last year and kicked off our festivities with the first Friday seminar.  After some relaxation we attended Wine and Rosecliff on Friday night.  Two Grand Tastings and another seminar later we had completed one of our favorite weekends in a very long time.  It really is a wonderful place to spend a few days, and the events provide a perfect framework for a memorable weekend.

When you consider the price of the events also consider what comes with it.  Ivan described their approach as trying to provide “great value, with an all inclusive ticket that includes parking, food, wine and entertainment”, and that is exactly what you get.  If you buy a ticket to one of the Grand Tastings you get to attend a four hour event with delicious food, outstanding wines from all over the world, free parking and transportation to the entrance, as well as cooking demonstrations from world renowned chefs.  What you also have to remember is that it’s held at Marble House in Jacques-book-vertNewport, Rhode Island, and you can stroll through the back of the tent to the wall overlooking salmon-vertCliff Walk, where the Atlantic Ocean stretches away and the opulence and glory of Newport is evident to either side.  It is really a perfect place for such an event and only adds to the overall experience.

Realistically you need to get the weekend pass and do everything to experience the overall event.  Unfortunately that is a bit beyond many people’s discretionary cash, but if you don’t have those issues then by all means enjoy!  Again, we were fortunate enough to get passes to the Grand Tastings and Wine and Rosecliff last year, so when we recommend these events it is very much from personal experience.

Let’s break it down in a little more detail:

The Wine: it’s good; very good and always improving.  The Collectible Wine Dinner sounds fantastic, but the overall quality at the Grand Tastings is exceptional as well.  Three years ago I remember heading for the Caymus booth.  Two years ago there were Pride Mountain, Justin, Longmeadow Ranch, Far Niente, Anderson’s Conn Valley, Banfi, and I barely got Far-Niente-bottlesaround to half the tables before time ran out.  I vividly remember grabbing a glass of an outrageously good Ribera del Duero on my way out from a very friendly woman who was kind enough to pour it after the festival was over.  Last year we attended both Grand Tastings, and found Casey Flat Ranch, some great wines from Ken Forrester and a killer Bolgheri from Podere Sapaio to name just a few.  There was clearly much more to see even then, as we left some tables untouched.

Which brings up one important point: you can’t really get to everything at the Grand Tastings in a single four hour session.  Last year Cheri and I both stayed in the Grand Tasting on Saturday, split up Sunday to cover Alex Guarnaschelli and the New Collectibles seminar, indulged in some of the food offerings, chatted a bit with friends, and found we hadn’t seen all the wines when the time ran out.  I’ve been pulling for a two day Grand Tasting ticket, as it still isn’t enough.  One of the surest signs you’re having a good time is how fast the time goes, and it goes fast at the Grand Tasting.  We found that incredible group of wines from the Bolgheri region in Italy just as we were leaving.  Almost missed those.

The Food: the restaurant list is more impressive every year, and this year they bring a few more high flyers from Boston and New York to the party.  An emphasis has been placed on up and coming restaurants, many of which have been voted Best Of in their respective areas or class.  The Rising Star award winning chef from Earth in Kennbunkport will be here.  Also, with a more local flavor, Matthew MacCartney from Jamestown FISH, cupcakesvoted Best New Chef in New England in FOOD & WINE, will be serving his food.  As a special treat, Jake Rojas from Tallulah on Thames is bringing his taco cart on Sunday, which sounds pretty outrageous.  If you get to the Jenn-Air Master Class Culinary Stage, you’ll find world class culinary talent all weekend.

You’ll need to spend some time wandering around to appreciate the breadth of the food, as there are many vendors and a wide variety.  We find it’s good to mix them in, and you’ll find food to compliment most of the wines served.  Best of all, it’s all included!

The cooking demos are also well done and informative.  We thoroughly enjoyed Jacques Pepin and his daughter two years ago, and Alex Guarnaschelli was extremely entertaining last year.   As I mentioned before, this is worth seeing, but it’s going to take a chunk out of your tasting day.  This year Martha Stewart and Sara Moulton headline the cooking talent, not to mention the book signings.

The Rest: While you’re enjoying your food and wine don’t forget there are a few other things to do during the Grand Jacques-and-familyTastings.  You can usually get a book signed by someone in the industry (we have one signed by Kevin Zraly from a few years back and an excellent book, Secrets of the Sommeliers signed by Jordan MacKay last year).  There are generally a merchandise stall or two, or three, all offering quality merchandise related to the theme of the event.  Take the time to enjoy the beautiful view from the back of the Marble House lawn.  There’s probably something unusual going on back there, and there’s liable to be a few very nice cars on display.  You can usually find the Stella Artois stand there as well if you need a change from the stream of quality wines.  I’d advise against lingering too long though, as there is always more wine and food to try inside.  So little time…..

What It Is Not: Inexpensive – but it is great value.  This is a premier event every way you look at it.

What It Also Is Not: Unsophisticated – quite the opposite.  We’ve been to events in Newport that served as much hard liquor as wine, charged for all the food, had vendors selling everything from cheap jewelry to handbags, and could boastGirls-group of very few significant wineries.  You’re not going to have that problem here.  Nothing against tequila and bourbon and vodka, and you will find some here, but this is supposed to be a wine festival.  What the Preservation Society will be doing again is another event in downtown Newport Saturday evening that will showcase some of the spirits of the world (the liquid kind).  Look for Newport After Dark at Forty One North, a high energy affair with a DJ and dancing at yet another incredible venue.

It's me! - at the Antinori seminar.

It’s me! – at the Antinori seminar.

It’s also not just a wine tasting,  do consider the seminars.  We mentioned last year’s Antinori event and the Young Collectibles.   They really put a nice wrapper on the whole affair, offering a great chance to learn a little, drink and eat a little, and spend little doing it.  Again, even better this year is that the Saturday and Sunday seminars will be in the Chinese Tea House on the grounds of Marble House, so you don’t have to leave the Grand Tasting to attend the seminars.  Now that’s a brilliant idea.  It may limit the size a bit, so I would book them early.

The Preservation Society continue to maintain their vision and direction.  Very capable and experienced professionals attend to the details, especially Michael Greenlee, the festival’s Director of Wines, who has strong connections in Napa.  This comes in handy considering the festival is in late September, and the Napa wineries are ramping up the harvest and crush.  Getting them here at this time of year is no small feat.  There are a host of talented professionals which come together to pull something like this off.  So give credit to the collective team, and the Preservation Society’s recognition that something on this scale required some serious help.

The Particulars: you can get all the information at their website here.  I’ve included the festival overview below.  All tickets will be available online EXCEPT the seminars.  You’ll need to call (401) 847-1000 ext. 140, Monday through Friday to get seminar tickets.  To repeat, with the move to the Chinese Tea House at Marble House we would expect the Saturday and Sunday seminars to sell out.  There are discounts for Preservation Society members (yeah!) for some events.   If you’re at any of the events we’re likely to  bump into you.

This is as good as it gets, so we recommend you mark the dates.

A votre santé!

Wine-food-glass-logo

The 9th annual Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival

September 19 – 21, 2014

The Elms, Rosecliff & Marble House

Presenting Underwriter: FOOD & WINE

The most sophisticated wine and food festival on the East Coast has quickly become one of the most anticipated food and wine events in the country.  Rosecliff, The Elms and Marble House host the world’s finest vintners and many of New England’s finest restaurants and caterers for a remarkable three-day experience.  Don’t miss it!

 

Featuring Special Guests Martha Stewart and Sara Moulton!

           Martha-Stewart-captionSara-Moulton-caption 2

 

Festival Highlights:

Held in one of the most spectacular settings in America, this is a remarkable weekend experience not to be missed

http://www.newportmansions.org/events/wine-and-food-festival

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