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The 2013 Newport Mansion Wine and Food Festival – the way it should be done.

All photos courtesy of The Preservation Society of Newport County

This September  20th thru 22nd, the eighth instantiation of the Newport Mansions Wine and Food  Festival will be held at various locations in Newport, Rhode Island, with the Presenting Sponsor again being FOOD & WINE Magazine.  This is a premier event, and for my money (which is appropriate since I’ve spent a considerable amount of it attending over the wine-bottles 2years), this is the best event in the New England region.  I 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 about the sad attempt at one in conjunction with the Providence Flower Show this year.  Hopefully that will improve.  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 website here.  We’ll cover the highlights as we ramble through this blog.

I was fortunate enough to 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.  Since I have been attending for years with my wife it was great to hear what the driving motivations were behind the event and to see if that matched our experiences and expectations.  We 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.

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 Rosecliff on Friday night.  If you are a serious wine aficionado you can attend the Collectible Wine Dinner, an event started last year 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.  It is not inexpensive, but when you consider it will allow you to taste a series of the best the world has to offer, it really isn’t expensive either.  This is something I want to go to new-f-elms-dinnerxt year perhaps.  This year is college tuition and my daughter’s wedding.

According to Ivan, there will be a new seminar this year on “Young Collectibles”, which will feature low production, unique wines that could be the cult wines of tomorrow.  This sounds fascinating and is something I will look to attend.  Considering the seminars are only $40, it might well be the value of the century depending on the wines.  Along with those mentioned there are a series of other seminar experiences for you to consider and try.  The seminars will be held at the Hyatt on Goat Island, and parking is generally free and plentiful.  Last year I went to the horizontal tasting of Pride Mountain wines, and I can tell you it was well worth the time and the money.  It formed the basis of the very first blog on Red Wine Please!, and the wines were fabulous.  Better yet was the fact that it was presented by the Pride family, and they were both engaging and knowledgeable.  It was truly a memorable hour or two.

When you consider the price of the events also consider what comes wit 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 fabulous 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 our discretionary cash at the moment, but if you don’t have those issues then by all means enjoy!  We’ll have to pick off the various pieces over the next few years.  I do mean to get to pretty much everything at one time or another though.

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.  Two years ago I remember heading for the Caymus booth.  Last year there were Pride Mountain, Justin, Longmeadow Ranch, Far Niente, Anderson’s Conn Valley, Banfi, and I barely got Far-Niente-bottlesaround to half the offerors 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.  There was clearly much more to see.

This brings up one point: you can’t really get to everything at the Grand Tastings in one four hour session.  We went to the cooking demonstration (Jacques Pepin and his daughter were great), indulged in some of the food offerings, chatted a bit with friends, and found we hadn’t seen half the wines when the time ran out.  It seems to me that a two day Grand Tasting Pass, one which gets you into Saturday AND Sunday, is in order.  Ivan informed me they were considering such a thing.  I certainly endorse it.  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.

The Food: last year there were 18 local restaurants serving bites, and they ranged from seafood to beef to gelato.  This year expect even more, with a couple of Boston restaurants  and perhaps three from New York, as the event goes more regional from a foodie perspective.  If you get to the Kitchen Stage, you’ll find it has been updated completely by Jenn-Air, and they’ll actually be filming a video series at the festival which will run on both the FOOD & WINE Magazine and Jenn-Air sites.  This will be part of their “Master Class” series.cupcakes

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 last year.  They could have been a stand up act as well, their comedic timing was perfect.  As I mentioned before, this is worth seeing, but it’s going to take a chunk out of your tasting day.

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).  There are generally a merchandise stall or two, 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.  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.  I’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, but this is supposed to be a wine festival.  What the Preservation Society will be doing is another event in downtown Newport in the evening that will showcase the spirits of the world (the liquid kind), although I’d guarantee they’ll be high end and represent some of the best in their class.  I’m certainly interested in seeing what their single malt collection is like.  Look for “Newport After Dark”.

It’s also not just a wine tasting.  Consider the seminars.  As I mentioned I was at the Pride Mountain seminar last year and thought it well worth it.  This year I will be at the Antinori event and probably the Young Collectibles as well, although that might rule out the Sunday tasting.  These are a chance to experience something fairly special for very little money.  They really put a nice wrapper on the whole affair and Ivan described them as the “unsung heroes” of the event.

Now, before I wrap this up, you can’t give all the credit to the Preservation Society.  While their vision and direction are right on point, they do have a very professional production company handle all the logistics.  Michael Greenlee, the festival’s Director of Wines, 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.  In addition, Ms. Marissa Ain of Plate + Decanter is the Production Director.  Marissa is based in New York and has been a driving force in improving the culinary talent and experience.  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.  There are discounts for Preservation Society members (yeah!).   If you’re at the Saturday Grand Tasting or the Antinori seminar I’ll probably bump into you.

Thanks again to Ivan for taking the time out of his day to chat with me.

A votre santé!


Wine & Food FestivalWine-food-glass-logo

The 8th annual Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival

September 20 – 22, 2013

The Elms, Rosecliff & Marble House


Presenting Sponsor: FOOD & WINE



The Right Season, The Right Place, The Right Wines


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 Guest Chefs Alex Guarnaschelli and Michel Richard!


“I am happy to be part of Newport’s exciting Wine & Food Festival. This is a gorgeous place, I feel like Neptune in the Newport Mansion by the sea.”  –-Michel Richard

James Beard Award winner, restaurateur and author Michel Richard will host a cooking demonstration and sign his books at the Saturday, September 21 Grand Tasting at Marble House. Richard is the owner of restaurants in Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and Atlantic City which are repeatedly featured in the best American dining guides.


On Sunday, September 22, television chef and restaurateur Alex Guarnaschelli will host a cooking demonstration, followed by a signing of her just-published cookbook, Old School Comfort Food. Guarnaschelli is executive chef at two New York City restaurants, a judge on Food Network’s “Chopped” and a Food Network “Iron Chef.”


Festival Highlights:


  • Two-day Grand Tasting with hundreds of wines on the lawn of Marble House 
  • Celebrity chef appearances and cooking demonstrations by national and regional personalities 
  • Seminars with leading wine experts
  • Wine & Rosecliff gala celebration 
  • Collectible Wine Dinner 
  • Auctions
  • Free parking & shuttle transportation

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

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