My nephew is a foodie, personal chef, and an all-around fun guy. After seven years of talking about it, the stars finally aligned and we attended the Mohegan Sun Wine and Food Festival, aka #SunWineFest.
I have to admit, it was a little weird to attend The Grand Tasting as a member of the public, and not a member of the press. (Grand Tasting? That’ll be $95 + Ticketmaster fees, thank you.) But hey, I’m open-minded! How hard can this be?
It wasn’t hard. It was just PACKED.
We arrived at the casino on Saturday about an hour before doors. The line snaked deep into the casino, dispersing like NASCAR drivers after the green light once the doors opened. We moved with intent, but like any battle plan, we constantly varied and updated our crowd tactics. We maintained our goals of sampling carefully, spitting & dumping wine, not over-indulging, and drinking water to stay hydrated. It seemed like we were the only ones who did.
Within an hour, some people were locked into chef-watching mode at the stage, while others were getting loaded from the tasting tables. Some tables served tastes, some poured entire glasses.
I still took tastes, refusing full or even half-glasses when offered. I used the dump buckets. And, in spite of the crowds, I found some friends! Everything from bourbon to port to champagne were being served. On the far side of the ballroom, local foodstuffs were from famed New Haven Pepe’s Apizza to some serious mac ‘n cheese and BBQ. Brisket over mac ‘n cheese- it may not look appetizing, but I stopped and took a picture because this was absolute savory decadence.
In the course of a couple of hours, I found several Connecticut wineries and Sakonnet Vineyard, a Rhode Island winery worth visiting. I enjoyed their winemaker’s white wines, several of which included the varietal vidal blanc.
I could not say ‘no’ to a sampling of Mumm champagne. The brut is still my favorite of this set, but I would have loved to sample the 1990 vintage or their Grand Cru champagnes. Next time, perhaps.
We tasted Martin Ray (Russian River Valley, Sonoma, CA). I enjoyed their chardonnay and rosé of Pinot Noir, both well-crafted, and ideal pleasure wines in warm weather.
I found several rosé wines I enjoyed. Moment de Plaisir, Chateau Paradis, and Notorious Pink were among my favorites. The Notorious Pink is a grenache rosé and offers delightful strawberry with matching acidity. All of these are solid spring/summer afternoon delight wines to consider in the under $20 category.
Since the event takes place in Connecticut, it was surprising to see few local wineries. But Preston Ridge did not disappoint with either the Fieldstone white or their rosé which has maintained its homey, northeastern rigidity.
On our way to the door to take a water break, we stopped briefly to taste a Napa Chardonnay from Stags Leap.
During a water break, we realized it was getting close to the Elite Cru tasting (Another $115, thank you) and I hoped we would be set up for some top-level wines. I knew immediately that all was well when the line was a fraction of the earlier line. Another not so subtle tell: we were handed purchasing sheets (by bottle or by the case), along with wine glasses, which demonstrated that the entire experience had just graduated to “the deluxe experience”.
I had little to complain about, when a grand cru champagne was among the first things in my glass.
And from that point on, we found a slew of familiar friends and classic vines that tantalized my tongue and brought back some tremendous memories:
Not to be outdone, we finished our tasting with three wineries that were new to us, but who offered depth, complexity, and quality. Cloisonne Wines had a fabulous rosé and chardonnay from Napa.
Fullerton Wines’s Three Otters offered a delicious chardonnay from the Willamette Valley that was only improved by a cutesy label. The wine is quite delicious.
And last but not least, from the Anderson Valley, The Withers has a label that will catch your eye, and their wines are exemplary. Driven by passion, now exploding into popularity- just watch as this brand grows.
At the end of the Elite Cru tasting, we were ready for a break. So we gambled for a while, hit a restaurant, then called it a night. If you decide to attend the #SunWineFest, I have some suggestions:
1) To attend the grand tasting, go early and perhaps NOT on Saturday when it is packed!
2) Alternately, be prepared for the crowd. Make a game plan. Spit, Hydrate, Spit.
3) If you only want the higher-end wines, then only attend the Elite Cru tasting. Spend five minutes going through the catalog, and hit the tables in the order in which you want to see them. Because you will either fawn over your favorites, or fall madly in love with another, and spend all your time at that table. But you will probably have a blast in that short time.
à votre santé!