So many (great) wines, so little time at the Wine & Food Festival

Jennifer Woods, of Ben Arnold Beverage Company, keeps the wine flowing with lots of medal winners at her booth. So little time so much great wine!

Another Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival has come and gone and lucky for me I was able attend this singular event again after taking a 2 year hiatus. I attended my first one back in my early 20’s (and now you can, ahem, double that) when it was held at Shelter Cove Marina under one massive tent. The event, which started out 27 years ago as simply ‘Winefest’, has seen some changes over the years, and like many a good wine, has improved with age in my opinion and rightfully morphed into a “Wine & Food” event.

The Festival includes not only the outdoor Public Tasting, but 6 days of events chocked full of the best domestic and international wines and glorious gourmet options for the foodie in you.

Crispy and LOCAL fried oysters along with tangy grilled bbq shrimp from Skull Creek Boathouse/Black Marlin!

From ‘week of’ events like the ‘Great Chefs of the South Wine Dinners’ and the glamorous ‘Grand Tasting & Silent Auction’ to the fun and silly waiter’s races and informative food demonstration showcase at the Public Tasting, it is an oenophile’s winsome week of wine and culinary surprises on sunny Hilton Head Island. This year there was a “Celebrity Lowcountry Author’s Tent” featuring Southern cookbook author and TV personality Nathalie Dupree, Shrimp, Collards and Grits author Pat Branning, and the Island’s own Chef David Young (Burnin’ Down South).

Orchid Paulmeier of One Hot Mama’s dishes up some chocolate chip, applewood bacon pecan pie bites – topped with a dollop of whipped cream & a sprinkle of chardonnay smoked fleur du sel (that’s salt).

Over all the years, I’ve improved my own plan of attack when faced with the possibility of trying 700 wines at the Public Tasting. I am picky in what I try now and I review the selection list and their respective locations before even entering Honey Horn, the gorgeous open space where the Festival has been held the last few years. In the early days I began with the white wines and then moved on to the red wines. Then in other years I only tasted the reds. This was a mistake as I missed some outstanding pours I’m sure.

On a couple of those early occasions I was also so caught up in wine tasting and socializing that I forgot to eat – this is a rookie mistake. There is such a tantalizing selection of area restaurants participating; you are really missing something special if you do not partake in some our local chefs’ masterfully delicious Lowcountry cuisine. Plus I am a firm believer that wine compliments food and vise versa; so to ignore one for the other can be, well, downright disrespectful!

The Southern Wine & Spirits Waiter’s Race is a spectacle worth the wait – I mean, waiter.

Now I make no claim to be a wine expert by any stretch of the imagination but I am a wine enthusiast, I suppose. Wine enthuses me! It can make a good day better and add that extra spark of liveliness to a meal and to a conversation. The company of like-minded friends (wine enthusiasts) and a gorgeous spring day in the Lowcountry set the scene for a fun and delicious afternoon.

The Festival layout was spacious and while over 5,000 people attended, there were ample areas to catch your breath, regroup and formulate the next phase of your food or wine blitz.

Winners make everyone smile. Best of Show medals were awarded to: Benessere Vineyards, 2007 Phenomenon - a Super Tuscan blend; Bogle Vineyards, 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon; Wither Hills, 2011 Sauvignon Blanc and Brophy Clark, 2010 Chardonnay.

Honestly, I really enjoyed most of the wines I tasted and while yes, I did the swirl, sniff, swig and ‘dump the rest’ routine, there were a few captivating wines that I wish I had time to go back to for a second ‘taste’:

  • Montebuena, Rioja, 2009
  • Schug, Pinot Noir, 2009 (Silver medal winner)
  • Schug, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 (Silver medal winner)
  • Alexander Valley Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 (Silver medal winner)
  • A-Z Wineworks, Chardonnay
  • A-Z Wineworks, Pinot Gris
  • Silverado Merlot, 2007 (Silver medal winner)

I’m looking forward to next year’s big wine doused soiree (it’s usually the first through the second weekend of March) but until then I will happily be looking for these selections in my local wine shop and on the wine list at my favorite restaurants. Cheers!