Spring has sprung and with it, my mind drifts to warmer days of sipping a rosé with friends or popping open a jammy, fruit-packed red to accompany a barbecue.
Equally appealing and enticing, my mind also gravitates toward the myriad of festivals held each year that celebrate wine.
Wine festivals, typically paired with food, have become quite the rage from coast to coast in the United States and indeed, across the globe. The pandemic led to the cancellation of many of these events over the past two years, but with things looking better (at the moment) on that front, organizers and attendees are eager to see a return.
In fact, as I was penning this column, I received a first “heads up” e-mail from the Vail Wine Classic in Colorado, taking place in mid-August. It is one of two wine-focused events in the resort town in 2022. The Rockies in late summer and thousands of wines to try? Yes please.
I’m an adventurous oenophile. I think it’s the requisite disposition for truly taking in a wine festival of any sort. The multitude of wines to be sampled mean you must be a bit open-minded, even if you naturally and blissfully gravitate back to the profiles you know have both your heart and taste buds. Wine festivals bring together, in one place, a variety of wines that create a unique experience of yes, adventure.
A few years ago – pre-pandemic – my adventurous spirit was rewarded at a wine festival where I encountered a Zinfandel like no other. Cline Family Cellars, well-known in Sonoma County, was at the festival and pouring the Zinfandels they had perfected. I knew well what I would be tasting, or so I thought. There, I encountered their Big Break Vineyard Zinfandel, grown on one of their original plots in Oakley, Calif., where the family wine-making venture actually began in the 1880s.
Bodacious from the moment it hits the nose, this isn’t your typical California Zin. Almost all of Cline’s Zinfandels come from Contra Costa County, but the Big Break Vineyard parcel is adjacent to a eucalyptus grove which yields an entirely unique, minty and intoxicating flavor profile to this bottling. I was smitten from the first sip and proceeded to hunt for and buy up the two remaining bottles of the 2013 vintage available in my city. It was unique. Not commercially available. And minus a trip to Cline’s tasting room, I may never have experienced that delicious elixir were it not for the wine festival.
So, let us raise a glass for a pour of something new and unknown and celebrate the season of wine festivals. Here is a roundup of some top-notch wine festivals in the coming months.
FOOD & WINE Classic
Now in its 39th year, the event is already sold out, perhaps indicative of how eager people are to experience living again, but you can be added to the wait list and tickets typically open up. Nearly 60 seminars featuring talent like Tyler Florence, Paola Velez and Shota Nakajima, as well as the world’s best winemakers, will entertain guests over three days. The event is being held at reduced capacity due to ongoing concerns about COVID-19. If you’re lucky enough, you might even score a luxe room at Auberge’s Hotel Jerome, THE hotel for enjoying all Aspen has to offer.
International Pinot Noir Celebration
Few would argue that Pinot Noir has found a unique expression in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, but this event is for Pinot Noir lovers of every stripe and appellation. Guests can add to their knowledge through the Grand Seminar or the University of Pinot, the latter offering eight different sessions for learning and tasting. Some 60 wineries are featured for the 2022 event and more than 60 chefs from throughout the Pacific Northwest will be preparing and pairing foods to complement the wines. Not to be missed is the traditional Salmon Bake held on the Saturday of the Celebration.
The Alsace Wine Fair
Attracting more than 300,000 visitors each year, this is a true festival, incorporating wine, food and music in the must-attend event held since 1948. One can imagine the exuberance of that first festival in the emergence from World War II. That energy and celebration of joie de vivre continues to this day in celebrating all things French – especially the wines of Alsace – over 10 days and with more than 350 vendors. An astounding 1,500 samples of Alsatian wines are offered, and one can also witness and celebrate the annual election of the Queen of Alsace Wines.
Greve, Chianti, Italy
Expo Chianti Classico
I’m hardly alone in the belief that nothing seems to complement the quintessential Italian meal as a bottle of Chianti. From the simplest iteration of an everyday table wine to the most exquisite Riserva, Chianti is as unique as this annual gathering in the historic square of Greve. The idea of sampling hundreds of wines grown in the immediate vicinity where Etruscans were cultivating grapes for wine 3,000 years ago seems like the wine experience of a lifetime. La dolce vita indeed.
Santa Fe, N.M.
Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta
I’ll own my bias having traveled from the east coast to attend this festival for many years – until, that is, I ended up calling Santa Fe home. And it is here that I encountered that sublime Cline Zinfandel. After many years in the backdrop of Santa Fe’s historic opera house on the outskirts of town, last year the event moved to downtown Santa Fe and didn’t miss a beat. It also meant nearly everything is in walking distance. During the Grand Tasting, nearly 100 wineries pour alongside the many gastronomical talents that have made Santa Fe a destination for foodies. The real treat for me are the dozens of wine dinners held during the Fiesta when the city’s major restaurants pair up with a winemaker and offer truly incredible experiences.
New York City
NYC Wine & Food Festival
This annual festival is an off-the-charts journey for attendees, featuring 500 chefs and over 80 different events. Last year, attendees had the chance to learn sushi rolling with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and take Master Classes with talents like Rick Bayliss and Rocco DiSpirito. The Grand Tasting features hundreds of wineries from around the world, as well as culinary demonstrations and bites between tastings.
Finally, there are hundreds of smaller wine festivals held in communities far and wide across the globe every year. A quick Internet search will likely turn up some close-to-home options where it is also more likely that you’ll also be supporting the local wine industry. Salud!