Saturday, February 26, 2011

Welcome to South Beach Food and Wine Festival

The 2010 South Beach Food and Wine Festival was one of the first events I covered when starting this blog.  Since that time, I have been writing about food, wine, spirits and locations around the corner and around the world, but it remains one of my favorite experiences.

This year I am staying at the Riu South Beach on a beautiful stretch of the ocean with blue water and white sand.  I also arranged to arrive on Thursday evening so I wouldn’t miss any of the Food Network’s first event of the year. 

My first stop was at the W Hotel for Original MOONSHINE® presents Shine & Swine hosted by Master BBQ Chef Adam Perry Lang.  I have to say that it was the only event this year and last that I was disappointed in – and I was far from alone.  The problem was lack of food.  There were only two choices – Cuban Sandwiches and an appetizer size Cochinillo Confitado -- and nothing else to eat.

Fortunately, the drinks at Shine & Swine helped people forget about the lack of food.  They were plentiful and very interesting, including Shine Garden with cucumber juice, Bootlegger Punch and Peach Shine Julep.  My favorite was the Shine Blossom, with lavender syrup, lemon juice, chocolate bitters, lemon-thyme foam, angostura bitters and Moonshine.  (All of the recipes can be found on the Moonshine website.)

Friday was a full day as I headed over to the Welcome Brunch at The Betsy Hotel.  It was a perfect selection of yummy Kefir Yogurt Smoothies, popovers, croissants, muffins, fish, cheese, fruit and espresso drinks from Illy.  It was a mixture of sponsors and press and the rooftop view at The Betsy is the perfect backdrop.

After brunch, I took a break before heading to the trade preview of the Whole Foods Grand Tasting Village, the highlight of the South Beach Food and Wine Festival.  I referred to this once as an eating and drinking orgy and I think that is still accurate.  I was glad to have to opportunity to go to this preview Friday and then be able to return Sunday, so I could speak with some of the companies present and do some of the tasting. It’s impossible to sample everything in one visit, but I still tell everyone I know if you can only attend one thing at SOBE, this should be it.

The Grand Tasting welcomes you with a Waterford Crystal glass filled with your choice of Pinot Grigio or Chianti Classico from Ruffino wines (I enjoyed the Pinot) before you enter the village.  Individual tents present Food Network stars doing demonstrations, vendors like Barilla offering tastings, and even countries represented, like the “Experience Italy,” which includes everything from pasta dishes to parmesan and wine tastings.

Just beyond the Cruzan Rum setup -- where you can try endless flavors – and Whole Foods’ exhibition that can provide you with a start to finish meal to sample – is the first of the “tents.”  These mini cities contain every wine, spirits and food company you have and haven’t heard of!  Samples are everywhere and no one leaves hungry or thirsty (there’s plenty of water and coffee drinks around for anyone who doesn’t want to imbibe).

One of my first stops was at the Palm Bay International table as I had been told by CEO Adam Kamenstein that Voli Spirits was now working with this international company. I was excited to hear that Voli Vodka will be available in many states as early as April.  I also stopped at the Loire Valley Wines exhibit (a French region I haven’t visited yet), where I was surprised by the wide selection of whites, reds and ros├ęs in this area. It was perfect with the samples of President Cheeses.  I also spoke with the reps of Layer Cake Wines, which I have heard nothing but good things about. This company’s wines are made all over the world.  I really liked the Virgin Chardonnay, a product of California’s Central Coast.

I am always drawn to the unusual and House Jam seemed to be calling me. These fruity white and read varieties are made to mix in sangrias or punches and do the job perfectly. Speaking of sweet, the Terra d’Oro Moscato does exactly what it should, providing a rich dessert taste without the heaviness of an ice wine and the Nuvo Sparkling Liqueur – which I tasted here last year – is a fruity mix of French Vodka, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and the nectar of strawberries, raspberries and passion fruit.  And, yes, it is as good as it sounds!

On my way out, I grabbed a bit (and there were many more there) of the Lindt and Green Organic chocolates.  I had to pace myself because the day was far from over.  It was time to go shower and get ready for the Perrier Jouet BubbleQ.

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