By Steve Mirsky
I arrived early at the Mohegan Sun WineFest, right at the front door leading to the Grand Tasting Room before the first glass was even touched. I was on a mission. This year, with event program in hand, I committed myself to roughing out a game plan for the day ahead. With approximately 50 tasting tables & pavilions each with multiple vintages to pick from, 10 chef demonstrations on the main stage, additional special events like the Elite Grand Cru Tasting along with food booths, various liquor & cocktail samples, and a wide array of beers upstairs, it’s easy to get distracted and overwhelmed. And did I mention the crowds vying for samples close behind and to either side of you?
It’s tempting to take the spontaneous route and not have a plan. Just let the experience unfold, wander to tables that seem appealing, and taste anything you can get your hands on. The only problem with this approach is you’ll quickly get frazzled navigating the crowds, and miss your favorite top chefs on stage. Your palate will also get mighty confused in a short time, unable to accurately discern each wine’s distinctive flavors. So there is a reason that the Sun WineFest spans 2 days…take your time…follow the less-is-more adage and develop your own daily itinerary. Here’s what worked for me:
Wine Tasting Strategy
Decide before you arrive in the Grand Tasting Ballroom what types of wines you simply can’t miss. Go ahead and give in to some comfortable old favorites but also be sure to pick some unfamiliar vintages that pique your interest as well. After all, this place is like speed dating for wines so play the field…with a purpose. Which leads to the next major rule of thumb…try to stick with whites first, then hit the reds. Upon reaching your limit, feel free to give into several full flight tastings which include both…you earned it!
Main Stage Chef Presentations
Here’s an unavoidable fact…there will be slightly lighter tasting table crowds during presentations. Unless you’re a Food Network junkie or in the food/hospitality business, it’s hard to determine which chefs out of the lineup will most effectively intrigue you. This is where a little pre-event research goes a long way. Sure the program has a brief bio for each chef but it helps to become a bit more acquainted by watching an episode on youtube to get an idea of focus and presentation style. Some sound interesting on the surface but perhaps Jacque Torres‘ finer techniques in making the perfect chocolate bon bon isn’t really going to captivate you for over an hour after all. While others are basking in the star power of Bobby Flay or deciding if they really want to stick it out, you stand a better chance getting up to the table of your choice and receiving a personal wine flight narration.
Beers and Liquors
Even though you’ll only get a modest swallow per glass, if you plan on tasting as many beers and specialty liquors as possible, it helps to keep in mind the old rule of thumb, “Liquor and beer, you’re in the clear…beer and liquor, couldn’t be sicker.” Most importantly, save these libations for after your wine tasting since they totally alter your palate’s sensitivity. It also helps to keep in mind that heading upstairs to the beer tables involves transitioning into a different environment…more of a party scene rather than a focused celebration of gastronomic delights.
I know it feels like you’re missing out on valuable tasting time but walking out of the ballroom onto the casino floor for about a half hour a couple times each day makes all the difference. You get a chance to clear your head, grab a seat along the way, and recharge your sensory perceptions. It may come as no surprise that being on your feet for hours sandwiched amongst fellow wine enthusiasts takes its toll. Excitement can only sustain you so long. Take a break…your body will thank you for it and you’ll enjoy your tasting time much more. See you next year!
Photos courtesy of Steve Mirsky and Mohegan Sun