Mohegan Sun is a glittering resort-casino in the Connecticut wilderness, packed with great restaurants, shops, casinos, and hotels. A visit is all but guaranteed to be a fun time, but things really kick into high gear every year at its Sun Wine & Food Festival, during which some of America’s best chefs and wineries converge in the resort’s grand ballroom for three days of revelry. And this past weekend’s fifteenth annual festival, which we had the opportunity to experience at the invitation of the resort, certainly pulled out all the stops.
It began on Friday night with a bourbon tasting, where Jim Beam Black, Basil Hayden’s, Maker’s Mark, Maker’s 46, Knob Creek, Knob Creek Rye, and Hornitos Black Barrel tequila were free-flowing and complemented by barbecue from Bear’s Smokehouse, a complimentary cigar, and live music. The party continued next door at the new Divine Delights event, where a wide variety of desserts were served at multiple stations, all accompanied by wine pairings.
Saturday brought the festival’s main wine event: the Grand Tasting. The entire ballroom was overtaken by dozens of tables, each manned by representatives from wineries and distributors who were pouring samples of their wares for hundreds of guests; the total number of wines on offer exceeded 1,000. Chefs including Alex Guarnaschelli, Todd English, and Rocco DiSpirito (who also appeared at a book signing) hosted culinary demonstrations on the ballroom’s main stage. And upstairs, scattered throughout a warren of meeting rooms, was a beer tasting worthy of praise in its own right; it featured some excellent brand-new local beers like Otter Creek Daily Dose and New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze as well as the rollout of Samuel Adams’ new Sam ’76 (you can find a full rundown of the beer component here).
For wine connoisseurs looking to sample some higher-end wines, they were in luck, as this year’s Vintage Cru, a smaller-scale tasting of more expensive wines than ones served at the Grand Tasting, really delivered. Guests had the opportunity to sample some of Napa’s finest wines, including Beaulieu Tapestry and Stags’ Leap Fay, along with a variety of French and Italian wines and vintage Champagne. Along with the beer tasting, Vintage Cru is one of the festival’s true hidden gems.
Saturday evening brought the festival’s flagship culinary event, the Celebrity Chef Dine Around, also in the grand ballroom. More than 20 chefs were on hand to serve tastes of their signature dishes, each with wine and/or beer pairings. Standouts included wagyu beef tartare tacos from chef Will Gilson; potato gnocchi with shredded braised duck and pecorino from chef Chris Coombs; house-made extruded pasta with meatballs and mozzarella from chef Todd English; porchetta grilled cheese with broccoli rabe and white bean soup from chef Brian Duffy; arepas with carnitas and smoked salsa from chef Jamie McDonald; beer-poached lobster tacos with slaw, pineapple guacamole, and wasabi tobiko from chef Betty Fraser; caramelized onion grilled cheese with crispy chicken and tomato bisque from chef Roble Ali; stuffed mini peppers with goat cheese, olive oil, and winter herbs from chef Alex Guarnaschelli; and a play on Frito pie with pork vindaloo from chef Maneet Chauhan. It was a big party with some big-name chefs, and it had a relaxed, casual vibe; everyone really seemed to be enjoying themselves (and the food).
Finally, Sunday brought what was quite possibly the weekend’s most-anticipated event: Sunday Brunch with Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg. While dining on scrambled eggs, roast ham, quiche, pancakes, bacon, sausage, and bread pudding and sipping Bloody Marys and mimosas, the sizeable crowd was treated to a culinary demo from the unlikely duo, who have proven to be a popular pair with their VH1 show, Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party. Their schtick is certifiably adorable, with Martha serving as a perfect foil for Snoop’s unique brand of low-key stoner humor. They had the audience eating out of the palms of their hands, especially during a Q&A session (not literally).
As always, the Mohegan Sun Wine & Food Festival delivered on all fronts: great wine, beer, and spirits; excellent food; and world-class chefs all under one roof. We’ll see you there next January!