For the past 13 years, Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun has hosted its annual Sun WineFest, showcasing exclusive tastings of wine, beer, and spirits, as well as celebrity chef demonstrations and a walk-around featuring the cooking of some of the country’s most renowned chefs. This year’s event was held this past weekend, and it was certainly one to remember.
The festival began on Friday evening, with a spirited tasting of bourbons from the Jim Beam portfolio including Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek, Jim Beam Black, and Jim Beam Devil’s Cut. Hors d’oeuvres were provided by local barbecue joint Bear’s Smokehouse and cigars were available for sampling.
Saturday was the festival’s main day, as well as the first day of the Grand Tasting, where dozens of distributors poured samples of more than 1,000 different wines. Held adjacent to the tasting in the main ballroom were cooking demonstrations from chefs including Rocco DiSpirito, Todd English, and Michelle Ragussis. Scattered throughout conference rooms upstairs were samples of dozens of beers for those looking for a change of pace from the wine. Also held on Saturday was the Elite Cru Tasting, held in Mohegan’s Cabaret Theatre, where top wines around the world were available for tasting in a relaxed and upscale atmosphere, in many cases poured by the winemakers and winery principals themselves.
But just because it’s called WineFest doesn’t mean that food gets the short end of the stick. The annual Celebrity Chef Dine Around was held in the grand ballroom Saturday night, with an abundance of delicious dishes prepared by great chefs. Offerings included barbecue brisket from Andy Husbands of Boston’s Tremont 647, steak frites with black truffle fondue from Top Chef Masters’ Betty Fraser, pavé of duck confit from chef Chris Coombs of Boston’s Deuxave, herb charred lamb rack from Govind Armstrong, tuna poke tacos from New England chef Jasper White, bay scallop crudo from Las Vegas chef Kim Canteenwalla, meatballs with homemade ricotta from Food Network Star’s Michelle Ragussis, and a whole roast pig from four-time James Beard Award winner Todd English.
“This festival always amazes me,” English, whose Tuscany is one of Mohegan Sun’s showpiece restaurants, told me. “The enthusiasm people have here is always amazing and so inspiring. There’s a real warmth and intimacy at Mohegan Sun and this festival in particular, and it just has a great vibe.”
As opposed to most other food and wine festivals, which are usually spread out over entire neighborhoods, the Sun WineFest is completely contained inside Mohegan Sun, which allows guests and chefs to mingle in ways they wouldn’t otherwise be able to. “The interaction between the chefs and fans here is the most exciting aspect of the festival,” Ragussis, who is the executive chef at Central House at The Crown in Provincetown, Mass., said. “The fact that we’re all here together, and guests are able to eat our food and talk to us, is a whole lot of fun.”
Judging by the massive turnout and roster of high-caliber chefs and spectacular wines, the 2016 Sun WineFest was another jewel in Mohegan Sun’s crown, and we can certainly look forward to its return next year. Up next will be the Sun WhiskeyFest on April 1, the Sun BBQFest will be held on June 13, and the Sun BrewFest will be returning on October 1.