A Supersized Sun 2017 Wine & Food Fest Makes a Grand Return to Mohegan Sun
Last weekend, Mohegan Sun’s annual festival of great wine and food returned for its 14th year in Connecticut, and it was certainly a success. This year brought a major change to the program with two new major culinary events, which warranted an official name change, from the Sun Winefest to the Sun Wine & Food Fest.
These two events — a Mexican Night Market hosted by Aarón Sánchez and a Sunday Brunch featuring Mario Batali — were added to the existing roster of annual walk-around food and wine tastings, bringing the grand total of events at the festival to six, many of which were sold out.
On Friday night, the festivities stated with a bourbon tasting, with guests lining up for pours of Basil Hayden’s, Maker’s 46, Maker’s Mark Cash Strength, Knob Creek Rye, Baker’s, and Jim Beam Black. There was plenty of barbecue from Bear’s Smokehouse to go around, as well as complimentary cigars. That was followed up with Sánchez’s Mexican Night market, which was a great success right out of the gate. Multiple stations were set up to serve margaritas, tacos, chips and guacamole, chicken with green mole and short rib with red mole, botanas including veggie empanadas and achiote pork flautas, and beer and wine. A mariachi band kept the party going strong until late in the evening.
Saturday brought the Grand Tasting, a massive wine tasting featuring more than 1,000 wines in the main convention center and dozens of beers in the conference rooms upstairs. It was a great way to sample a wide variety of wine and beer; and cooking demos from Sánchez, Todd English, and Michele Ragussis keep the crowd entertained. For true connoisseurs, the Elite Cru Tasting, a more exclusive event held in the smaller Cabaret Theater, was a must-attend. High-end wines from around the world, in most cases retailing for more than $100, were available for sampling and in most cases were poured by the winemakers themselves. The opportunity to sample a high-end wine while discussing it with the folks who made it is priceless.
On Saturday night, the festival’s main event, the Celebrity Chef Dine Around, also brought hundreds of food-lovers to the convention center. Chefs of local and national renown including English, Chris Coombs, Andy Husbands, Roble Ali, Brian Duffy, Govind Armstrong, and Rocco DiSpirito served signature dishes to the hungry crowd, who returned the following morning for the inaugural Brunch With Batali. Dozens of brunchy offerings were capped off with a cooking demo by Batali himself, who made a fried fish sandwich from his new cookbook, Big American Cookbook — of which all guests received a copy.
Like all massive food and wine festivals, it didn’t go off exactly without a hitch. Most of the culinary events had just one bar, which led to some long lines, but it’s impossible to imagine anyone attending any of these events and hot having a great time. It was a great idea to add the two new events (and the extra starpower) to the roster this year, and if the size and enthusiasm of the crowds were any indication, the festival was a major success. A weekend jaunt to Mohegan Sun is always a great time, but the Sun Wine & Food Fest might just be the best reason to visit of all.