Recap: Newport Wine + Food Festival 2018

Emma Jane-Doody Stetson
 Photo: The Beverage Journal

Photo: The Beverage Journal

I know what you're thinking.  If the website is called CTBites, why am I writing about Rhode Island?  The answer is that the Newport Wine + Food Festival is definitely worth the road trip.  New England restaurants, vendors, and distributors unite for a showcase of impressive wine and food.  The towering Marble House and its scenic, oceanside grounds serve as a beautiful backdrop for the event.  It’s a highlight of my year and a perfect way to spend an early autumn afternoon.

This year's festival saw a few changes.  While revered Chef Jacques Pepin usually headlines the weekend, 2018 brought different names.  Fashion designer and icon Zac Posen was this year's celebrity guest and attended the festival on Saturday.  Chefs from beloved local restaurants punctuated the weekend with demonstrations.

While some festivals concentrate on accessible wines to please the masses, 2018's Wine + Food festival incorporated premium offerings alongside popular brands.  For those who wanted to take in the day drink in hand, larger lines like Simi and Santa Margherita kept glasses full with their refreshing, easy-drinking choices.  Chateau d'Esclans, makers of Whispering Angel, gave out tastes of their new Rose, the Palm, in plastic cups to illustrate how fun and relaxed sipping wine could be.

Inside the tent, distributors and suppliers from across New England poured higher-end wines.  The Prisoner Wine Company had its own section where they served wines like The Prisoner Red Blend, The Cuttings, and Saldo.  On average those cost about $50 per bottle.  Those who love Pinot Noir could sip on Fulcrum wines, David Rossi's single vineyard California Pinots with a cult following.  A supplier even popped bottles of Pol Roger Champagne, what Harry and Megan drank at the royal wedding.

There were plenty of idiosyncratic bottles as well and my favorite wine of the day proved to be Ken Forester's "The FMC."  The white wine, comprised of 100% Chenin Blanc, had elegant weight that came from new French oak and time on the lees.  Old vines leant complexity to the varietal's flavors of apricot, citrus, and honey.

Beer lovers were not disappointed either.  Newport Vineyards, a local Rhode Island vineyard that I personally enjoy, debuted Taproot Brewing Company to complement the winery.  They started purchasing equipment in January and opened the brewery in June.  Visitors can try 8-10 beers on tap at the Taproot + Eatery.  They highlighted a New England IPA, Mosaic Pale Ale, and Imperial Stout over the weekend.

And the weekend wouldn't be complete without FOOD!  2018 chef's did not disappoint.  One of my first stops was Artscience Culture Lab & Café.  The name itself was enough to make me curious.  Chef Ben explained to me that the eatery is a "clash of food, art, and science."  Located in Cambridge, it was founded by David Edwards, a Harvard bioengineering professor.  The space often features art exhibits.  They use fresh ingredients to create whimsical, delicious dishes with "Southern French flair."  I had the opportunity to try their Spanish Octopus Escabeche with fingerling potatoes, Castelvetrano olives, Calabrian chili, pickled red onion, and saffron verjus.  It was an explosion of flavor in a small morsel and certainly spoke to the restaurant's inventive nature.

Brix Restaurant at Newport Vineyards dished out an outstanding Short Rib Toast.  Currently on their fall menu as a small plate, it had tender juicy shredded short rib over a chevre spread and crispy toast.  It was finished with a Cabernet reduction that made it even more savory.  It was mouth-watering on its own, but even more flavorful when enjoyed with the Vineyard's red wines.

The Coast Guard house took classic offerings and put technical, alternative touches on them.  They presented a George's Bank Scallop but finished it with a Buttered Corn Powder.  It literally looked like a white dusting on the plate, but was packed with flavor.  They finished the dish with a Jalapeno-Yuzu Emulsion and radish.  Guests looking for something sweet could opt for their inverted cannoli complete with pecan brittle and whiskey caramel.

In addition to food and wine, Newport Wine + Food Festival always manages to find up and coming vendors who offer fun goods but are still flying under the radar.  This year, I loved American Rhino.  10% of sales of their colorful apparel goes to fund conservation projects in Africa.  Think Toms meets resort wear; the clothing is a little bit hippie, but in all of the season's trendiest colors.

In case you are looking for a great holiday or Christmas gift, tickets for the 2019 Newport Wine + Food Festival are already for sale on the events website!  Its scheduled for September 19-22, 2019 on the mansion grounds.  I can't wait to see what 2019 entails!