SAVOR Event Recap: A Celebration of Wine, Food & Spirits

Emma Jane-Doody Stetson

Savor, billed as a “celebration of Wine, Food, and Spirits,” made its grand debut on April 11 and 12 in Hartford, CT.  Event sponsors gave us a preview in March, and the actual festival was a resounding success.  Savor offered guests a weekend filled with memorable wine, food, and demonstrations.

Vicky Cirilli, event coordinator, promised wines focused on “quality not quantity.”  CT Distributors offered just that, bringing in some of their best bottles for guests to sample.  It seemed that the majority of the wines featured retailed for about $50 and were carefully chosen for the weekend.  As a result, Savor attracted wine savvy guests eager to learn, making the experience especially enjoyable.

My search for unique wines led me to Palm Bay International where I got to try the Bottega Vinaia Gewürztraminer.  Austria is considered the epicenter for Gewürztraminer, followed by Germany.  New York’s Finger Lakes also produces some excellent ones.  However, I had never tried an Italian Gewürztraminer before and welcomed the opportunity.  The sips proved memorable; the minerality and acidity of Austrian versions was replaced with a softer body and subtle earthiness.

“We like having people try new things they wouldn’t normally get to try,” Jackie, Palm Bay’s representative, told me when I asked why they included such an esoteric item in their lineup.

Later, I journeyed to Winam Wines & Spirits for the Foxen Vineyards Old Wines Chenin Blanc.  South Africa is one of my favorite wine regions, and the “old vine” description captured my attention.  The grapes come from a single vineyard.  Moreover, Foxen is recognized as being the first certified biodynamic facility in the region and boasts solar powered energy.  The delicious wine had a weightiness and earthiness to it attributed to the age of the vines.  Citrus notes wove in with hints of Eucalyptus.  It retailed that day for $29.99.

Savor not only attracted distributors; it also brought in wineries looking for representation in Connecticut.  That was my favorite part of the festival- getting to see wines not currently in the CT market.  This year I particularly enjoyed wine from Merriam Vineyards in California.  They span about 24 acres in the Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys and focus on Bordeaux varietals.  They embrace sustainable and organic practices.  Production levels are low, ranging from 100 cases to 600 cases per wine.  All of their selections proved excellent, but their two Cabernet Francs were exceptional.  The first, their 2009 Russian River Valley Estate Cabernet Franc, sees 80% French and 20% American oak, but manages to maintain fresh fruit and bright herbaciousness.  The second, their Dry Creek Cabernet Franc, heralds from Jones vineyard.  It benefits from a warmer climate and more time in oak, making it slightly fuller and deeper.

Wine, of course, is best experienced with food and Savor had incredibly tremendous culinary offerings- the best I have seen at an event like this in a long while.  Celebrity chefs, such as Robert Irvine, put on entertaining demonstrations, but local chefs were the true stars of the day.

Executive Chef Al Soto of Nix’s embodied the spirit of Savor with his reverence for local ingredients.  He enthusiastically relayed how he uses homegrown products whenever he can.  When I spoke to him he was just returning from a visit to Grass Root’s Ice Cream, another vendor there that day, and contemplating incorporating their ice cream into his projects.  He also enthusiastically described fresh goat cheese from Lebanon, CT currently featured on the menu.   Soto then served me delicious lobster and crab tater tots.  I asked if these came from a brunch menu, and Soto told me no- creative twists on classics are featured throughout their fare.

Chef Prasad Chirnomula of Oaxaca Kitchen and the Thali restaurants had people lined up to watch him carve strips of juicy meat from an enormous slab of pork belly.  The pork belly was a masterpiece: perfectly crisp on the outside, yet tender and succulent on the inside.  A spoonful of key lime guacamole complimented it perfectly.  When I asked him what he put on the outside of the meat to achieve that perfect char, he murmured, “It’s a secret,” with a grin on his face.

My favorite dish of the day came from Bella Bella Gourmet Foods.  The group represents farms in Sullivan County, NY and provides game like chickens, poussin, partridge, duck, quail, pintade, rabbit, and Foie Gras.  They put their famous foie gras on display with a foie gras and pork sausage served in a toasty roll with marinated onions and specialty mustard on top.  Each decadent bite burst with flavor.

Guests with a sweet tooth were not disappointed!  Those who saved room for dessert were dazzled with treats from Foxwood’s Executive Pastry Chef Franck Iglesias.  His stand, prominently located in the front of the ballroom, featured colorful homemade marshmallows in glass jars for edible decoration.  He then prepared and presented attendees with a number of bite-size treats.

“I like the small portion,” he says.  “People will go back for it.”

I particularly enjoyed the open-faced macaroon made with coffee, cognac, crème fraiche, and dark chocolate.  It proved sweet and luscious, but the small format made it accessible.

Though the chefs’ culinary perspectives were diverse that day, they all took time to praise their overall experience at Savor.

“This festival is very organized,” noted Octagon Steakhouse.  “We’ve had time to talk to people individually about the food.”

First and Last Tavern, which offered up fig and prosciutto sliders to eager guests, called Savor more “upscale” and lauded it for its “excellent selection of restaurants and wines.”

Savor already has dates announced for next year- April 8 & 9 2016.  Top restaurants, distributors, and vendors, have already pledged to return next year to make the event even better.  If the first year gave guests this much to “savor,” I am sure next year will prove event more momentous.