Recap: Savor, A Celebration of Wine, Food & Spirits @ Foxwoods

Emma Jane-Doody Stetson

What if I told you that you could feast on Hudson Valley Foie Gras Torchon, nurse a glass of Fess Parker Ashley’s Cuvee Pinot Noir, get cooking tips from Chef Mary Ann Esposito, and dance the night away with celebrity chefs- all while raising over $70,000 to help veterans and military families?  That by indulging in  a bite of Truffled Tenderloin Beef Tartare you could help a young girl receive a much-needed bone transplant?

Savor, now in its second year, makes all of that possible.  Dishes from Connecticut’s best restaurants, wines, spirits, beer, and merchandise are all available under one roof.  Proceeds from the celebration go toward the Robert Irvine Foundation.

CTBites was invited to both sessions of the walk-around Grand Tasting as well as the Savor In Style Charity Gala.  Here all of the delicious details.

The Food

Chef Robert Irvine headlined Savor and was joined by a number of culinary heavyweights; PBS’s Chef Mary Ann Esposito, Top Chef’s Zac Young, and Iron Chef’s Elizabeth Faulkner all took the stage for cooking demonstrations.  The event also featured a number of esteemed local chefs and dishes from popular area restaurants.

Rooster Company, located in Newington, CT, offered an impressive trio of dishes.  They put a gourmet twist on classics with their “Ekonk Hill Turkey & Young Farm’s Rattlesnake Bean Chili with Cornbread Crumbs and Chive Sour Cream,” “Organic Curried Chicken Salad with Crushed Pistachio,” and “Chicken Live Pate with Fresh Pea Emulsion and Hartford Baking Co. Crostini.”  I loved the chili in particular.  The cornbread crumbs made for a fun combination of textures.

The restaurant opened a year and half ago with owners Jaime and KC Ward at the helm.  They are not afraid of experimentation and reinvention.

“You have to be creative and do different things to stand out,” says their beverage manager Jon Martin.  “We change the menu every couple of months to show off what’s in season and what’s local.  For example, today you see ingredients from Young Farm.”

Foxwoods Casino’s chefs also put out a dazzling array of food.  On the savory side, the rock shrimp proved one of my favorite plates of the day.  The shrimp were sautéed with aromatic spices, then presented in a lettuce cup with jicama, lobster tapioca pearls, and chicarrones.  The shrimp was decadent and flavorful, but the lettuce and jicama made it feel light and refreshing.  The chicarrones added a pleasant crunch.

Their dessert options were equally extraordinary.  Foxwoods Pastry Chef Franck Iglesias, who recently opened a new Patisserie in Foxwoods, created an enormous display of “Choux.”  He used this special French pastry dough to craft small round puffs that resembled miniature profiteroles.  There were four flavors: tiramisu, chocolate raspberry, lemon meringue, and praline pop rocks.  The praline was my favorite.  The silky interior was topped with a rich, crunchy praline coating.

Had there been a prize for presentation, New Canaan’s own Chef Luke Venner would have won. The Executive Chef at Elm Restaurant gave a playful nod to canned tuna by serving his tuna crudo in individual silver cans.  The tuna itself was tasty.  He lightly cured it with bergamot, preserved tomato, dried black olive, basil seed, and fennel pollen.  It is a take on a salad they offer at lunch where the tuna is sliced and seared on one side.

Savor gave us an exciting preview of a new restaurant coming in August: The Cook and The Bear.  Millwright’s and Bear’s BBQ are teaming up and opening the new eatery in Blue Back Square.  The dish they served was the perfect fusion of both restaurants.  The “Smoked Pork Kimchi Pancake with Gochujang BBQ” was BBQ reimagined from a gourmet perspective.  The softer, starchier pancake balanced out the strong spice from the pork.  Meanwhile, green onion on top added crunch.

The Wine

While I love food, wine is my true passion.  I had an amazing time journeying from table to table searching out special bottles.

To me, Flanagan Wines was the standout of the weekend.  The small California winery only makes about 4,000 cases of wine each year- a small amount that allows them to focus on quality.  Proprietor Eric Flanagan and his wife Kit moved from Colorado to California to pursue their winemaking dreams.  In 1999, they purchased 40 acres of land on the side of Bennett Mountain.  They discovered the area was ideal for Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah and planted the first vines in 2001.  In 2011, they purchased a ranch in the Russian River Valley so that they could make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well.

Flanagan poured four wines: a Russian River Valley Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bennett Valley Syrah.  All of the wines were remarkable, but the Pinot Noir and Syrah were exemplary.  The 2014 Pinot Noir was just released in March.  Only 860 cases were made.  Kit Flanagan believes that the wine reflects the “true Pinot character” and I wholeheartedly agree.  It is fruit-forward, with notes of dark cherry and berry.  At the same time, it is elegant and balanced.  They applied only a light touch of oak so that the flavors of the grape really shine through.  It costs about $59.

The 2013 Syrah, in contrast, was dark, big, and bold.  It took on a black hue in the glass.  On the palate, notes of cherry and chocolate slowly gave way to savory, meaty elements.

“Bacon fat!” Kit exclaimed with a smile.

The wine retails for around $75.

All of the wines are available in Connecticut.  Grapes Wine of Norwalk has the Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah available for purchase online.  You can also ask your favorite store about ordering them for you.

I found more outstanding wines at Dierberg.  They had solid offerings overall, but I particularly enjoyed their Star Lane Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc.  The fruit- all estate grown- heralds from a California region called Happy Canyon.  I found this Sauvignon Blanc incredibly pure.  It had beautiful acidity with subtle flavors of pear and stone fruit. 

“This doesn’t have the picked grapefruit in other Sauvignon Blancs,” reflected Senior Advisor Keith Schaufler.  It was as if someone had carefully removed all traces of grassiness and only clean, light, Sauvignon Blanc remained.

The Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc is sold in a number of Connecticut stores such as Bottle Stop Wine & Spirits in Avon, Bottle Stop Wine & Spirits in Torrington and Newington, Madison Wine Exchange in Madison, Valley Discount Wine in Ansonia, and Val’s Putnam Wines & Liquor in Greenwich.  It retails for around $22.

Merriam Vineyards presented a selection of unforgettable wines as well.  They caught my eye at last year’s Savor with their predominantly estate wines.  I praised their Cabernet Franc, especially.  This year, they showcased a brand new wine: a 2015 Rosé of Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley.  It was layered and complex, with notes of strawberry, citrus, and flowers coming together in a single sip.  The rosé was elegant, but not delicate.  It had firm structure and memorable flavors while maintaining balance.  It is the ultimate food wine- a perfect accompaniment for summertime fare.

Merriam Vineyards is not yet available in Connecticut, but their wines can be found in surrounding states like New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.  You can also find them online:  The rosé retails for about $20.

New Items

Zac Brown has joined the ranks of musicians turned winemaker!  His Uncaged wines debuted in February, just months ahead of his concert in Hartford.  Brown has experience in the restaurant realm with his farm-to-table restaurant, Southern Ground.  He has always been a proponent of sustainability.  Thus, wine seemed like a natural extension.  He partnered with Delicato Family Vineyards and began working with winemaker John Killebrew.  Now, he produces bold California wines while maintaining respect for the land.

I had the chance to try the Uncaged Proprietary Red Blend and the Uncaged Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both are powerful, juicy wines with black fruit flavors.  They provide good value at around $14.99 a bottle.

In addition, I visited the Chateau d’Esclans table.  Their Whispering Angel rosé is practically synonymous with summer.  This year, they’re emphasizing a sister product: the Rock Angel rosé!  This wine spends a bit more time in oak, giving it beautiful body.  Soft strawberry notes and subtle florals made it incredibly easy-drinking.  It retails for about $30.  (This is a bit higher than Whispering Angel, but Rock Angel is considered a step up.)

Lovers of Edna Valley wines will be thrilled to hear that they launched a brand new wine in April, a Pinot Grigio.  The California wine offers an alternative to the plethora of Italian Pinot Grigios in today’s market.  This Pinot Grigio leads with acidity rather than fruit.  It is crisp and light.  At around $11.99 and finished with a screw top, it is a great choice for warm weather picnics, beach trips, or afternoons on the porch.

All of these wines are currently available in Connecticut, so ask your favorite stores about them!

Eclectic Bottles

The name “Snarky & Spirited” would have caught my eye based on the name alone.  However, the small importing company had some very interesting wines.  I especially enjoyed the Friuli Colli Orientali Sauvignon.  New Zealand, California, and the Loire Valley are widely recognized for their Sauvignon Blanc.  It was a pleasant change to have one from Italy.  It had phenomenal minerality.  It also had lemon characteristics and a subtle herbaceous quality.

“Think of it as a cross between a classic California Sauvignon Blanc and a Sancerre,” says Anne E. Hay, founder of Snarky & Spirited.

The Friuli Colli Orientali Sauvignon will be available in the Connecticut market on May 1.  It will retail for about $15.99.

Another unique find was the Domaine La Hitaire Vin de Pays Les Tours.  This French white wine consists of Colombard, Gros Manseng, and Ugni Blanc, an interesting combination.  It has green fruit flavors like fresh apple and pear.  It has a slight sweetness, too.  Alcohol content is only about 10%, making it easy-drinking and approachable.  It retails for about $10.

Great Value

I had the opportunity to sample a number of well-crafted Pinot Noirs over the course of the weekend.  However, the bottles I considered most balanced cost upward of $40.  The Lincourt Lindsay’s Vineyard Pinot Noir was an exception.  It provides the perfect amount of lush fruit without becoming at all jammy… for under $20!  You can purchase it online from Old Greenwich Fine Wine or from New Canaan Wine Merchants.

The Sileni Sauvignon Blanc is another great wine for the price.  This wine from Marlbourough, New Zealand, costs around $13.  Still, it bursts with bright tropical fruit.  It is lively on the palate, with crisp acidity.  It can be enjoyed alone or as a complement for salad, seafood, and chicken.  Sileni Sauvignon Blanc can be found at Stew Leonard’s wines, Harry’s in Fairfield, Continental Fine Wines in Greenwich, and Lordship Wine & Liquor in Stratford.

Savor In Style Charity Gala

After months of hard work and two days full of cooking, wine pouring, and demonstrations, the In Style Charity Gala was the perfect culmination for the fabulous weekend.  Guests, exhibitors, and chefs alike could finally cut a little bit loose, enjoy each other’s company, and dance to the music of a live band.  Champagne flowed.  Delicious food, paired with harmonizing wine, abounded.  It was classy, glamorous, and a party all at the same time.

“I start working on Savor pretty far in advance but from December on it is a 7 day a week commitment,” says event coordinator Vicki Cirelli. “I could not do it without the relationships I have been fortunate enough to cultivate over the years -- with sponsors, chefs, restaurants, and wineries and I recognize and appreciate their time and resources, we could not have Savor without them.”

Celebrity chefs had the chance to showcase the dishes they had demonstrated during the Grand Tastings.  On Saturday morning, I watched Chef Elizabeth Faulkner prepare a beautiful salmon crudo with candied brazil nuts, radish, serrano chili and lime.  That night, I had the chance to interact directly with her and try the dish for myself.  It was one of my favorites of the evening.  The fish was light, fresh, and simple.  The candied Brazilian nuts added a touch of decadence.

Chef Zac Young showed off the dish he demonstrated as well- the Red Hot Red Velvet Piecupen!  It was a miniature dessert mash-up: a take on a chocolate cream pie inside red velvet cake topped with red hot cinnamon cream cheese frosting.  It was paired with a strawberry cocktail in a martini glass.  Oh, indulgence!

Local chefs impressed as well.  Prasad Chirnomula, chef and owner of Thali and the newly opened India in New Cnanaan, put out Sultana Scallops.  They had a spicy and sweet glaze, microgreens, and golden raisins on top.  New Canaan’s South End also served a tasty scallop dish.  The scallops were lightly dressed, allowing the fresh flavors of the fish to speak for themselves.  The plate was finished with a sprinkling of mustard seeds, imparting subtle texture and spice.  It was matched with the Sileni Sauvignon Blanc I mentioned previously- a combination from wine-pairing heaven!

The best plate of the night came from Chef Robert Irvine himself.  He created a Slow Roasted Merguez Chicken with Garlic & Zucchini Baba Ganoush, Za'atar spiced Ricotta, and Arugula Pesto.  The baba was thick and flavorful.  I loved the layering of the components- the combinations of textures and tastes in each mouthful.

Irvine’s energy and passion set the tone for the entire night.  Around 10pm, he commanded everyone’s attention and emceed an auction with fine wine, artisan furniture, restaurant gift certificates, and other specialty merchandise up for grabs.  He even auctioned off a pair of his own custom-made Italian loafers.  Proceeds went to the Robert Irvine Foundation.  He used the time to reiterate how important the cause is.

“Last year, we raised over 70,000 from Savor.  It paid for a bone marrow transplant and 22 other special surgeries,” he told us.  “That’s the reason you’re here.”  Earlier that day, news had broken that Irvine will accept the Outstanding Civilian Service Award in May.

The evening ended with Irvine, his team, the chefs, and guests out on the dance floor as the band played song after song.

So where can you go to enjoy amazing food, delicious wine, and culinary festivities all while contributing to an important cause?  That would be Savor: A Celebration of Wine, Food, and Spirits!  It is truly a “celebration” in all regards.