At CTBites, we bring you the latest news from Connecticut’s vibrant food scene. The state has a host of must-visit restaurants, farms, and food-inspired events. At the same time, there are wonderful things happening just over our border. Every September, Rhode Island celebrates the last days of summer with the Newport Mansions Wine + Food Festival. The impressive Marble House Estate is plucked from history, reminiscent of The Great Gatsby. Its vast, coastal lawns serves as the beautiful backdrop for Saturday’s and Sunday’s Grand Tastings, which include hundreds of wines, dozens of New England restaurants, and a number of local vendors. It is a worthwhile experience for any foodie up for a road trip.
2019 marked the 14th Year of the Festival and my fourth year attending. This year did not disappoint. There was a wealth of California wineries, several of which poured premium bottles. Silver Oak Cellars had a table in the center of the tent where people formed a line to have the chance to try their signature offerings. Most guests gravitated toward the 2015 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($80), the latest release from this appellation. Big and bold, the wine aged for 24 months in 50% new and 50% once-used American oak barrels, imparting even more structure to an already firm, elegant selection. I also enjoyed their 2017 Twomey Russian River Pinot Noir ($50). Twomey is another label by Silver Oak’s Duncan Family that focuses on vineyard driven Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Merlot. The Pinot Noir had bright fruit flavors of cherry, blackberry, and plum underscored with hints of earth. Easy-drinking yet complex, I found it a beautiful example of Pinot Noir from the region.
In addition, I enjoyed several of the bottles from Jackson Family Wines. I was surprised to learn that the same family behind the mass brand La Crema has ties to Hartford Family Winery in Sonoma and Freemark Abbey in Napa. The Hartford Court Russian River Chardonnay ($30) is a long-time favorite of mine; its creamy texture and toasty oak influences are balanced by bright fruit and fresh acidity. I also loved the lush, deep notes of the Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($60).
For those on the hunt for full-bodied Californian red blends, Chappellet presented their 2017 Mountain Cuvee ($35). The Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Franc is rich, dark, and juicy. Tannic and mouth-filling, it will pair perfectly with roasts, stews, and the savory, meaty selections that come with cooler weather. Alexander Valley Vineyards also gave guests the opportunity to taste their much loved Cyrus, another Bordeaux Blend. The 2014 vintage is the 20th release of the wine and fans can celebrate by attending the intimate, annual Cyrus Dinner in the Wine Cave at their vineyards in Healdsburg on Saturday March 21.
Newport Mansions Wine + Food Festival’s selections transcended domestic bottles. French wine enthusiasts (like me!) could enjoy champagnes from Champagne Palmer & Co, who led a pop-up seminar in the Marble House’s Chinese Tea House in addition to presenting under the tent. Mark, a Master of Wine and importer for True Estates, guided us through their Brut, Blanc de Blancs, and Rose. Champagne Palmer is comprised of 7 growers with grand cru and premier cru vineyards. The Brut achieves toasty notes of brioche from 4.5 years on the lees. The Blanc de Blancs has impressive mineralty, flavors of citrus and stone fruit, and round yeasty notes that come from 6 years on the lees. The Rose was the most unique of the bunch. Instead of blending young Pinot Noir into the champagne, they use Pinot Noir from a solera, much like what they use in Sherry! As a result, roughly 2/3 of the wine is old wine, dating back almost 32 years. These beautiful bubblies are line-priced at approximately $60 per bottle.
Other international gems included the 2012 Glenelly Estate Reserve from Stellenbosch, South Africa ($20). A blend driven by Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, its spicy notes combined with its dark black fruit flavors make it ideal for barbeque. Broadbent Selections also presented Chateau Musar Rouge ($50), a sought after red blend from Lebanon, and its entry level version, Hochar Musar ($30).
The Newport Mansions Wine + Food Festival had plenty of tasty bites to complement the neverending bottles of wine. Many restaurants embraced the Rhode Island locale and presented their twists on classic New England seafood. Blackstone Caterers, which has participated in the festival for over 10 years, served a Tuna Crudo with tangerine, miso soy, yuzo, and cilantro. The citrus added a pop of acidity to the fresh fish while the cilantro complemented it with a hint of spice. Scarpetta offered a crudo as well, this time with char rather than tuna. They went for slightly earthier tones with trapanese pesto, micro greens, and black lava salt. Chefs from Primi were hard at work at the end of the tent, creating spoonfuls of salmon tartare.
I fully admit to having sweet-tooth, and I visited Just Like Nana’s table more than once. Karen Griffin is best known for her Rugaleh, which she had in flavors like Raspberry Walnut, Pecan Pie, Cinnamon, and Chocolate. She had other tasty treats like cookies and scones which won over the masses. I loved Artscience’s playful rendition of a funnel cake too. A small windy crispy piece of dough was topped with roasted peaches and maple- the perfect fall treat. The Cambridge based eatery, which calls itself a “culture lab and café,” is always pushing the envelope with experimental techniques and unique takes on everyday foods.
As a final act before departing the festival, I snagged a pair of American Rhino’s comfy chic Wharf Pant. In addition to making clothes that are lightweight, comfortable, and fashionable, 10% of proceeds go toward conservation and anti-poaching efforts in Africa. The pastel colors and fun prints are perfect for closing out the end of summer and heading into fall.
Over the course of the day, I saw a host of familiar faces and spoke to people who attend the Newport Mansions Wine + Food Festival year after year. It’s easy to see why people return; the picturesque location, lovely time of year, and outstanding assortment of food and wine makes it one of the premier food festivals in the area. I am already looking forward to next year and I encourage all of my foodie friends to do the same!