Getting the Most from a Food and Wine Festival

by Chris on April 13, 2011

Heading to a food and wine festival? Here are some tips to get the most out of your experience.

food and wine festival

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It’s a foodie world out there, judging by the popularity of the Food Network and shows such as Top ChefAce of Cakes, and Kitchen Nightmares. And Americans now consume more wine than any other nationality, topping France for the first time in 2010, an industry report announced last month.

Put these trends together along with a recovering economy, and you could be looking at a big year for culinary tourism. The Food Network South Beach Food & Wine Festival attracted 53,000 people in February; star chefs such as Mario Batali and Tom Colicchio will be pressing the flesh again at Aspen’s huge Food & Wine Classic (June 17-19, 2011), now in its 29th year.

But it’s not just the big festivals that entice traveling oenophiles these days. Culinary festivals have increased to the point that a foodie enclave isn’t on the map without one.

“They are popping up everywhere,” says Caroline Hatchett, features editor at, a web magazine that covers the culinary professional world.

Many culinary festivals that started out as small events for local restaurants, such as the six-year-old BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival (March 1-4, 2012), have grown into multi-day shindigs that draw national visitors and attention, Hatchett said.

“It used to be a local event,” she says. “Now people fly into Charleston for a taste of Southern food.”

If you are heading out to for a weekend of indulgence at a culinary festival, here are some things to keep in mind:

Do some research. At large wine festivals, such as the New York Wine Expo, there can be up to 150 wineries in one room. With that many bottles to choose from, it’s inevitable that some are going to be better than others.

Plan your imbibing by picking up the list of participants in advance and mark the ones you want to try. If you’re a novice sipper and don’t know where to start, share the list with a helpful sales person at a wine store. They should be able to tell you which wineries are the “must dos.”

Eat first, then drink. Pastry chef Andrew Shotts, of Providence’s Garrison Confections dreams up decadent dessert scenarios for festivals such as the Park Hyatt Masters of Food & Wine in Mendoza, Argentina. He recommends that festival attendees fill their plates — before downing their glass.

“Do your eating first, especially if alcohol is involved,” he says. Once the wine starts flowing, people lose their sense of restraint, he noted. “They’ll eat everything in sight.”

Expose yourself to new tastes.
Picky? Get over it. A culinary festival is the perfect time to get over your food aversions and try something new. You just might discover that you love goat after all.

(My gastronomic boundaries were recently pushed at the Park Hyatt Masters of Food & Wine Festival in Mendoza when the Familia Zuccardi vineyard gave us samples of unfiltered olive oil. Served when it’s only an hour old, the oil tasted so pure you could drink it straight from the glass — and I did).

Don’t neglect the up-and-comers.
Sure, people will always line up for Guy Fieri or Emeril Lagasse. But the savvy eater knows that you’re better off looking for the next James Beard winner instead of chasing the last one. Look for the lines where people are going back for seconds and thirds, and you just might meet a culinary tastemaker well before he or she appears on Top Chef Masters. 

Don’t taste every wine at the table. Ask the winemaker or distributor for his or her favorite. Chances are, they’ll pick out their best (and often more expensive) varietal. You’ll also gain insight into the specialties of that winery and how they see themselves. Question to keep at hand: “If I could only try one of your wines, which would you recommend?”

Pace yourself.
Your stomach is only so big, and usually nowhere near the size of your eyes. Go slow, savor your choices, and by all means, don’t let a bad dish take up precious room.

“Take a bite,” says Betsy Andrews, deputy editor of Saveur magazine. “If you aren’t crazy about it, move on.”

© 2011 by Wiley Publishing Inc.

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer April 13, 2011 at 10:08 am

“Picky? Get over it.” That’s my favorite bit of advice from this column…my daughters could benefit from that one.


@AlexBerger April 13, 2011 at 10:24 am

Dang, that post definitely left me hungry. I’m with Jennifer as well. Super picky people miss out on a lot of great opportunities, long before they ever even knew they existed.


Steve April 15, 2011 at 9:08 pm

‘Expose yourself to new tastes’. Absolutely, a food festival is a perfect place to try a small taste of all sorts of items you may not want to consider as a full dish in a restaurant. Now I just need to work on ‘Pace yourself’…


Joshywashington May 3, 2011 at 7:56 pm

I am going on a culinary themed trip to Granada at the end of May, this article came at the perfect time! thanks Chris.


Chris May 8, 2011 at 11:04 pm

@Josh – You’ll love Granada! It’s gorgeous and I’m sure the food is awesome. Make sure you visit the Alhambra.


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