The South Beach Wine and Food Festival: Beyond the Grand Tasting
I have always wanted to go to the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Having experienced the festival virtually via some of my favorite Food Network shows, attending the event was on my quite-real travel bucket list. I imagined the Grand Tasting Village–and the Grand Tasting Tent in particular–to be the ultimate Sobefest event. After all, isn’t that what a wine and food festival is? A giant space filled with wine and food?
In the case of the South Beach Wine and Food Festival–no. Not it is not. It is so much more.
Aside from the Grand Tasting events at Sobefest, you can do everything from participating in a yoga class to spending the afternoon eating BBQ on board a cruise ship. Which is why I want to tell the world–for the love of all that is good and pure in the world, please do check out the South Beach Wine and Food Festival beyond the Grand Tasting Village. I had some great experiences in the more-intimate seminars I attended. Behold…
My Day Outside the Tent at the South Beach Wine and Food Fest
I arrived in South Beach rather early on Saturday morning–around 9am–for a 10am wine seminar. My day began victoriously, as I not only found an on-street parking spot right off of Collins Ave on Lincoln Road (a mere block from my destination of Lowes South Beach and the Saint James Hotel), but I also managed to maneuver my rental Dodge Challenger into said spot (I expected a medal or, at the very least, applause. Sadly, this is not a service provided by the local authorities. But it really should be.)
After a brief stop at Lowes South Beach to pick up my tickets and oogle the beautiful property (new goal: stay at Lowes South Beach. For a week. As soon as possible) I made my way over to the boutique property, The Saint James Royal Palm, conveniently located next door to Lowes and boasting an absolutely lovely (and blessedly air conditioned) lobby area as well as a straight-out-of-a-magazine patio area. I traded in my ticket for a wrist band for Wine Spectator Wine Seminar A, and wandered outside to pass the time until the seminar began.
When I read the seminar description, I became a bit concerned about the sheer amount of wine we would be tasting. Wine Spectator Seminar A–part one of a three-part, day-long event–featured the wines from three different vineyards. The morning began, as all mornings should, with champagne from G.H. Mumm. After a brief break, we moved on to Rhone Valley Syrah from Jean Luc Columbo, and finished the day in Tuscany sampling Chianti from Rocca della Maci.
It was informative (post coming soon on ‘what I learned at Sobefest’), it was entertaining, it was delicious. It was also entirely civilized (yet approachable). It was, without a doubt, one of the best ways to spend a Saturday morning.
It was also a lot of wine. Which is why it was fortunate that the seminar ended with a small offering of little bites of food as we exited the banquet room. I took my little plate of little food out onto the Saint James’ patio to enjoy before heading several blocks south to the Grand Tasting Tent.
By the time I arrived at the Grand Tasting Village, the village itself had been open for almost three hours and the Grand Tasting Tent had been open for almost one. It was crowded, it was hot, and it was crowded some more. I managed to grab a few small bites–one of which was extremely impressive–and a drink or two (non-alcoholic, as I was trying to hydrate) before rushing off to my next event–a wine and charcuterie pairing seminar located at the Ritz Carlton.
I have to say, I’m glad I made the trek down to the tasting village for even a short period of time. It provided the perfect contrast to the experience I’d had at the Saint James. I felt much more well-rounded. And I was happy to leave the (hot, crowded) tasting tent after only an hour and escape to the cool comfort of The Ritz (I will likely never get to say or write that again, so let me do it one more time: I was happy to escape to the cool comfort of The Ritz. Ah yes, in another life, that would be my normal.)
My second wine event of the day was just downright fun. Perfectly designed for the time of day–late afternoon, after everyone had, presumably, already imbibed in something (if not many somethings), The Lifestyle Seminar Uncorked and Cured was run with full audience participation. We were given three pairs of the same wine–one from California and one from Italy–and a plate of four different types of cured meats. We tasted each meat with each pair of wines, took notes, and then voted to see which wines paired best with which meats. It was a sort of California vs. Italy competition (I consistently preferred the Italian wines, which surprised me). It was a fun, social event, which is appropriate–wine and food are meant to be shared, joyfully.
Would I return to the South Beach Wine and Food Festival? Yes. In fact, try to keep me away next year. If you simply think outside the grand tasting tent, you can craft your own luxury culinary vacation out of the scores of offerings on tap at Sobefest. And in my humble opinion, if you like sunshine, good food, and wine, you really, really should.
And if you don’t like those things–dear gods, what is wrong with you?
Sadly, this ends the story of my first day at the Sobefest. But worry not–I returned the next day and spent the entire day in the Grand Tasting Tent. Thus–Up next: My Day Inside the Tent at the South Beach Wine and Food Fest. And then, after that, because apparently I can not shut up about how much I loved Sobefest: What I Learned at the South Beach Wine and Food Fest.
Disclosure: I attended the two seminars and two days of the Grand Tasting Village as a member of the media. However, all thoughts, opinions, and long-ramblings are my own.