On Saturday, August 24, I attended the 2013 Asheville Wine & Food Festival VIP Grand Tasting as a member of the media/press. I was very impressed with the vendor choices as well as the organization and layout of the festival itself, which began upstairs with vendors and continued downstairs with more vendors and the VIP tent. It took me over two and a half hours to visit the vendors upstairs, then another two and a half hours to visit some of the downstairs vendors, including much needed break in the VIP tent. There was so such to taste that I never made it to the special media and press room. I know I missed some great vendors, so I apologize in advance. There was just not enough time to taste everything. However, based on the territory covered, below are some of the festival highlights from my perspective.
Where To Stay in Asheville
Two words: Hotel Indigo. Besides having the best location a couple of blocks away from the U.S. Cellular Center and just across the street from the Grove Arcade, Hotel Indigo is Asheville’s downtown boutique hotel gem. The concierge, dining, front desk, housekeeping, and valet teams are top notch. With regard to the guest rooms, many offer great views of the city and surrounding mountains. They feel airy, open, and welcoming. The floors are not carpeted, so for allergy sufferers like me, they are a literal breath of fresh air. The bathrooms offer gorgeous fixtures as well as Aveda amenities. If you want to feel what heaven on earth is like, then choose Hotel Indigo.
Don’t tell anyone, but I really should be called travelwinebeerchick because I love craft beers, especially IPAs and other hoppy offerings. Every month when I come to my hometown of Asheville, I am always astounded by the growing number of first-rate craft breweries in Asheville and the rest of North Carolina. Today was no exception. I tasted delicious ales (brown, American pale, and IPA), lagers, Oktoberfest, pilsners, and porters from Hi-Wire Brewing (Asheville, NC), Foothills Brewing (Winston-Salem, NC), Oskar Blues Brewery (Brevard, NC), Burial Beer Co. (Asheville, NC), and Pisgah Brewing Company (Black Mountain, NC). Hi-Wire, Oskar Blues, and Burial were all new to me, while Foothills Hoppyum IPA and Pisgah’s Pale Ale are a couple of my go-to brews. I wish I could have tasted more, but I simply ran out of time.
The food offerings at this festival this year were nothing short of stellar and seemingly endless. I began with an amazing olive oil and balsamic tasting from The Tree & Vine and made my first festival purchase, a bottle of single-estate, Sicilian olive oil (and I don’t even cook.) Next I visited Chestnut, where I tasted some samples, including a lobster bisque soup made from Troy & Sons moonshine and my weakness, homemade potato chips. I visited The Chocolate Lab for a bite of decadent chocolate, then I made my way to the Century Room/Pack’s Tavern/Spruce St. Catering table, where I nibbled on my first bison meatloaf. Next up was Farm Burger Asheville‘s sample of braised hickory nut beef resting on a blend of Anson Mills farro, local sweet corn, Jake’s Farm tomatoes, beans, Looking Glass goat cheese, and Jolly Farms greens. Sunny Point Café offered a taste of delectable shrimp and grits. MG Road Chai Pani Bar & Lounge quenched my thirst with a taste of their Sage Advice, non-alcoholic version, typically a blend of lemongrass-infused Tito’s vodka, sage, soda, and lime. Then came Lusty Monk‘s mustard offerings (gotta spread the lust, you know) followed by a pairing of The Blackbird Restaurant‘s famous coconut cake with mint julep made from Troy & Sons’ Blonde. After that, I had another taste of olive oil and balsamic from Oil & Vinegar, artisan crackers from Roots & Branches, a bite of dessert again from French Broad Chocolates, and a taste of bread from DOUGH. At this point, I was still on the top floor wondering if it would ever end, but it continued with samples from Edison and Horizons at the Omni Grove Park Inn and CocoBacon from Coconut Organics. Finally I made it downstairs, with my first stop being at Cúrate for authentic jamón ibérico, carved from the leg of a pig for all to see. After this delicacy I needed a break, so I headed to the VIP tent to enjoy some appetizers and Biltmore Estate® Méthode Champenoise Brut. For the last hour or so, I enjoyed ham, bacon, and pork belly samples from Way Co Hams (made in Wayne County, NC since 1946), cheeses and spreads from English Farmstead Cheese in Marion, NC, whose family made their first dairy shipment in 1927, and greens and sausage from OneFiftyOne Boutique Bar & Kitchen at Hotel Indigo.
Another confession: I don’t drink spirits often, but after Saturday’s festival, I am confident I should imbibe a bit more. I was astounded at the palatability and smoothness of the spirits I tried, including 100-proof moonshine and strawberry moonshine (100-proof moonshine blended with real strawberry) from Howling Moon Distillery, Blue Ridge Distilling‘s Defiant American Single-Malt Whisky, Troy & Sons‘ Oak Reserve, Covington Gourmet Vodka made from sweet potatoes (it requires 20 sweet potatoes to make a fifth), and TOPO (Top of the Hill Distillery) gin. I haven’t been a gin girl since a bad experience in college, but I’m now open to more gin exploration.
When tasting so much beer, food, wine, and spirits, there’s nothing better than access to great water for hydration. Thank goodness for Jana Water, strategically placed at the bottom of the ramp to the lower level of the festival. Jana Water is natural artesian water from the village of St. Jana in Croatia, and it hit the spot.
I tried to focus most of my tasting on North Carolina wines, but found myself tasting around the world. I started my wine journey with a couple of French offerings from Weinhaus, Asheville’s oldest wine shop (since 1977). Next, I visited Flint Hill Vineyards (East Bend, NC) and Native Vines Winery (Lexington, NC), the first American Indian owned and operated winery in the United States. I particularly enjoyed Flint Hills Vineyards’ Chambourcin, a French-American hybrid black grape that produces a red wine resembling a lighter Zinfandel, with lots of berry and spice flavors. Because I am traveling soon to Mendoza, Argentina, I had to stop and taste the offerings from Bodega Gratia (Mendoza, Argentina), whose Sauvignon Blanc and two Malbecs I loved. I also tasted wines from Rodney Strong Vineyards in Sonoma County, California, and more North Carolina wines from Addison Farms Vineyard (Leicester, NC), Linville Farms Winery (Newland, NC), Shelton Vineyards (Dobson, NC), and Childress Vineyards (Lexington, NC). Two of Asheville’s wine bars, 5 Walnut Wine Bar and Santé Wine Bar and Tap Room, were there offering some of their current selections. At Santé, I tasted my first wine from a keg, a 2011 Baileyana Pinot Noir, and it was delicious. I suspect more and more wine in kegs will enter the market, as it’s a very efficient way to offer wine by the glass without spoilage.
For more photos of the Asheville Wine & Food Festival, please visit my Flickr photostream.