Wine and cheese, enough to please!

South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival packs Grand Boulevard

By Michelle Farnham

It’s fun to watch people go taste-testing at a wine festival. You can actually see them go weak in the knees as they stumble upon their new favorite vintage. After a brief moment to savor the flavor, they scramble to record the details in their wine guides, scribbling a reminder to pick up a case on their way out.

Those attending the South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival had over 800 opportunities for this near-religious experience – and apparently the good word got out.

“We sold out all three days!” said an ecstatic Stacey Brady, the festival’s executive director. “It’s taken us six years to get our name out there, but we’ve done it!”

More to pour

Labels at Saturday and Sunday’s Grand Tastings ranged from the budget-conscious to the elite, including the Signorello Padrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, which retails for $177.99 a bottle.

“Wines that are typically in this quality range are probably double the price,” said Signorello Vineyards rep Michael Moore. “This is grown on 28- to 32-year-old vines. It is block-selected, which means we go out into the vineyards and we source fruit from specific block locations, and we pick the very best fruit for use in Padrone. It’s a 24-month in oak process, with 100 percent new barrels of French Oak.”

SoWal Wine
Hailing from Australia, Mollydooker Wines were among the furthest-traveled at the festival. Guests definitely showed a lot of love for the Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz 2016.

The tasting guide pointed out the four winning bottles from the accompanying international wine competition, held in February. Getting the nod as the top red was the Fonterutoli Cast Font Chianti out of Tuscany, poured by a very busy Corina Gestring.

“This is the Gran Selezione, the 2011. The way it’s being produced, it’s bringing it to a whole new level. This is beyond the riserva they had before,” Gestring explained between visitors. “The Mazzei family started in 1435, so there’s a lot of heritage behind it and it’s following through.”

A spirited start

Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Rob Samuels was a seminar speaker Saturday, but manned his brand’s booth during Friday night’s Craft Beer & Spirits Jam. He offered pours of his 90-proof, the Maker’s 46, and the Maker’s Cask Strength. The third-generation distiller said his family’s history in spirits goes back even further.

“We made whisky in Scotland, and then we made whisky in Pennsylvania for a century, and then we made bad whisky in Kentucky for a century,” Samuels said with a hearty laugh. “Everyone then was making cowboy frontier whisky. My grandparents weren’t inspired by making pedestrian whisky; they wanted to try to bring bourbon and good taste together.”

Charlie and Melinda McWilliams came down from Atlanta to enjoy all three days of the festival. Melinda said it was their first time in attendance, and everything had been wonderful. Charlie admitted the Friday night event was more his speed.

“You know, I’m not a big wine connoisseur, but I do enjoy some bourbon,” he said on Sunday, gesturing toward the grand tasting’s Spirits Row.

Eats and treats

Friday evening saw plates of Thai coconut chicken green curry from Roux 30a, a tomato bisque with three-cheese toast from The Bistro at Courtyard by Marriott, and a very popular chimichurri plate with shrimp and steak from Café Rico in Niceville – to name a few. Highlights of the Grand Tastings Saturday and Sunday included a selection of sushi and the Uptown Shrimp from Harbor Docks, the cheese assortment and dessert shooters from Publix, and a house-made yellowfin tuna dip with a trio of crackers from Barefoot’s Beachside Bar & Grill.

The Craft Bar offered multiple stations inside the Culinary Village, including a Low Country shrimp and grits with Conecuh sausage, shellfish nage and collard greens; as well as an avocado sourdough, topped with marinated baby tomatoes and a little Aleppo pepper for some zip!

Seminars: getting schooled

One of the more impressive names to grace the festival’s tasting seminar stage, Mathieu Pouchan of Salon Delamotte led a discussion on “Four Important Bruts of Great Charm.” Among the champagnes he poured was the Delamotte Blanc de Blancs 2007 – the festival’s bronze medal recipient – that retails for $106.99.

One of the featured tasting seminar presenters, Mathieu Pouchan of Salon Delamotte presented “Four Important Bruts of Great Charm.”

“We say that the brut should be the perfect drink for lunch, for dinner, but also breakfast,” the Frenchman said without jest.

David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyard gave a historical look at the role he and his peers played in putting Willamette Valley and pinot noir on the wine industry map, starting in the early 1970s.

“We wanted to grow grapes no one had ever grown before in an area no one had ever grown grapes before, but we were devoted to making great wine,” Adelsheim said. He reported that today, Willamette Valley’s output is 74 percent pinot noir, including the Elizabeth’s Reserve he offered his guests.

Breaking from tradition, the festival devoted two of its six seminar slots to cheese, bringing in Michael Landis of the Institut du Fromage. Landis wowed the crowd with five pairings, the favorite being the Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar with Sweet & Spicy Mustard Seeds from Taste Elevated, the Molinari Cacciatore Salami, all atop a 2s Company Goji Berry and Coconut Crisp.

“Leave the fruit someplace else,” Landis advised his listeners. “Fruit does not belong on a cheese board. It might look pretty, but having fruit is wild; a nice spread is enough.”

Plans are already underway for next year’s festival, scheduled for April 25 to 29, 2019.

Plans are already underway for next year’s festival, scheduled for April 25 to 29, 2019.