Toe-dipping and wine sipping

November / December 2007

It may not be Paris, but Sarasota in April is a special place to be. The weather is perfect and there’s so much to see and do in this beautiful cultural city. It’s also the month when Sarasota hosts the annual Florida Winefest & Auction.

More than a celebration of fine food and wine, this year’s 17th annual Winefest raised over $500,000 for 28 local children’s charities.

Dipping one’s toes is pristine white sand while cradling a glass of wine is a treat in itself, but there are over 40 events during ths four-day weekend to enjoy, such as seminars, tastings, winemaker dinners, a gala dinner dance, and a brunch and live auction at the Ritz-Carlton.

Gourmet heaven

Taste of Winefest was held in the Ritz’s Grand Ballroom. Small portions of signature dishes from the area’s best restaurants and guest chefs were available along with tastings from over 60 wineries. Many attendees seemed to know each other, chatting with presenters as if they were first cousins. I found myself in gourmet heaven being plied with succulent morsels of beef, chicken, smoked salmon, seafood and sushi (you name it) and promising myself that was the last luscious dessert I’ll ever eat -till the next offering.

Two unusual winemaker dinners were Bubbles on the Bay, Gourmet “Q” and Wine & Wings. Guests attending the first one were treated to a barbeque cooking seminar given by award-winning chefs, Dr. BBQ, Chef Ray Lamp. A barbeque feast was paired with whites from Anura vineyards in South Africa as well as Oudinot champagnes. Umm, love that Cuvée Rose bubbly.

Ever had dinner in a private Hangarminimum? Bentley Tampa Bay presented Wine & Wings at the newly opened Rectrix Aerodrome Center, turned into a private club for the occasion. Diners viewed multi-million dollar aircraft and luxury cars while being hosted by Rich Frank, owner of Frank Family vineyards and former Disney Studios President. The multi-course menu was inspired by Executive Chef Antonio Abizanda and Sergio Favalli, co-owners of Atlanta’s La Grotta Ristorante.

Another notable dinner was held at The Colony Dining room, centerpiece of the world-renowned Colony Beach & Tennis Resort on Longboat Key. Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, it has one of the finest sunset views, making dining here a sublime experience. The fantastic winemaker dinner that night featured wines from Snoqualmie and Grgich Hills paired with Medallions of Veal with Black Truffle and Porcine Demi, Celeriac Puree and Escarole. A great place to stay, The colony has been recognized as the No.1 tennis resort in the nation, so if attending the Winefest next year, bring your racquet as well as your palate.

Going once, going twice…

A major attraction is the live and silent auctions, which included exotic trips, art by famous Czech artist Andrea Dasha Reich and collectible wines such as a Double Magnum 2003 Chateau Lafitte Rothschild. The fact that David Elswood, Christie’s International Head of Wine Sales and principal auctioneer, had returned to the rostrum for the 12th time as guest auctioneer tells you something about the caliber of this event.

Whether discovering new vineyards such as South Africa’s Anura or dining at popular restaurants such as Zoria, the Florida Winefest & Auction was a fabulous A-Z food and wine experience.

-Annette Gallagher Weisman
If you go:
See and for info on the Winefest and Sarasota.