This weekend Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville Connecticut hosted Sun Winefest. Several events were offered throughout the course of the weekend, but the centerpiece was the Grand Tasting. This took place both Saturday the 19th and Sunday the 20th from Noon to 5:00 PM. Separate tickets were available for each day. Additionally a weekend pass was available at a reduced rate that would gain you entry for both days. I attended both days of Winefest and it was a very well organized event. Approximately 1,000 wines were available to be sampled from all over the world. Several hundred spirits and beers were also available for tasting. A handful of exhibitors were there showcasing related products and lifestyle accessories. Numerous area restaurants were on hand to cook signature dishes and provide samples for a small fee that went towards the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Wines were setup at booths throughout the Mohegan Sun convention center. Many of them were poured by the local distributors who bring these wines to market in Connecticut and neighboring states. However in some cases people from the wineries themselves were on hand to pour their wines and answer questions. In several instances the winemakers were available to pour and chat. For folks who may not have had the opportunity to travel to one of the great wine producing regions of the world this was a terrific opportunity to approximate the tasting room experience at a winery.
The wines available to taste ran the gamut from bargains that you could think about drinking everyday, to higher end wines aimed at special occasions, or for tucking away in your cellar to age. If you wanted to focus on just white, just red or even one varietal there where enough choices and variety that you could easily fill up the 5 hour event creating any sort of tasting you desired. The foods presented were also a broad range of offerings. At one table I had a delicious Pasta Bolognese while at another across the room I had Corn Dogs made with Kobe Beef Hot dogs. Water was placed strategically throughout the venue so everyone could access it easily. Live cooking demonstrations also went on at a stage towards the entrance to the convention center. There were chairs available so anyone who wanted to take a break from tasting could sit and watch some well regarded chefs cook.
I've attended a lot of large scale wine tastings such as the Sun Winefest. Often with crowds as large as the ones gathered at Mohegan Sun this weekend it's very difficult to get around. Whoever setup the floor-plan knew what they were doing. The layout and flow of the room was better than many tastings of similar scope and size that I have been to. A similar type of tasting at Foxwoods last fall for example was an absolute nightmare to navigate. Perhaps this is a testament to the fact that Mohegan Sun has been hosting their tasting for five years while it's only been two for Foxwoods.
Entry for one day of Sun Winefest was $65.00. This is an absolute bargain for wine lovers. There are many events throughout the year that cost more, don't run nearly as long and have nowhere near the selection of wine, spirits, beer and food. For $95.00 you could buy a weekend pass that would get you into the Grand Tasting both Saturday and Sunday. To put the scope of the event in perspective, if you went both days, you would have to taste 100 wines per hour to get to every wine. Not that I'm recommending anything of the sort. It's better to take the five hours and soak in the atmosphere. Take time to talk to people and learn about them and the wine they're pouring for you. More than likely, you'll walk away with a few new wines to seek out for your collection.
If you missed Sun Winefest in 2008 I strongly urge looking into it for 2009. It's one of the better tastings around and an excellent value to boot.