Uncasville, CT-based casino Mohegan Sun held its 20th Sun Wine & Food Fest from Jan. 26 to Jan. 28, 2024. The annual food and wine festival included more than 15 events combining culinary artistry, unique and premium wine and spirit selections and celebrity chef demonstrations.
We hadn’t been to the show in a few years, so it was good to be back. Here’s a quick look at some of the festivities we attended.
The Grand Tasting offered the opportunity to sample more than 1,000 varieties of wine, beer and spirits. Plenty of big names were there, from Baileys and Bulleit to Don Julio and Patron to Smirnoff and Tito’s (whose booths were positioned right next to each other) and others.
We were also able to discover several smaller and regional brands, including Ammunition bourbon and rye; Via Carota craft cocktails; Spritzatto aperitivo; Root Out root beer-flavored whisky; Finvara Irish whiskey; and the Profanity Life family of “Good F*cking” wines and spirits. The tasting also included celebrity chef demonstrations taking place throughout the day and samples from popular restaurants and elite chefs of the region.
Pappy Van Winkle Tasting
Katy O’Donnell, the Buffalo Trace Distillery National Brand Ambassador for Sazerac Co., led a guided tasting of the exclusive Pappy Van Winkle whiskey collection. The lineup included Old Van Winkle 10 year; Van Winkle Special Reserve 12 year; Pappy Van Winkle 15 year; Pappy Van Winkle 20 year; and Pappy Van Winkle 23 year.
Donnell peppered the talk with tidbits about the Pappy Van Winkle (who had been a whisky salesman for William Larue Weller) and the company’s history, production and aging process. The event, held at the casino’s Clay Pipe Cigar Bar, also included proprietary cigars infused with Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year bourbon.
Dos Hombres Mezcal Founders Event
The Breaking Bad actors Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul cofounded Dos Hombres mezcal in 2019. Why? When Breaking Bad ended in 2013, the two were looking for something to do together, Paul told the crowd gathered at Mohegan Sun’s Nouvelle cocktail lounge. He pitched the idea of started a mezcal brand to Cranston over dinner in New York a few years after the series ended.
Cranston thought he was joking about mezcal: “That shitty spirit with the worm in it?!” Paul recalled him saying. Cranston admitted that he thought it was the worst idea, but that changed as the two started tasting a variety of different mezcals and later visiting Mexico to find the right producer.
The mezcal formula that became Dos Hombres is pure, Paul noted: “smoked agave and mountain spring water.” The pair aim to give back to the remote village in Mexico where the mezcal is produced. They’ve already built a much-needed water filtration plant there, and are working on a new medical supply facility.
“It’s the way to do it; the right way to run a business,” Paul said. Added Cranston: “We never forget how lucky we are to be able to tell stories for a living.”
Celebrity Chef Dine Around
More than 20 celebrity chefs showcased their signature dishes and creative expertise paired with a wine, beer or spirit. For example, Rocco DiSpirito paired loaded Mac & cheese, chunky brisket, bacon, Italian sausage, cherry peppers and jalepenos with J Vineyards Tri pinot noir. Chef Plum paired an apricot and chili-glazed pork belly burnt ends and sunshine slaw chicharron with Two Roads Lil’ Heaven and Two Roads Jackpot Juice Hazy IPA. Michelle Ragussis paired her arancini Bolognese with Candoni pinot grigio.
Betty Fraser and Natalie Romero paired their umami bomb (ramen marinated miso deviled egg, brown butter lobster and caviar and sesame panko pangrattato) with Veuve Du Vernay sparkling brut rosé. Todd English matched smoked pulled short rib, Asian slaw and sticky soy glaze with Patron silver tequila, while JJ Johnson paired Liberian jollof rice, chicken, beef and shrimp with a whiskey taramind punch. Mohegan Sun’s executive pastry chef/director of culinary Lynn Mansel put on a 20th anniversary dessert extravaganza that was offered paired with Prima Perla prosecco and Mount Gay Navy Paloma.
Brunch with Martha and Friends
The queen of hosting Martha Stewart held court at a Sunday brunch event hosted by actor/comedian Kalen Allen and also featuring Queer Eye food and wine expert Antoni Porowski. Stewart made a pitcher of one of her favorite brunch drinks, Mary’s Knees.
An orangey vodka Margarita, the cocktail includes vodka, fresh lime juice, fresh orange juice and Grand Marnier (the version they were serving at the brunch bar included pineapple juice as well, for some reason). The suggested pairing with the Mary’s Knees was Martha’s Special Popovers and Mom’s Creamed Spinach and Scrambled Eggs.
What’s Stewart’s favorite vodka? Zubrowka, the Polish bison grass vodka. “I’m Polish,” she noted, adding that she keeps her vodka in the freezer.
Stewart also shared that she was about to go on tour with Snoop Dogg promoting Bic lighter’s EZ reach lighter, and that she was now working on her 100th book, which features her 100 favorite recipes. Her next book after that, she said, “will be my autobiography.”