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I had the opportunity to taste my way through the Tampa Bay Wine & Food Festival this past weekend. This was my first time at this event and I am happy to report that I was very impressed! It was a relaxing and fun atmosphere of food and wine on St. Petersburg Beach at the Loews Don Cesar Resort and reminded me very much in style of the much larger South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
The tasting tent was set up in the white sand of the beach (leave the Manolos at home) and several of the vendors had their own specialty areas set up, complete with areas to relax in lounge chairs and enjoy a plate of food and a glass of vodka, wine, sake, or even a hand massage from the ladies from Spa Oceana at the Don Cesar.
I tried to taste my way through some of the offerings, but I was a bit disappointed (but not surprised) to see several chain restaurants making an appearance. Although the shrimp was tasty from Bone Fish Grill, and the little steak sliders looked good enough from The Capital Grille, I always prefer to taste my way through more unique offerings from local merchants. Luckily, I came upon at least one at this event. The most memorable experience of the day was the wonderful Cheese Steak Spring Rolls from Wayl of a Time Catering in Tampa. Wow. Imagine a light, spring roll wrapper that is fried to the perfect crispness with a oozy delicious filling of onion, cheese and small bites of steak. This was a truly spectacular find! I took a look at their website and lo and behold, they are generous enough to share their recipe! http://www.waylofatime.com/recipes/recipe006.htm That is one recipe that I will be trying out for my next gathering!
There were quite a few vendors with vodka, sake, sangria, and other cocktails that were a mystery to me. I did not venture away from the wine much (unlike when tasting wine, it seems that people frown upon cocktails being tasted and spit out), but I tasted a really unique vodka that I think is worth mentioning- Sonnema VodkaHerb. This was a crisp, smooth vodka that they claim has the benefits of having those valuable herbs infused. In actuality, I think it is just a nice, refreshing vodka that would blend well in a number of cocktails or drink well on its own. They were mixing Herb-a-Litos (their version of Mojitos) at the event, but I passed on the experience.
I also want to mention a really nice wine that I came across. Palmaz Vineyards must have been the smallest winery represented at the event, and they were pouring their Cabernet Sauvignon. I tasted the 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 (their current vintage) and I was very impressed with these consistently well-made wines. Primarily dark fruits, earth and spice throughout these vintages, with the occasional appearance of some lush red fruit peeking through. The 2002 has started to develop more of the earthiness that I personally like in a Cabernet, and I would anticipate that this will just continue to evolve for the next few years.
Overall, a nice event and a great opportunity to get out on the beach for some good food and wine. Next week I am heading to Northern California to stop in at our winery, visit some friends in Napa and Sonoma and taste some great wines and then spend a couple of days in Pebble Beach at the San Francisco Security Traders Association Conference (part of my other life). Keep an eye out for highlights upon my return!