Posted on Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NC Wine and Food Weekend: An Epicurean Adventure

Time for the NC Wine and Food Festival and a perfect weekend on Bald Head Island.

It’s my favorite time of year – fall – and my favorite month – October – and that means my birthday, cooler temperatures and great weather for adventures out of doors. For the last three years it’s also meant the North Carolina Wine and Food Weekend on Bald Head Island.

On Saturday, October 15, I headed out to the open-air market at the 2011 Wine and Food Festival, tried a little wine, a little food and prepared myself for the Childress Wine Dinner that evening.

The open-air market was busy when I arrived. A dozen vendors had set up booths, and crowds of people were milling around. I made my way to the table to pay for my tasting glass and made a beeline for the nearest winery’s booth.

Actually, that’s not true.

I did get my wine glass, but I made a beeline for Cross Valley Farms’ booth. They grow sweet potatoes and they know how to use them. They had sweet potato pie, sweet potato snickerdoodles, sweet potato muffins, sweet potato chocolate éclairs and more delicious things made from sweet potatoes than I’d ever seen.

Stuffed full of sweet potatoes, I made my rounds. Artists with stained glass and homemade jewelry, exotic-wood cutting boards and whimsical pottery were mixed in with the wineries, but one piece of pottery, a bowl with an octopus on it, caught my eye.

The bowl was made by Fred Johnston, a potter from Seagrove, the North Carolina town famed for its pottery. His wife Carol Gentithes was at the festival with a table full of their beautiful pottery. My wife, Lauren, and I struck up a conversation and learned that Fred recently became interested in the illustrations on the sides of ancient Greek pots, which inspired the octopus (and the crab, which you can see part of in the picture). We made sure they were coming to the Childress Wine Dinner that evening and went on our way.

Walking by Bullard Farm’s table, I noticed a bottle of BalJust look at the options Head Island Blueberry Wine. I was intrigued.

The woman at the booth poured a glass and I took a sip. Far less sweet than I thought (in wine you call that “dry”), it was actually quite good. I finished my sample and wished secretly that she’d pour me another. Everyone at the market, from the wineries – Noni BaccaChildress, Silver Coast Winery, Bullard Farm, and Hinnant Family Vineyards – to the food folks to the artists had full tables and lines of people waiting to look, taste and try.

Lauren and I retired to Mojo’s (if you’re confused, it’s the new restaurant that took the place of Eb and Flo’s, but since you read the blog, you know that) for a late lunch (it was great, the chicken wings are out of this world) before going to rest and get dressed for the Wine Dinner at the Shoals Club.

Chef John Turner designed his five-course menu to include as many North Carolina ingredients as possible, so combined with the wine from Childress Vineyards, the dinner showcased North Carolina in the plate and the glass.

The first course – fried goat cheese, lemon micro greens and a shrimp succotash drizzled with an arugula coulis – set the pace for the evening with a simple but pretty plating, and great flavors. The arugula coulis held some of the spicy/peppery arugula flavor without allowing it to overwhelm the other flavors. It went well with the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc.

The second and third courses emphasized local seafood with a Carolina Gumbo and 2009 Chardonnay (which was good, and I’m not a Chardonnay kind of guy), and Crispy Fried Elizabeth City Oysters served with a 2008 Riesling. I think the oysters and Riesling were my favorite course. Maybe because I enjoy a Riesling (this one was dry and easy to drink); maybe because I love fried oysters (they remind me of my mom who fries up a batch for every holiday); maybe because it was delicious.

I will say that the fourth course, pork tenderloin and trout served tapas style, was a contender for favorite dish of the night. The fish – pecan anIf all I had for dessert every day were sweet potatoes, Id be a happy man. Parmesan crusted North Carolina trout – was well prepared and the basil butter sauce rounded it out; the pork was accompanied by some great cider-braised greens and a bourbon barbecue sauce.

Which brings me to the final course: North Carolina Sweet Potato Brioche Bread Pudding. You may recall from my beeline to Cross Valley Farms’ spread that I love sweet potatoes. This dessert was one of the best I’ve had. And with a glass of the 2009 Late Harvest Viognier it was perfection. The serving was just enough and the caramelized sweet potato on top really brought out the flavor of the key ingredient.

The wine dinner was a hit. Chef Turner and his Sous Chef came out for a round of well-deserved applause, as did Shoals Club General Manager Jens Fisker and his staff. Childress’ Winemaker, Mark Firszolowski, took the time to speak to everyone and even gave out a few bottles of wine.

So next summer, check back to see when the Fourth-Annual North Carolina Wine and Food Weekend will be held and make your reservations, you won’t regret it. In the meantime, check with your local wine seller and grab a bottle or two of North Carolina wine.