Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic: A Foodie's Paradise

This year I was once again lucky enough to be asked to attend the Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic, held September 11-13 in Washington Park. This year’s event proved itself to be a significant increase over last year, with an additional day of tasting and events on Sunday as well as more things to seek out throughout the weekend. I was immensely satisfied with this year’s event. Last year felt like a wonderful local event with a lot of potential. This year they went a long way toward meeting that potential. The Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic felt much bigger and more vibrant this year, and I was thrilled to see our city producing something that seems destined to grow into a nationally recognized event.

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One of the offerings from Orchid’s and Chef Todd Kelly on display this weekend.

There was a greater variety of programing and ticket levels this year, so the event was able to appeal to a wider audience. The addition of a smaller, daytime tasting on Saturday and Sunday was a welcome expansion of the festivities. This gave smaller restaurants and food providers like 16 Bricks Bakery and Off the Vine Juice bar a chance to show off their products outside the grand tastings in the evenings, where they would have been somewhat out-of-place. The food at the grand tastings was as opulent as last year, but with more to choose from. My only complaint about the weekend was that there was so much to enjoy, it felt like I spent a lot of time just waiting to get hungry again so that I could make sure nothing was missed.

Table Steaks with Jason Rose from Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment.
Table Steaks with Jason Rose from Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment.

The food was fantastic but of course, I was there for the drinks. I was pleased to see that one of my favorite panels, the Somm Slam, a blind wine tasting competition, returned to the schedule. But I was, even more, happy that the drinks sessions were greatly expanded overall. A Master Mixologist competition was held on Sunday on the main stage and several cocktail sessions and a beer tasting added to the wine and bourbon mix. Best of all, they brought David Wondrich, Esquire Magazine drinks correspondent, on board as a guest. Wondrich’s 2007 book Imbibe became an instant textbook for bartenders and cocktail geeks and helped to spread the classic cocktail revival across the country. At the Food and Wine Classic he gave a seminar on the German-American Art of the Cocktail, perfect for honoring Cincinnati’s German heritage. Look for my interview with Mr. Wondrich on Queen City Drinks early next week, but trust me when I say that he was charming and as good a speaker, and he is a writer. His description of German-American bartender William Schmidt was vivid and humorous, showing just how similar today’s cocktail geeks are to their predecessors.

Cocktails from the Punch Drunk Love seminar with Spencer Warren
Cocktails from the Punch Drunk Love seminar with Spencer Warren of Butcher and the Rye.

I am the kind of person who spends most of their entertainment budget on eating and drinking out. I would rather spend three hours enjoying a meal than watching a movie, and I will potentially discuss the quality of the cocktails I had before the concert longer than the concert itself. Taste is the sense that I enjoy indulging the most, and I am deeply intrigued by the way that chefs and bartenders manipulate their ingredients to produce different flavors. If you are also that kind of person, I can’t recommend the Cincinnati Food + Wine Classic enough. 

Wolf's Ridge Brewery and Restaurant
Wolf’s Ridge Brewery and Restaurant

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