Hundreds of sips of wine at Winefest’s Grand Tasting

04/11/2013 3:22 PM

04/11/2013 3:27 PM

Swirl. Sniff. Sip. Repeat.

The annual Midwest Winefest is days away, scheduled to start Thursday with the popular (and sold-out) Old Town Walkabout and ending April 20 with a Grand Tasting featuring more than 350 wines.

The wine and food sampling event, now in its 18th year, grows in popularity every year, especially as more people in Wichita develop an appreciation for wine, organizers say.

“Who does not like food and wine?” Rita Faires, the festival director, said. “It’s a wonderful way to sample the wines to get to know them – to try something new or try the wines you fell in love with to begin with.”

This year’s festival starts Thursday with the Old Town Walkabout, an event that’s not particularly easy to attend if you’re not in-the-know. The event, which invites $40 ticket-holders to roam the streets of Old Town, stopping for bites of food and samples of wine at 17 restaurants and bars, sold out all 900 of its tickets in five hours this year. Usually, it takes a full day.

“It’s a really popular event,” Faires said. “It has its true followers who actually call early in the season wanting to know when that date is when the tickets go on sale.”

Thursday’s Walkabout is followed by April 19’s black-tie-optional wine dinners, and this year, the festival offers two.

One is at the Eaton Hotel at 7 p.m. April 19, and it will feature food by Empire Restaurant Management and wine by Peter Paul Wines. The other is at the same time at the Wichita Country Club, featuring wine from Rombauer and Friends. Both dinners feature multiple courses, guidance from the winemaker and are $125 a person. Reservations are available through noon Tuesday by calling 316-682-5502.

But the main event is the Grand Tasting, which is set up in Century II’s Exhibition Hall and is expected to attract between 1,600 and 1,800 people. It’s scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. April 20, and a $60-a-person ticket earns visitors a tasting kit, a commemorative glass and a guide directing them to lists and lists of wines that can be sampled 1 ounce at a time.

The event also includes 18 restaurants and caterers stationed throughout the hall, serving an array of upscale appetizers. This year’s roster includes newbies Bocconcini Italian Kitchen and Il Vicino, as well as P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Red Rock Canyon Grill, Sweet Basil, Cafe Maurice, Newport Grill, Granite City Brewery and more.

The Grand Tasting will again include a Bubble Room, which offers sweet treats paired with sparkling wines, and a Reserve Room, which carries a $185-a-ticket price tag and offers appetizers from the Lakeside Club and access to the high-end, expensive stuff.

Winefest is a fundraiser for the Guadalupe Health Foundation, which supports the Guadalupe Clinic – an organization that provides health services to people who don’t have insurance. During its run, Winefest has raised nearly $2.5 million for the charity.

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