5 Best Wine Experiences in Portsmouth, New Hampshire
It’s winter, and the chill of the season has everyone hunkering down indoors. For many, this equates to two simple pleasures: good food and even better wine. If you’re a fan of both of those things, and if you’re staying at Wentworth by the Sea – a red-roofed, waterfront gem in New Hampshire – this time of year, you’re in for a treat. Literally. Taking place between Jan. 20 and Feb. 12, the annual Winter Wine Festival is the perfect event for cold-weather sipping.
For almost two decades, the festival has brought together some of the world’s best labels – paired with supremely delicious dishes dreamed up by Wentworth’s culinary team. And while yes, Wentworth by the Sea won’t officially join the Opal Collection until March of 2023, we’d be remiss not to draw your attention to this best-of food-and-drink gathering that’s well worth planning a trip around. Find out more about the festival – plus some other wine-centric experiences to consider while you’re in town.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE 2023 WINTER WINE FESTIVAL
“Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures,” wrote the British wine critic Michael Broadbent. When it comes to the thoughtful pairing of two of those pleasures — wine and food — the edibles traditionally come first, and the wine is chosen to go with the meal. But at the Grand Vintner’s Dinners, part of the annual Winter Wine Festival at Wentworth by the Sea near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, it’s the other way around.
“We taste the wines first, and I plan a menu based on my palate,” explains Lee Michael, executive chef at the oceanside hotel and spa on the island of New Castle. “It really challenges me to get creative and showcase the flavors just right. It’s elevated my wine knowledge and my passion and love for pairings.”
For example, for a dinner focused on the wines of Italy, Chef Lee created a pasta bolognese to complement a Tuscan red wine with hints of oregano, rosemary, and blackberry, and a dessert of chocolates, mascarpone cream, and cherry balsamic compote to match a ruby red Sicilian wine redolent of flowers and orange zest. The “wine-first” menu is a unique approach that “makes for the ultimate pairing,” says Dean Pratt, Director of Food and Beverage at Wentworth by the Sea.
The series of elegant four-course dinners, each highlighting a specific winemaker, is just one aspect of the Wine Fest. Now in its 19th year, the event also includes Bubbles & Jazz Brunches each Sunday, featuring premium sparkling wines; weekday Flight Nights, a chance to taste and compare three different wines with guidance from the hotel’s skilled staff; and two celebratory evening tastings where guests can choose from a vast array of wines from around the world while sampling delicious nibbles like caviar, oysters, and tuna tartare.
“It’s an opportunity for people to try different wines they might not normally pick and broaden their horizons,” Pratt says. His favorites from around the globe make it onto the hotel’s extensive wine list at Salt Kitchen & Bar, Wentworth’s on-site restaurant.
BEST WINE-CENTRIC EXPERIENCES IN PORTSMOUTH
Whether you’re new to the area or one of the many visitors who come back year after year for the Wine Fest, you can round out your wine-lovers’ vacation at these Portsmouth wineries and special events.
Rooftop Wine Series
Located in downtown Portsmouth, with stunning panoramic views of the Piscataqua River, the Rooftop at the Envio hosts classes designed around specific wines. The 2023 series focuses on Mediterranean wines from the South of France, Spain, and North and South Italy. Taught by instructors from the Commonwealth Wine School, New England’s premier school for wine education, the interactive events include samples of six wines, charcuterie, and small bites. The series also features a special Valentine’s Dinner, with five expertly paired courses.
Events at Stroll Café and Wine Bar
“Coffee keeps me goin’ until it’s time for wine” is the motto of this warmhearted Portsmouth sipping spot. Stroll offers wine trivia nights, wine classes, and tastings designed to start off your new year with new flavor experiences. There’s lots more on the calendar as well: Take a wine tour of Italy, learn the top white and red wines and what distinguishes each, or experience pairings of wine with chocolates from around the world.
Champagne Tastings with From the Vine to Wine
Wine blogger and consultant Anne Richter Arnold and educator/entrepreneur Mona Elyafi, founders of From the Vine to Wine, offer tastings, classes, wine consulting, and private events throughout the area — including their signature Champagne Experiences. Both certified Champagne Masters, with Highest Honors from the Wine Scholar Guild, Ann and Mona offer engaging education (the different styles of champagne, how’s it made, its history, and more) alongside their luxurious tastings, complete with appetizer pairings and a selection of half a dozen champagnes from the top maisons of Champagne, France.
Cooking Classes and More at LaBelle Winery
With locations in Derry and Amherst, North Hampshire, this family-owned artisan winery offers events ranging from Wine and Pilates classes (yes, you read that right) to a Cooking with Wine series that will give you the chops to whip up authentic Italian feasts or steakhouse-style comfort food and pair them with the perfect glassful. LaBelle is also known for its concert series (heavy on tribute bands), Valentine’s Day disco, and art gallery. On January 28, 2023, the winery marks its 10th anniversary with a masquerade benefit gala featuring a four-course dinner, sparkling wine toast, fireworks, and entertainment from Cirque De Light.