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A detail shots of glasses at the Winter Wine Fest.
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6 Reasons To Visit Wentworth by the Sea’s Winter Wine Festival

Rubbing elbows with Napa’s top wine luminaries, hundreds of bottles of premier wine at your fingertips, and some of the most innovative dish pairings the Seacoast has ever seen. These are just a few of the reasons to check out the Winter Wine Festival, celebrating its twentieth anniversary in January and February 2024.


Think once Christmas has come and gone that the New Hampshire Seacoast officially switches into hibernation mode? Think again. Because January through February is far from a snooze. That’s thanks to Wentworth by the Sea’s Winter Wine Festival, bringing premium wines and their reps from around the globe to this scenic seaside hamlet for a month of some of the best food and drink you’ll encounter all year long.

“The wine festival was started 20 years ago to bring some liveliness to a typically quiet time of year,” says Dean Pratt, Wentworth’s food and beverage director. “Needless to say, it worked. Now, people plan their visits around it.” Here are a few reasons why you should, too.

#1. IT’S A MONTH-LONG CELEBRATION CONSISTING OF 4 DIFFERENT EVENTS SERIES

The view of an illuminated Wentworth during winter.

Unlike other wine festivals, this is not a mere weekend hinging around one main tasting event. Kicking off on January 19 and running until February 11 in 2024, this is a month-long celebration consisting of four main event series that cater to a wide audience. “You could be a well-studied sommelier or not know the first thing about wine, and still find something that suits your penchant and personality,” says Pratt.

The pricing also runs the gamut, from $14 Flight Nights to $249.95 four-course Vintner Dinners, ensuring there’s an event for any and all budgets.

The Festival’s 4 Main Events At a Glance
A sampling of various wines in glasses.

A wine-tasting playground for the vino curious

The Big Tastings

WHERE: Grand Ballroom & Wentworth Ballroom
PRICE: $69.95 per person

Purchase Tickets 1/19
Purchase Tickets 2/9
The blue-hued lounge at Salt Kitchen & Bar.

No two themes are ever the same

Flight Nights

WHEN: Every Monday–Thursday
WHERE: Lounge at Salt Kitchen & Bar
PRICE: $14–18 per person

A flute of champagne.

High-scoring, premium sparkling wine

Bubbles & Jazz Brunches

WHEN: January 21 & 28, February 4 & 11
WHERE: Grand Ballroom
PRICE: $69.95 per person

Call to Reserve
A plate of oysters.

A four-course meal you’ll never forget

Grand Vintner’s Dinners

WHERE: Wentworth Ballroom
PRICE: $149.95–$249.95 per person

Purchase Tickets 1/20
Purchase Tickets 1/27
Purchase Tickets 2/3
Purchase Tickets 2/10

#2. YOU’RE GOING TO FIND YOUR NEW FAVORITE WINE – GUARANTEED

“We have relationships with some of the world’s leading wine brands,” says Pratt. (In fact, it’s the reason Salt Kitchen & Bar’s wine list has earned multiple “Awards of Excellence” from Wine Spectator’s Restaurant Wine List Awards.) That means you can expect not just the best – but a wide variety – of brands to be here.

In particular, The Big Tastings – kicking off the month-long soiree on Friday, January 19 and closing it out on the final weekend on Friday, February 9 – serve as a wine-tasting playground for the vino curious. Located in the ballroom, eight to 12 tables are each manned by a different wine vendor, pouring one-ounce samples of up to 15 different wines. That’s close to 180 different wines at your fingertips. “We’ve had attendees who had never tried a dolcetto before, had a sample here, and then became a fan for life,” says Pratt.

The same goes for the Flight Nights, held every evening Monday through Thursday in the lounge of Salt Kitchen & Bar. Each night focuses on a different theme and no two themes are ever the same: One night might be French wines, the next might be pinot noirs, and the following might be dessert wines. “For that reason, we see guests coming back multiple times over the course of the month,” says Pratt. Find something you really love? Make a meal out of it. “We offer all the flight wines by the glass, so guests can stay for dinner in Salt, where Eric [Saulnier, the restaurant manager] can suggest dish pairings based on the wine sample.”

#3. IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT TREATING YOUR TASTEBUDS (BUT YOUR EARS, TOO)

Both the Bubbles & Jazz Brunches and The Big Tastings are accompanied by some really great live jazz. In fact, The Big Tastings feature dynamic jazz duo Chris Klaxton and Jimmy Clark. “New England native Chris Klaxton is the real deal,” says Pratt. “He studied under famous jazz icon and trumpeter Dr. Clark Terry. People stop in their tracks when they first hear him play.”

#4. YOU’LL RUB ELBOWS WITH NAPA’S TOP WINE LUMINARIES

The headlining act of the whole festival is the four Grand Vintner’s Dinners that take place every Saturday, each highlighting a different notable winery (usually from Napa or Sonoma). But the wineries don’t just send their wines in and call it a done deal. They also send a luminary as well – a key representative from the winery who, during each of the four courses, gives an overview of each wine, while fielding questions from the crowd.

“It’s not just tasting notes and flavor profiles,” says Pratt. “Many tell humorous stories about how they got into the business of winemaking, so it’s a very entertaining and intimate look at their world.”

#5. CHEF LEE GETS TO FLEX HIS CULINARY MUSCLE

As for the accompanying dishes during the Grand Vintner’s Dinners, they are as much a star of the show as the wines themselves. That’s because Chef Lee Michael builds each dish specific to the wine – not the other way around. “It’s not like he hears he’s getting a pinot noir, so he’s automatically planning a salmon dish because the rules say salmon and pinot go together,” explains Pratt. In fact, the duo gets a bottle of each and every wine in months in advance, tastes together, and then concepts the menus based on what they taste. “Chef really digs in, writing drafts and iterations until he lands on the perfect one.” It’s a two-month-long process that kicks off usually around Thanksgiving.

The results are dishes that Chef Lee admits he would never try to do on a traditional menu – in the past, that’s included clams with popcorn, deconstructed Coq au Vin, and Kobe beef. “Our featured vintners are always surprised,” says Pratt. “They deal with a lot of the same wines every day, so they can get stuck in a rut with what they best pair with. Chef Lee always breaks them out of that rut.”

The same goes for The Big Tastings. While guests sip and stroll throughout the ballroom, two working chef stations churn out small plates – in the past, that’s included everything from oysters and tuna tartare to beef Wellington. One year, Chef Lee even made “pasta alla ruota,” where he poured piping hot elbow macaroni into a giant hollowed-out cheese wheel, then mixed, so that every single pasta piece was coated in fresh cheddar. “It was the biggest wheel of cheese I’ve ever seen,” said Pratt. Enough to serve 200 people.

#6. YOU GET THE RARE EXPERIENCE OF “PRESIDENTIAL-STYLE” SERVICE

It may be a bit old-fashioned, but it sure is something to behold: the choreographed act of Presidential-style dinner service, which is how each of Chef Lee’s four courses is served during the Grand Vintner’s Dinners. Essentially – unlike modern restaurants – there is one server per each diner, so when a course is ready, everyone is served at once.

“Picture a table of 10,” explains Pratt. “When the dishes are ready, 10 servers each carry a dish then walk single file to the table, standing behind their guest. They then place the dish in front of each patron right at the same time, perfectly in sync.” It makes for a service spectacle that Pratt says you will only see in two places: The White House and Wentworth by the Sea.

HOW DOES TICKETING WORK?

Both of the Big Tastings and each of the four Grand Vintner’s Dinners require purchasing tickets in advance, whereas the Bubbles and Jazz Brunch simply requires a phone call (603.422.7322) to reserve (we suggest ringing the week before). Flight Nights in Salt are first come first serve. Plan accordingly, says Pratt: “The vintner’s dinners always go fast, followed by The Big Tastings, so the sooner you purchase tickets, the better.”

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