5 Reasons to Love the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival

There’s a lot to love about the Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival. Maybe you’re a fan of small bites procured perfectly by expert chefs into tiny, snackable delicacies. Maybe your predilections sway toward the aquatic, in which case you prefer the Celebrity Chef VIP Twilight Yacht Cruise, which featured some of the nation’s top culinary minds sailing together along the calm waters of Newport Bay. Or, you might want to stroll the sublimely manicured lawns stretching across the Newport Beach Civic Center, fine wine in hand, music humming in the warm, mid-autumn air. You swirl your libation, then taste another. Ah, goodness abounds in notes of crisp pear and sweet pineapple with a finish smooth as butter.

Whatever you need from a local festival, the Newport Beach Wine & Food variety has it. So, on the slight chance you couldn’t make this past weekend’s epicurean bazaar, here are the top five reasons we fell in grape-fueled, sugar-coated love with the event. 

We cruised the ocean blue.
All aboard the Celebrity Chef VIP Twilight Yacht Cruise, which took place on the Hornblowers’ Endless Dreams.

On the Friday before the weekend’s Grand Tasting events began, the festival organized a Celebrity Chef VIP Twilight Yacht Cruise, which was essentially a golden hour-lit extravaganza of wine and corn hole and live music. Foie Grock, L.A.’s self-proclaimed “#1 chef-led alternative rock band” entertained the cruising crowd like a well-prepared meal, serving up a wildly infectious mix of power chords and musical goodness. The band features Bruce Kalman (Union, Knead and Co Pasta Bar, Food Network’s “Chopped”), Duff Goldman (Charm City Cakes, Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes” and “Iron Chef America”) and Resy founder Ben Offenberg. Oh and for those who like their alcohol served with a whopping dose of sweetness, The Dirty Cookie provided dangerously delicious, edible shots for the crowd.

We drank unforgettable wine.
Patrick Merrell, co-founder and COO of We Believe Wines, holds up a glass of his 92-point-rated Russian River Valley Chardonnay at the 2018 Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Sunday Grand Tasting.
Duke whiskey on display at the 2018 Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival.

What would this recap be if we didn’t talk wine? Undeniably the festival’s biggest attracting at the festival, the wine and spirit selection did not disappoint. There were small wineries like Napa Valley darling, Nellcôte; big, bold brands like Duke Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; and wines that made you feel good when you drank them — and not just because they’re top-rated — like We Believe Wines, which donates $0.20 from every glass to the Green Beret Foundation and SEAL Legacy Foundation.

We saw life imitate art.

A new facet of the festival this year was the inclusion of local art. Steven Quartly, an Orange County-based, contemporary impressionist, displayed his colorful paintings that depicted the sights and sounds of the fest. Quartly may call himself a “traveling painter capturing the romance of life” but at least for Saturday and Sunday afternoon, he gave up his nomadic ways. Instead, he wowed the crowd with his creations, which were prominently featured throughout the tasting tents, works of custom art as bold as they were beautiful.

We realized donut is the new avocado.
A selection of Miss Mini Donuts at the Bosscat Kitchen + Libation display.
AVEO Table + Bar’s savory donuts line the eatery’s booth at the 2018 Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival.

If there was a food-fueled theme to this year’s festival it had to be donuts. Bosscat Kitchen and Libations served treats from Miss Mini Donuts on an electric pink cart (hello, cookie-dough confection, you were a dream inside a rainbow); Monarch Beach Resort’s AVEO Table + Bar had a mouth-wateringly delectable display of donuts topped with 10-hour-smoked pork belly drizzled with a tamarind-habanero sauce. The combination of smoky meat and sweet, just-fried dough was a festival food highlight.

Chef Donald Lockhard, chef de cuisine at AVEO Kitchen + Table smiles for the hungry crowd.

An attendee asked one of AVEO’s chefs if he could come back for seconds. “You can come back for third and fourths,” the chef replied, laughing. “We’re here all day. and we’re here to feed you.”

We watched Hubert Keller toast to life.
A cheerful Chef Hubert Keller begins his seafood cooking demonstration at Sunday’s Grand Tasting with a toast.

There’s something to be said about watching the best in the world do what they do best. Enter: Hubert Keller, famed Las Vegas and San Francisco restauranteur, Top Chef contestant and winner of numerous awards, including the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef: California.” Around 4:30 p.m. during Sunday’s Grand Tasting, Chef Keller took to the Sub Zero Wolf stage and delivered a divine seafood demo, which kicked off with a hearty toast to the crowd. He smiled, he cheered, he raised his glass on high and the moment served as a sweet reminder to savor life and the delicious satisfaction it brings.

Also, because we know you’re here for the food, enjoy a few more tasty images from the unforgettable 2018 Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival:

Huntington Beach’s Bluegold serves croquembouche (vanilla pastry cream, salted caramel, valhrona chocolate sauce) at the 2018 Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival.
Avalon Grille dishes out a seafood plate featuring grilled octopus, Gigante beans, white corn kernels, Fresno chili peppers, pickled pearl onions, Pimentón aioli, burnt eggplant purée, and a sherry vinaigrette.
Marché Moderne brings the sweetness with chocolate gateaus and passion macarons.
Chefs from AVEO Kitchen + Bar prep and cook at the 2018 Newport Beach Wine & Food Festival.
Marché Moderne opted to serve grilled scallops resting atop an unexpected but lush partner: celery pommes soufflé.