Tue. Jun 6th, 2023

Early pandemic lockdowns raised appreciation for the joys of travel and for eating out, two things people quickly found they really missed when they could no longer do them. This has fueled the current pent-up demand, and one easy way to satisfy both urges is with a visit to America’s longest running food and wine festival – which just happens to be held annually (except for pandemic) at one of nation’s very best hotels, the Forbes 5-Star Boston Harbor Hotel.

The Boston Wine Festival has been a fixture on the culinary and oenophile scene for three and a half decades, and for almost all of that time, it was the labor of love of its founder, Chef Daniel Bruce, career executive chef at the property and one of the world’s leading experts on food and wine pairings. For 30 years Bruce spent a good part of each year visiting vineyards, meeting with wine makers and tasting wines, carefully designing dishes and creating special menus entirely focused on best matching the special pours.

But two years ago he retired, and in its second year under the direction of it his successor, Chef David Daniels, the event returns this winter with an added emphasis on food and a slightly new name to reflect this, the Boston Food and Wine Festival, now in its 34th season.

I have had the good fortune to attend the festival a couple of times in the past and can personally vouch for its excellence. I now understand why so many regular patrons give it high priority on their annual calendars.

This festival has a very different format than newer ones such as South Beach, Aspen, New Orleans and such. Most run from a single day to a long weekend and are typically spread across multiple venues throughout an entire city, often with conflicting scheduled events you have to choose between. In sharp contrast, this one is an ongoing series of brunches, seminars and dinners, only one at a time, that runs for a staggering three months, all winter long. This makes it very easy to attend, whether you live in Boston, happen to be visiting for business or pleasure, or plan a special trip for the festival. However there are often events on back to back nights or twice in a single day, which makes it more worthwhile for planning a weekend visit.

It kicks off on January 12 with a special Staglin Family wines dinner and brings back some of the biggest special nights that have become a regular part of the festival, including the opening night gala, Far Niente and Opus One dinners and the Battle of the Cabs (two editions, one for California and one for the world), along with some high-profile new additions such as Hitchhiking Through Napa With Kevin Zraly. One of the biggest names in the wine world, Zraly was the legendary sommelier from New York’s late Windows on the World, a world-renowned winetasting instructor and author. New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov is another special guest.

Those are just some highlights of all-star lineup of 34 intimate winemaker-hosted dinners, seminars, thematic receptions, and celebratory brunches. Some of the world’s great winemakers consider it an honor to come to Boston and explain each of their selections, course by course, in an up close and personal way that is hard to replicate anywhere else. Unlike the so-called “Grand Tastings” you find at most festivals, with dozens of winemakers of varied quality pouring minuscule samples in big tents, each event is an intimate special day or night, most of them full service, sit down multi-course meals co-hosted by Daniels, explaining the dishes and pairings, and the winemaker, explaining the wines and how he or she created and selected them. These often include special limited editions that are never for sale.

There are also a handful of spirits events such as the Cocktail Jazz Brunch and a Chocolate & Spirits Pairing. Tasting seminars like Wines of Chile and Rose Master Class start at just $65, and multi-course wine pairing dinners begin at $195.

You do not have to be a guest of the hotel to attend the events, and many locals take advantage. But the Forbes 5-Star is one of my favorites in the entire country, as well as one of the world’s best dog friendly luxury hotels, and a great place to be able to commute via elevator to and from one of these galas – especially with reduced rate festival pricing from just $285 a night when attending a ticketed event.

I’ve stayed here several times, with and without my dogs, during the festival and at other times, and it is just fantastic. An independent property, there is nothing cookie cutter about it, and it enjoys a singularly fantastic location – in a city famous for its harbor, it is oddly the only top luxury hotel on the water. A unique bonus of this location is that you can arrive straight from Logan airport to the hotel’s dock (they have a 34-slip marina, also unique) by water taxi, a fun and stylish way to reach your lodging and one that is usually reserved for island resorts. The location is great for both leisure and business travelers, with easy walking access to prime tourist attractions from Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market to the Old North Church, the Boston Children’s Museum and New England Aquarium, while the downtown financial district is also extremely convenient.

Just before the pandemic the already stellar hotel completed a three-year, top to bottom renovation that touched every facet, and all guest rooms – which were already deluxe even by 5-Star standards – are like new, featuring large and opulent bathrooms with top-shelf amenities, plus tons of other well-thought-out touches. The biggest addition was the new John Adams Presidential Suite, now the finest lodging in Boston, with private elevator and huge ocean view balcony. But even before the upgrade it was the highly personal, warm, “welcome back home” service that set this property apart. That and the excellent culinary offerings, both during the festival and every other day of the year. Don’t miss the Rowes Wharf Sea Grille, also overseen by Chef Daniel, with a very appropriate New England seafood theme, overlooking the marina, filled with detailed boat models, serving regional classics such as fresh raw bar and clam chowder.

All Boston Wine and Food Festival events take place within the Boston Harbor Hotel. For additional information on the festival calendar or to purchase tickets, please visit the festival website.

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