An Elevated Experience: The Cliffs Wine + Food Grand Tasting
There’s perhaps no more clichéd metaphor for writing about food and weather than invoking heaven. It’s too easy to say that a combination of late September weather, mountain scenery, gourmet food, and world-class wines is “heavenly.”
But I’m going to do it anyway. September 22-30 was this year’s Wine + Food Festival at The Cliffs, and I was fortunate to attend the final event, The Grand Tasting at The Cliffs at Mountain Park, with my mom and sister. Roll your eyes if you must: it was heavenly.
Like many food and wine gatherings, this ten-day event offers exquisite sit-down dinners; wine, beer, and mixology education; and a tasting finale. But the one thing The Cliffs Festival has that no other event has is, well, The Cliffs. The backdrop of each event is another gorgeous Cliffs location in each of three regions, from The Cliffs at Glassy (just north of Greenville) to The Cliffs at Keowee Springs (near Lake Keowee) to The Cliffs at Walnut Cove (outside Asheville). Each location is stunning in its own right.
The Cliffs at Mountain Park are tucked away just south of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about a thirty-minute drive from downtown Greenville. In just that time on September 30 as we drove north into the mountains, the weather dropped about ten degrees to a perfect 70. We arrived at The Grand Tasting around dusk to find the porch of a rustic clubhouse strung with lights, an outdoor fire pit, and of course more wine offerings than we could count.
The first spread to catch our eye was the charcuterie table that greeted us, but it wasn’t the meats or cheeses we’d be talking about the next day. It was the microgreen bar by “Growing Green Family Farms,” where we discovered greens can be an indulgence when topped with sherry syrup, balsamic, or olive oil. I’ve known many a chef to toss microgreens on top of a dish to make it more visually appealing, but I’ve never wished for seconds of what, until that night, seemed like little more than a garnish.
We sampled many wines, switching as we strolled between food stations from whites to red to match our chosen fare. With more than 150 wine offerings, we made a game of determining good pairings and especially enjoyed discussing our choices with the amiable wine representatives and sommeliers.
When we really got serious about food, we had to set aside our glasses. For us the dish that stole the show was the Gochujang Stir Fried “Hickory Nut Gap” Pork Bowl, served by the chef in small Chinese take-out containers. It consisted of sesame tahini rice noodles and “Lyda Farms” pickled green beans and cucumbers topped with a shaved black radish salad (also from “Growing Green Family Farms”) and cilantro, sweet ginger, and turmeric mayonnaise. Armed with chopsticks, we dug in like we were eating the world’s best leftovers.
Other hits were Country Captain with braised rabbit quarters and tuna steaks topped with candied wild mushrooms, and we enjoyed the unexpected tequila tasting station, where we sipped and compared three Patrons, including the top-shelf Anejo. (Drinking tequila from shot glasses alongside my mother was something new, indeed.)
Around 9:00 the temperature started to drop and we began our drive home, all our senses exhilarated. It was a glorious first Cliffs experience and hopefully not our last.
Be sure to look for tickets to the 2018 Wine + Food Festival next fall, which will be available at cliffsliving.com.