After five years, a signature summer wine tasting and culinary event is expanding to become the 10-day wintertime Uncorked: the Key Largo & Islamorada Food & Wine Festival, scheduled Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 10-19.
Presented by the Upper Keys Business Group, the tasty food, wine and spirits celebration features more than 30 planned eclectic and palate-pleasing pairing events to suit every taste and budget.
Highlights include a premiere of the Keys version of the popular television cooking show Chopped to benefit local charities as well as multiple themed how-to cooking events.
Attendees can patronize daily venues that prepare fresh, locally sourced seafood into American and international-style dishes, and savor them with richly hewed wines against a background of music and art.
Festival kick-off events Thursday, Jan. 10, include a complimentary happy hour wine tasting with a portfolio of vintages and hors doeuvres at the Green Turtle Wine and Spirits Shop, mile marker (MM) 81.2 oceanside, Attendees then can enjoy tropical Keys cuisine and wine pairings at the Island Grill at the oceanside base of Snake Creek Bridge, MM 85.5.
Key Largo kick-off events feature a return of the popular Lobsterfest at Key Largo Fisheries Backyard Café, featuring lobster prepared many ways and paired with wines. A jazz and wine night is planned at the trendy Tasters Grille Restaurant, MM 91.2 in Tavernier Towne Shopping Center.
Other evening highlights include a Dine Around Town progressive dinner, during which attendees travel between five popular Islamorada restaurants and savor a five-course gourmet dinner as each chef showcases his talents and wine experts pair each course with the perfect vintage.
Accenting a Cajun French dining experience is the return of the Sauce Boss Bill Wharton who offers his unique blend of Cajun music and gumbo.
The 10-day festival also features a Caribbean-style night at sea aboard Island Time, a 78-foot paddlewheel riverboat, complete with tropical hors doeuvres, rum tastings, island music and entertaining limbo and conch shell blowing contests. Multiple Sunday brunch opportunities include specials like lobster benedict, Key lime mimosa madness, champagne and bloody marys. Food and wine aficionados also can enjoy flavorful Italian, French, Spanish and Mexican-themed dinners; an oriental experience with saki, sushi and Thai food, and several art-inspired food and wine events.
New this year are a gourmet organic food and wine experience at the recently reopened Snooks bayside restaurant, MM 99.9 in Key Largo, showcasing a fine portfolio of organic wines and featuring signature wines by world-renowned artist Wyland; an Australian-themed night at Outback Steak House, MM 80 in Islamorada, and a signature craft beer event dubbed Beer and Bites at the Pilot House restaurant, 13 Seagate Blvd. in Key Largo.
An oceanfront Grand Tasting Finale is planned Saturday, Jan. 19, from noon to 5 p.m. at Islamoradas Postcard Inn Beach Resort & Marina at Holiday Isle, MM 84 oceanside. Attendees can watch as chefs from numerous area restaurants prepare signature dishes to sample, complemented by a grand selection of wines. Live music, cooking and mixology demonstrations and cocktail tastings round out the afternoon beside the Atlantic Ocean.
General admission tickets for the finale are $57 plus tax per person. VIP tickets allow early entry at 11 a.m. for $77 plus tax, and include a souvenir T-shirt, tasting glass and gift bag with cookbook. For a complete schedule of events and to purchase finale tasting tickets, visit www.floridakeysuncorked.com.
January also heralds several other area food festivals including the Florida Keys Seafood Festival Jan. 19 at Key Wests Bayview Park, the Jan. 24-27 Key West Food & Wine Festival and the Jan. 26-27 Key Largo Stone Crab & Seafood Festival.
Event information: www.floridakeysuncorked.com
Key Largo visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/keylargo or 800-822-1088
Islamorada visitor information: www.fla-keys.com/islamorada or 1-800-FAB-KEYS