Cities and resort towns worldwide host a "taste" of restaurant offerings every year but Vail's has become a destination event and stands to etch itself even deeper on the radar for out-of-town foodies and wine enthusiasts after this week's festival.Besides, how many city tasting events are ski-in, ski out?Taste of Vail organizers have not only stepped up a notch with new events but some of the valley's top restaurants that haven't participated in years past are taking part this year."This is our very first time for Taste of Vail," said Bonnie Havlick, owner of The Alpenrose, one of Vail's oldest (nearly 40 years) and most iconic restaurants. "We have a new branch in Edwards - The Rose, where Bonjour Bakery used to be. We have Mark, a mixologist who wants to compete against the other top locals and Bill working in the kitchen with Gunther. Now the Alpenrose is also making crepes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Gunther is blossoming and we are blossoming. We thought it was time we showcase what we have to offer."Also on the lineup for the first time in several years is Vail's Sweet Basil and its new sister restaurant Mountain Standard plus the Vail Chophouse, famed international chef Richard Sandoval's Latin-influenced Cima (which will become Maya, a Modern Mexican Kitchen & Tequileria, beginning in June) and Edwards local favorite Italian joint Zinos."It was an interesting year last year because we reached out to the restaurant community for feedback on ways to improve the festival. A lot of the stuff we talked about on a general basis was promoting the Vail lifestyle, specifically as it relates to food, beverage ... well not beverage, but wine and spirits," said Taste of Vail board member Greg Moffet. "What truly differentiates Taste of Vail from any other event of its kind anywhere is that the guy pouring the wine at Mountain Top Picnic or the lamb cook off is the guy who made it. It's not the reps, the promoters or an employee. it's bringing that level of attention to wine and highlighting it with the spectacular cuisine we have. It's fun to go to other resort towns see, compare and realize that outside of a couple urban centers in the U.S., nobody can touch our cuisine offerings."The meal foodies relish mostAnd it's not just food and wine. The four-day festival also includes expert seminars on bourbon, cigars, olive oil and food origins. Historically, the Lamb Cook-Off has kicked off the festival on Thursday and been followed up by the classic signature events - Mountaintop Picnic on Friday and Grand Tasting Saturday, but this year's festival starts early with the brand new Nordic (or snowshoe) Wine Tour (see page BX for more info on this event) and, following the mountain top picnic, steers festival goers to restaurants Friday night for their own respective signature showcases."We are starting the festival on Wednesday now to accommodate this new, soon-to-be signature event," said Kristin Yantis of Malen Yantis Public Relations, which has helped market Taste of Vail for the last four years. "Friday night is Taste of Vail Restaurant Night. The TOV board listened to the restaurants and one of their desires was to have some events end earlier to encourage festival goers to experience dining in the restaurants each evening. Participating restaurants will be showcasing Taste of Vail wines and have menus paired with the wine. Many restaurants will have the winemaker or owners of the vineyard on hand to talk to guests about their wine."Several of the Taste's most popular events (Mountain Top Picnic, the Lamb Cook-Off ...) happen during the day. This year, organizers are steering restaurants to highlight their finest on Friday night, because dinner after all, is the meal most foodies relish most."Friday night historically has been a quiet night in the event. We have Mountain Top in the afternoon and that was it, but this year we want to make sure the restaurants are optimizing their exposure to this destination food and wine audience," Moffet said. "We'll have seven or 10 players pitching a Taste of Vail night with a winemaker, offering the deal of the century."From Wednesday to Saturday night, here is what's in store for Taste of Vail 2013:Today:The Nordic Wine Tour from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Vail Nordic Center. Guests are outfitted in snowshoes or cross country skis and take to the mostly flat, slightly rolling jaunt along which wine stations and tasting tents will be set up with standing tables, Euro-style. Moffet jokes that if there were chairs "people would never stand back up" but said the jaunt around the golf course "won't be too rigorous."Thursday:Lamb Cook off from 3 to 6 p.m. in Vail Village, filling the streets with hundreds of hungry meat lovers vying to try local chef's creative lamb concoctions and the best bite is decided at the end of the day. Colorado Wine Dinner at The 10th at Mid-Vail from 6 to 8 p.m. Colorado's own Canyon Winds Cellar out of the lush Western Slope pairs its finest with a scrumptious multi-course meal. Davidoff Cigars with Woodford Bourbon and Jack Daniels Single Barrel 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Tap Room in Vail. Dominican cigars and fine brown liquor are no longer just the past-time of elder gentlemen. See for yourself. Friday:Sparkling Wine Primer 10 to 11:30 a.m. at Four Seasons Vail. We all know it's never too early for bubbly and delve into the reality that champagne isn't the only thing with bubbles. Mountaintop Picnic from Noon to 2:30 p.m. The only sight you won't see at the top of Vail mountain is skimpy cocktail dresses and high heels. Don't hesitate to wear your ski gear and park your boards before venturing into a snow fortress housing some of the valley's tastiest bites and the world's most lip-smacking wines. Over at Terra Bistro in Vail from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., Marczyck Fine Foods and Niman Ranch tackle a different sort of mystery - "Where Does our Food Come From?" Oh the politics of farming and ranching. Taste of Vail Restaurant nightAll of the delicious bites you had from some of the best local restaurants at Mountaintop will be dinner-sized with the restaurant's special menu items and exclusive wine pairings while a handful of restaurants- Kelly Liken, Vail Chophouse, Elways and Zinos - host custom menus with their own guest winemakers, Kelly Liken with Henriot Champagne, Zinos with Antinori and Elways with Grgich Hill Winery. If you prefer grain over grapes, head to the Mirabelle at the base of Beaver Creek from 6:30 to 8:30 as chef Daniel Joy prepares a special tasting menu to match the Best of Belgium lineup of beers.Saturday:It's a day of intricate education beginning at Four Seasons Vail from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. when Giuliana Imports founder Steve Lewis takes you on an Exploration of Olive Oil, likening certain nuances to those of wines from different parts of the world. Speaking of hip wine-growing regions, hit the Washington State Seminar from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to learn more about the most Northwester state's hot varietals - Syrah and Merlot two of the big ones. Like white? At Matsuhisa in Vail, Austrian specialists present Riesling, the forgotten Noble Varietal from 1 to 2:45 p.m., highlighting the grape's oft-overlooked majesty and complexity. It's back to red at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort from 3 to 4:30 p.m., specifically Wines of Oregon highlighting the state's famed Pinot Noir. The finale of all finales, the Grand Tasting and Auction fills Vail Marriott's Grand Ballroom with a veritable dreamscape of carefully constructed bites and sippers from 6 to 10 p.m. Visit www.tasteofvail.com for more information and ticket prices.
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