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Charleston, S.C. — They say the third time’s the charm. However, the first two courses of the Charleston Wine+Food Festival in 2006 and 2007 will be hard to top. Those in the know can’t wait to have a taste of this city’s third course Feb. 28-March 2.

Thousands of happy (and stuffed) people attended the first two helpings of this event. Combining Lowcountry cuisine and culture with a cornucopia of creative chefs and restaurants blends the right ingredients for an event destined to become a spring ritual.

“We’ve added more events, more vendors, and more tasty details that make this a world-class event,” said executive director Angel Passailaigue Postell. “The festival is poised to present a truly unforgettable event that brings some of the nation's best chefs, winemakers, and literati together in this beautiful city.”

The Culinary Village, in Marion Square, is the heart of the long weekend, and looks to be even better thanks to several enhancements (it definitely got crowded and slightly claustrophobic at times last year).

The village (open Feb. 29-March 2) will again feature more than 70 culinary-related businesses, including top restaurants, food purveyors, wineries from around the world and culinary merchandise. Visitors receive a commemorative glass for tastings and have access to many cooking demonstrations and tastings, author discussions and the Charleston Cooks book signing tent, where foodies can meet authors and purchase their books.

Part of the Maverick Southern Kitchens restaurant empire (including Slightly North of Broad, High Cotton, and Old Village Post House in Mount Pleasant), Charleston Cooks offers a variety of cooking classes year-round, as well as a retail shop for home cooks that is simply foodie heaven. Booking a cooking class during the festival seems appropriate, and one called Taste of the Lowcountry is offered at 2 p.m. all four days this year.

Along with the Culinary Village, other repeats from the first two years include: the opening reception; the King Street Sip & Stroll; Restaurant Dine-Around; Bubbles & Sweets; several wine events; and the Gospel Brunch.

The festival kick-off on Feb. 28 is the Ben Arnold Beverage Company Presents Salute to Charleston Chefs: 2008 Opening Night Party, featuring more than 20 of Charleston’s top chefs preparing signature dishes in small portions that will allow ticket-holders to sample a ton of good food. They will be paired with wines presented by winemakers from around the country.

This was highlight the first two years, with an opportunity to meet Charleston star chefs — Marc Collins (Circa 1886); Craig Deihl (Cypress); Mike Lata (FIG); Frank Lee (Slightly North of Broad); Brett McKee (Oak Steakhouse); Nico Romo (Fish); Ken Vedrinski (Sienna); and Bob Waggoner (Charleston Grill).

On Feb. 29 at the Culinary Village, local and national chefs will pair up and compete as "Iron Chef"-like teams using special Lowcountry-themed mystery ingredients. This was particularly popular last year, with Tyler Florence serving as master of ceremonies, but celebrity chef Marvin Woods promises to be as entertaining this year.

The King Street Sip & Stroll was so popular last year that it’s been divided into Upper King and Lower King tickets this year. Either way, sipping strollers can shop, enjoy samples from top winemakers, and taste gourmet cheeses from Whole Foods. For shoppers, the unique creations at Croghan’s Jewel Box (part of the Lower King ticket) are highly recommended (but there are many other choices). Sip & Stroll ticketholders can take advantage of exclusive offers and discounts.

The hardest part about the Restaurant Dine-Around (Feb. 29) is choosing a restaurant. The Dine-Around’s format features five-course meals (with wine pairings) prepared by the host chef and a guest celebrity chef. One of our favorite Lowcountry chefs (Louis Osteen of Louis’s at Pawley’s) will be joining chefs Donald Barickman and Donald Drake at one of our favorite Charleston restaurants, Magnolias.

Bubbles & Sweets was moved to Saturday night this year instead of the following the Friday night Dine-Around. This event features fine champagne and desserts prepared by several area and nationally known pastry chefs. Nicole Anhalt (Tristan), Vinzenz Aschbacher (Charleston Grill), Katie Gulla (Magnolias/Blossom), and Emily Cookson (Circa 1886) are just a few of our favorite pastry chefs slated to be baking this year.

The Lowcountry Gospel Brunch was a huge hit the first two years. As church bells echo over Charleston’s many historic steeples, several local chefs serve an inspired brunch accompanied by gospel singing (March 2).

BBQ & Blues is returning after a sold-out premiere last year. This grand finale on March 2 will feature Southern pit masters and BBQ pros serving a variety of favorites, from whole hog to brisket, ribs, chicken, and more (including specialty beers to wash it all down). Chef Fatback and the Groove Band plan a rocking performance on stage.

Also returning are wine receptions in private homes, which debuted last year and will again allow attendees to meet a top winemaker and enjoy hors d’oeuvres from local restaurants in a classic Charleston home setting (March 1). Plus, a line-up of on- and off-site wine seminars will cover a wide variety of topics.

A new offering this year is called Beermaster’s Beer Dinner. Chef Sven Lindroth of Boathouse Restaurants (Charleston and beyond) and chef Brent Wertz of Kingsmill Resort & Spa (Williamsburg, Va.) will team up to guide diners through a five-course culinary experience that will pair crisp ales and lagers and deep bocks and stouts with a range of dishes.

Another new can’t-miss event is the Picnic Lunch with the Stars. This Feb. 29 event pairs a picnic lunch from Food for the Southern Soul’s Jimmy Hagood with a conversation about food and wine moderated by Gourmet Editor In Chief Ruth Reichl. I just finished reading “Garlic and Sapphires,” Reichl’s hilarious account of her time as food critic for The New York Times and hope to ask her where to find good Southern cooking in Manhattan.

One other new possibility during the long weekend is “Food+Wine with a View: A Night in California.” Just 60 guests will enjoy a pricey five-course dinner prepared by four top California chefs, vintages from Shafer Napa Valley Wines, and one of Charleston best views from a private penthouse.

Most of the events are within walking distance or a short taxi ride from Charleston’s many classic accommodations. Charleston is definitely a city for strolling, and we appreciated that by walking off at least some of the pounds by the end of last year's festival.


Getting there

Charleston is about a 5-hour drive from downtown Atlanta. AirTran Airways and Delta Air Lines offer nonstop flights; expect to pay $130 or more roundtrip from Atlanta. AirTran, the event's official airline sponsor, offers a 10 percent discount to attendees traveling Feb. 25-March 5; call AirTran's EventSavers Desk (1-866-683-8368) for reservations and use event code CHS022808. Avis car rental, another sponsor, also offers a discount; contact Avis (1-800-331-1600) and use discount number J994264 or reserve online at www.avis.com.

About the festival

Tickets and information are online at www.charlestonfoodandwine.com or by call 843-722-5548. Single and multiple ticketing options for various events are available, including repeats of last year’s Grand Weekend Pass or Friends of the Festival VIP Donor Package.

Where to stay

Charleston has many convenient and varied accommodations. Try Francis Marion Hotel (843-722-0600, www.francismarioncharleston.com) or Holiday Inn Historic District (843-805-7900, www.charlestonhotel.com), both adjacent to the Culinary Village; Orient Express Hotels’ Charleston Place (843-722-4900, www.charlestonplace.com); contemporary Market Pavilion Hotel (1-877-440-2250, www.marketpavilion.com) or historic Planters Inn (1-800-845-7082, www.plantersinn.com), both overlooking Charleston’s market; Wentworth Mansion (1-888-466-1886, www.wentworthmansion.com); or one of the other historic properties of Charming Inns of Charleston (1-800-845-6119, www.charminginns.com).

Or, to live like a local, check out the charming Carriage House of the classic William Aiken House (843-853-1810, www.williamaikenhouse.com) or the Joseph Aiken Mansion Carriage House (843-720-8811, www.charlottestcarriagehouse.com).


Charleston information: www.charlestoncvb.com or call 1-800-868-8118.