United Way Miami Wine & Food Festival Kicks Off Tomorrow Night

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​If you prefer giving back while enjoying the finer things in life, you're in luck. This week the United Way will host its 16th annual Miami Wine & Food Festival, featuring flowing wine and whiskey and tons of fantastic foods. To maximize your eating and drinking pleasure, organizers have added a fourth day.

This year, the United Way is changing its tune a bit to appeal to a wider demographic. The auctions have been scaled back, and the focus is now more on the audience. Also, there'll be more events with spirits, so wine, booze, and beer aficionados also have reason to get excited.

Festival director Lyn Farmer, who is also a wine and food writer, compared this year's fest to last year's. "There's much more activity going on," he says. "I think it's more entertaining than we've ever had it before." There's a little something for everybody.

This Thursday is the kickoff event, Taste & Toast -- Fine Wine Tasting. It will feature dozens of international wineries, food by 30 local restaurants and caterers, and is presented by Miccosukee Resort & Gaming.

Meat Market executive chef Sean Brasel has worked with the festival for three years. "It's a very good event... an excellent way to do fundraising," he says. He believes there are many "benefits of all the chefs working together" and is looking forward to working with his friends from Timo and 1500 on the project.

Do the chefs have total creative freedom? "They let us do anything we want," Brasel says. He hasn't yet decided what he'll prepare. "I have a couple of ideas that I'm going to play with; then I was going to pull out something fun."

Farmer says you'll hear stories of the ways the organization has helped people. He notes the United Way is "certainly... the most effective way of giving back to our community... They touch every part of our community, from early-childhood education, to help the seniors.

"It's a wonderfully rewarding feeling." And you get to have a good time.

Farmer also notes the phenomenon that food has become such an important part of American culture with the rise of the Food Network. "This is a festival that celebrates passion about food and wine. There's no pretension, there's no attitude, so whether you're a beginner and you barely know red wine from white, or if you're a collector, there's going to be something here that will touch you and inspire your passion."

The festival is sponsored by Miami New Times. VIP tasting begins at 6 p.m., and general admission begins at 7 p.m., at the Village of Merrick Park (358 San Lorenzo Ave., Coral Gables). Tickets cost $150 for VIP and $75 for general admission and can be purchased at MiamiWineFestival.org. There will be a Glenfiddich Music to Drink Whisky By afterparty with, of course, Scotch whisky and music.

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