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Winter means WineFest at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut

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It's almost time for Mohegan Sun WineFest, a special mix of activities to brighten dreary winter days. This year, it's scheduled to take place from January 24-26 with a celebration of food, wine, beer and spirits that brings together top chefs, brewers, distillers, mixologists and afficionados for three days of tasting, sipping and learning.

The weekend kicks off with Beam Inc.'s indulgent look at America's native spirit and its history. Connecticut restaurant group, Plan B, offers a bourbon-inspired menu paired with Maker's Mark, Booker's, Knob Creek and Jim Beam, either "neat"or in classic cocktails. The special event takes place in Sunburst, next to Sol Toro Tequila Grill, from 6 to 9 p.m. and wraps up with a fine Davidoff cigar - The Adonis, created especially for Cigar of the Gods in Cromwell, Connecticut. The event is $90 per person.

Another special event on Friday is the Long Trail Craft Beer and Food Pairing with John Holl, cookbook author, from 7-8:30 ($50) in the Uncas Ballroom. Holl is the author of Rhe American Craft Beer Cookbook and pairings include a Grafton Village (VT) cheese welcome, a tasting of three dishes taken from recipes in the cookbook - all paired with selections from Long Trail's award winning family of beers. Personally signed copies of The American Craft Beer Cookbook will be available for purchase.

Saturday brings the signature event - the Sun WineFest Grand Tasting. Taste beers, wines, spirits and sample signature dishes from participating restaurants along with products from artisanal producers. Frosting on the cake is the lineup on the Culinary Main Stage - two days of celebrity chefs and Food Network stars from across the U.S., who will also be available to sign their cookbooks. Nominal charges for sampling restaurant fare benefits Channel 3 Kids Camp. The Tasting takes places in the Convention Center from 12-5 p.m., following the Trade/Press preview from 11 a.m. to noon. A one day $80 pass is available. Sunday hours are the same, with a $70 one day pass offered, or for both days, take advantage of the $125 weekend pass.

Other highlights include the Elite Cru Tasting, Saturday, in The Cabaret Theatre from 3 to 5 with special pricing when coupled with Sunday's Grand Tasting. The event offers "best of the best" vintages, a Georges Bank-sponsored raw bar presenting their South Bay Blonde Oysters, shrimp from Mazzetta Company, and specialty cheeses from igourmet.com. Guests also receive a $50 gift certificate from igourmet.com.

Saturday is also the day of the Celebrity Chef Dine around - sample food from Chefs Todd English, Jasper White and others whose offerings are paired with beer, wine or craft cocktails. It takes place in the Uncas Ballroom, 8-11 p.m., $185.

On Sunday on the Main Stage of Uncas Ballroom is the 10th Annual Mohegan Sun, described as the ultimate shucker showdown, 4:15pm - 5:15 p.m. It gets underway when the nation's best oyster shuckers put their skills to the test and compete for a $5,000 purse. The Showdown is presented by Absolut Tune and features South Bay Blonde Oysters from Georges Bank. The event is complimentary with Grand Tasting admission.

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