The sixth edition of the BB&T Charleston Wine + Food Festival is March 3-6.
The festival's website (www.charlestonwineandfood.com) has the full schedule and tickets.
Some of the dine-arounds such as those hosted by McCrady's, FIG and Charleston Grill restaurants are very popular, says media/marketing manager Erika McMillan.
The number of participating restaurants has grown to 20, including the additions of Muse, Husk and the Culinary Institute of Charleston, and the return of Anson restaurant. Guest luminaries include chefs such as Bryan Voltaggio of Volt restaurant in Frederick, Md., and "Top Chef" fame; Donald Link of Cochon in New Orleans; and Cathy Whims of Nostrana in Portland, Ore.
Dine-around tickets are $175, up from $150, for a five-course tasting menu with wine.
The Champagne and pastry "Bubbles & Sweets" is turning into the "Festival After Hours" party. Aimed at a younger, hip crowd, the party will offer late-night bites such as tacos, truffle fries and dim sum in addition to desserts. Beverages will go beyond bubbles to cocktails, wine and beer.
Among other changes in the program is Friday's main day event at Marion Square. The "Charleston Challenge" will pit six chefs against each other, using one ingredient from the Lowcountry voted on in advance by the ticketholders. The chefs all will be "fan favorites" from each season of Bravo's hit show, "Top Chef."
No big-name celebrity chef like Bobby Flay is coming. "We have such a strong lineup that we didn't feel we had to have anyone in particular" as a headliner, says McMillan.
On the wine side, a new "Big Bottles Tasting + Auction" will feature Master Sommelier Andrea Immer Robinson, the first woman ever chosen Best Sommelier in the United States by the Sommelier Society of America. She will joined by vintners pouring from premium collections of large format bottles of wine.
Winemaker receptions in private homes are being recast as "Winemaker + Private Home Tour With a Southern Twist."
"Guests will get to travel from home to home, more of a tour," McMillan says. The festival is working with the Junior League, whose members will create the food with recipes from the league's renowned "Charleston Receipts" cookbook.
Another new flavor comes in the form of "intimate" luncheons that will highlight local purveyors and farmers and get some smaller restaurants involved in the festival, says McMillan.
O-Ku will host a "Saki and Sushi" lunch and La Fourchette plans a "French Bistro Dejeuner" family-style meal.
An "Early Spring Harvest Luncheon" will be at Irvin-House Vineyards/Firefly Distillery on Wadmalaw Island. "What's really different about this luncheon is that (Ocean Room chef) Nate Thurston is partnering with (farmer) Sidi Limehouse to plant the menu now," McMillan says.
Attendance at the festival continues to rise. About 16,500 people came for its four-day run in early March compared with 15,000 in 2009.
"We go up a little each year," McMillan says. "We try to grow by having more events outside the park" at Marion Square.
Saturday hours for the Grand Tasting Tents within the Culinary Village at Marion Square also have been pushed later by an hour. The tents have two time options on March 5, either 11 a.m.-2 p.m. or 3-6 p.m.
"It was a recurring request," says McMillan.
Teresa Taylor is the food editor. Reach her at email@example.com.