Taste of Terroir 2013: Livermore Never Tasted So Good!
People worried that moving this much loved event from its traditional location at the Palm Event Center to Casa Real would be an impediment. However, it was just the opposite. This year’s gala wine and food pairing event that showcases Livermore’s finest wineries and Tri-Valley restaurants, was kicked up a notch in every way. This bodes well for this signature event as well as the entire series that was built around it for the first time this year. Multiple tastings, seminars, cooking demos and dinners were added to create a series, called Taste Our Terroir, which kicked off with the Thursday, July 19, event, and goes through Sunday, July 21. A full list of activities can be viewed at LVwine.org
It appeared that those attending this year’s Taste of Terroir were taking the wine and food pairing component a lot more seriously this year, rather than simply trying to hit every table and drink as much wine as possible. The dump buckets were clearly being used, and the staff had to keep emptying them: not because the wine was bad, no, far from it, but because it seemed that attendees were serious about tasting each offering and giving proper attention to what the winemaker and chef were trying to create. This is exactly what this event should be all about: creating that elusive, but powerful, magic of the perfect food and wine pairing.
For the first time in all my years covering Taste of Terroir, held on the third Thursday of July every year, I overhead thoughtful conversations about which wine and food pairings to vote for. This is the first time I’ve heard people say, “I really like that winery, but I didn’t care for the pairings. I’ve never been impressed by X, but I really enjoyed the way their wine worked with the food.”
The best things about this event were:
- More white wine pairings: hey, last year, there was such a dearth of white wines, it was a problem for people who don’t drink reds. This year, far more whites made the scene. Livermore has some lovely whites, and when it’s the hot flash part of the summer, i.e. the 3rd Thursday of July, you know you’re going to be in the burn zone.
- Roses! yay! I love rose! Thanks to Concannon and Retzlaff for bringing roses, and two very fun pairings, too.
- Just the right mix of reds, including nicely executed Cabs (Bent Creek, Crooked Vine, McGrail, Steven Kent, and Nottingham’s Supremacy blend) and some gorgeous Zins (Eagle Ridge, Occasio, Wood Family), with Malbec (Cuda Ridge), Syrah (Auburn James), Sangiovese (Rodrigue Molyneaux) and Petite Sirah (Eckert) rounding out the portfolio
- Casa Real accommodated the 650 attendees nicely, with fewer corners for people to get lost in, along with superior lighting and much better acoustics. You could actually talk to people and have a two-way conversation! Pretty decent A/C, too, until the crowd overpowered it.
- Outdoor seating, additional wines being poured outside, good music, gorgeous views. All in all, a lovely venue.
The three professional judges, David Glancy, Founder & CEO of San Francisco Wine School, Ethan Fletcher from Diablo Magazine and Jude Affronti, Chef at Sur La Table and Owner of Affronti Food & Wine Bar, all of whom had the opportunity to sample all the wares, came up with these awards:
Best White Wine Pairing
-Page Mill Winery 2012 Chardonnay, Chandler Vineyard, Livermore Valley
-WonTon Shell Topped with a lightly blackened Scallop with an Avocado Pico di Gallo and Chipotle Aioli
-Winemaker: Dane Stark, Page Mill Winery
-Chef: Jorge Magallon, Piccola Casa
Most Innovative Pairing
-Cuda Ridge Wines 2010 Malbec, Livermore Valley
-House-made Steamed Bun, Black Plum Char Siu, Spice-cured and Charred Pork Belly with pickled Root Vegetables, Cilantro and Green Onion
-Winemaker: Larry Dino, Cuda Ridge Wines
-Chef: Clay Brunton, Beets Hospitality Group
Best Classic Pairing
-Rodrigue Molyneaux 2009 Estate Sangiovese, Livermore Valley
-Lightly crusted Dutch Valley Veal Scallopini with Tomato Coulis and fresh Mozzarella on Citrus-infused Focaccia
-Winemaker: Garry Rodrigue, Rodrigue Molyneaux
-Chef: Tracy Flores, Castlewood Country Club
Judge’s Best Pairing
-Concannon Vineyard 2011 Reserve Righteously Rosé, Livermore Valley
-“Off the Hook” Seafood Sausage with Rosé Cream
-Winemaker: Julian Halasz, Concannon Vineyard
-Chef: Eric Berg, Underdog Wine Bar
People’s Choice: This is the big honor from the crowed, in which all the attendees of the event get to vote for their favorite pairing, by placing a cork in a bucket. It went to Page Mill Winery and Piccola Casa the Chardonnay and Scallop dish. This was the first time a white wine pairing was so honored by attendees.
All of these pairings really worked extremely well, and were highly thought out, and it showed. This was the second year in a row that Rodrigue Molyneaux and Chef Tracy from Castlewood nailed it for Classic Pairings, and with 6 completely different judges, so extra congratulations to them! They set a high bar.
My Personal Picks
Best Vegetarian Pairing
Thankfully, there were more vegetarian options this year, the best of which, in my book, was the 2011 Mitchell Katz Chardonnay paired with the utterly delicious fried green tomato topped with Handles Gastropub’s Green Heirloom Tomatoes from Terra Bella Farms yn Pleasanton, Fresh Mozzarella, Grilled Corn Salsa and Basil Aioli. A seasonal delight!
Best Rose Pairing
The nod here goes to Retzlaff for the 2011 Isabelle’s Blush, rose of Merlot, as it is slightly frizzante and paired nicely with the Watermelon Gazpacho from Tender Greens, that was decorated with a skewer of herring and edible flowers.
Best Red Pairing
Although I adored the Cuda Ridge Malbec and Pork Belly pairing for its smoky richness, I thought the Bent Creek 09 Cabernet with the Porter’s at Poppy Ridge Rabbit Confit with Blackberry Lime Habanero Compote was just lovely with the very berriness of that Cab, and it certainly was an unusual pairing that I didn’t expect to be as synchronized.
Best Textural Pairing
Occasio’s super-silky 2010 Del Arroyo Zin was a match made in heaven with the velvety texture of the Kobe Beef Lollipops With Capers, Wild Arugula, Mustard and Pecorino Cheese from Mangia Mia. A magical mouthful!
Best Seasonal Pairing
201 Nth Degree Wente Chardonnay, paired with a skewer of beets, nectarines, honeyed goat cheese and smoked hazelnuts from The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards. I loved this, but some thought it made the wine bitter.
Best Comfort Food Pairing
Eckert Estates smooth and dark cherry-fruited 2010 Petite Sirah was simply divine with the innovative Cherry Wood-Smoked Angus Short Rib with Mashed Sunchokes and Mascarpone Cheese, drizzled with Petite Sirah Demi and topped with an Italian Style Pickled Cherry, served in a Parmesan Cone. Some said this was the ultimate adult ice cream cone. I couldn’t agree more!