Is there a more stunning backdrop for a mushroom and wine pairing event than the Big Sur coastal mountain range dropping like a stone to the Pacific below? I think not. Such was the setting for the Fungus Face-off, part and parcel of the Big Sur Forager’s Festival, held on the Big Sur coast Friday and Saturday, January 11 and 12th. A reincarnation of the Chanterelle Festival, the event was a fundraiser for the Big Sur Health Center, and as such, delivered some of the healthiest and delicious food you could forage from the local Big Sur landscape.
Thanks to the rains of Winter 2013, the mushroom maniacs had sufficient spores to choose from in local forests and fields, and the Fungus FaceOff, a friendly competition among local chefs, put their talents to the test for a wildly appreciative audience. This was indeed a chanterelle candyland for wine and food aficionados who were looking for the perfect way to enjoy both. Tough work, but someone has to do it!
The challenge was to figure out which of the many delish wine offerings would dance most appropriately with each dish. True, this is always subjective, and there were often multiple choices to this test, making the job even more difficult, I mean, rewarding!
Celebrity judges Jim Dodge, Michael Bauer and Wendy Brodie were tasked with assigning mushroom and wine paring awards in the following categories:
MOST INVENTIVE USE
Big Sur Affair Catering, Mark Marron & Sherry Gladstone: Chanterelle infused vodka martini – this one brought the ocean into very sharp focus! Mark and Sherry also wowed with Monterey Bay Dungeness crab cake topped with chanterelle poblano sauté and wild mushroom saffron risotto with pecorino cheese.
Wine Pairing: 2009 Scheid Chardonnay and 2011 Baker & Brain Gruner Veltliner, Edna Valley
MOST UNUSUAL/UNIQUE CREATIVE DISH
Ripplewood ,Carl Shadwell: Pate choux puff with chanterelle, Meyer lemon, lavender and honey ice cream
Wine Pairing: 2010 Comanche Cellars Chardonnay, Zabala Vineyard, Arroyo Seco
BEST FEATURE DISH (PEOPLES AWARD) & BEST DISH USING WINE
Tim Wood, Carmel Valley Ranch: Matsutake braised beef ragout, roasted garlic, Mazuna, Carmel Valley Ranch salt, shaved black truffles on crostini
Wine Pairing: 2010 Pessagno Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands and 2011 McIntyre Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands
BEST TABLE DISPLAY
Big Sur Taphouse , Enrique Esparza and Steve Mayer: French dip with chanterelle au jus with specialty salts of black sage, lemon and chanterelle oyster
Wine Pairing: 2010 Chapellet Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley and 2009 Comanche Cellars Cabernet Franc, Jolon Vineyard, San Antonio Valley
MOST ARTISTIC PRESENTATION
Nepenthe , Tim Tavadara and The Cultured Abalone Farm, Douglas Bush: Abalone and porcini fritter with pickleweed and red dulse (seaweed)
Wine Pairing: 2011 Baker & Brain Grenache Blanc, Edna Valley
MOST EASILY ADAPTED TO HOME COOKING
Fernwood, Scott McMullen: Mushroom, banana squash and goat cheese bread pudding with pistachio pesto
Wine Pairing: 2011 Chesebro Wines Vermentino, Cedar Lane Vineyard, Arroyo Seco
Coast Gallery, Matt Farmer: Chanterelle and roasted garlic bisque (made using no cream: thickened with rice)
Wine Pairing: 2011 McIntyre Vineyards Merlot, Kimberly Vineyard or 2010 Calcareous Pinot Noir, York Mountain, Paso Robles
BEST VEGETARIAN DISH
Big Sur Bakery, Philip Wojtowicz: Gougere filled with chanterelle mousse
Wine Pairing: 2008 Mesa del Sol “Primo Rosso,” Zin-Sangiovese blend
Mark your calendars for next year’s Fungus FaceOff – it will be in January – date to be announced. You don’t want to miss this delicious magical mushroom infusion.
BY: LAURA NESS, WINE JUDGE & WINE WRITER
Laura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” is an accomplished wine journalist and wine critic whose passion for wine was ignited by a visit to France, where she had the unmatched pleasure of tasting Sancerre in the medieval town of Sancerre – splendid!— and then a Saumur, after visiting the Chateau de Saumur in Chinon. The concept of terroir came alive in those incandescent moments. She regularly judges wine competitions and serves on the tasting panels of the Pinot, Cabernet and Chardonnay Shootouts. She was instrumental in helping define the unique sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in concert with Appellation America. You can usually find her sipping and smiling in Mendocino, Livermore, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles. Laura writes extensively for many industry and consumer publications, and has weekly wine columns in several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs, irreverently and sporadically, at myvinespace.com.