Mushroom Wine and Food Pairing: What a difference a year makes. Last time around at the Big Sur Foragers Festival aka”Fungus Faceoff”, in January of 2013, it was freezing cold and everyone wanted to be in the sun. Nobody wanted to drink white wine and my knuckles were turning purple by day’s end. There were heaps of mushrooms on all the display tables and the cuisine was hale and hearty.
This year, with the temps near 80 and certainly above that in the direct sun, the devastating effects of drought were obvious in the lack of foraged ‘shrooms and the fact that the Forager’s hike had to be canceled earlier that morning in favor of a hike up Tan Bark Falls (which were certainly not falling), with expert Stephen Copeland of Big Sur Guides.
Yet, a backdrop as stunning as Ventana Inn, accompanied by a dizzying array of auction items and punctuated by the creative food displays from our local restaurants, made for an enjoyable mid January afternoon that felt more like summer. This event is a must for people who love three things that can only converge in this manner in one spot on earth: Big Sur, mushrooms and wine.
Again held at the glorious Ventana Inn, Fungus FaceOff was a cornucopia of delicious foods featuring mushrooms, accompanied by wine from over a dozen wineries. The idea is for the guests to try all the food and choose their favorite dish.
At the same time, celebrity judges, who this year including Chef Wendy Brodie and Joel Riddell, are tasked with voting for their favorites in a series of categories.
2014 Fungus FaceOff Winners
Most Inventive Use of Ingredients – Ventana Inn
Most Unique Dish – Big Sur Bakery
Most Complex Flavors Dish – Ripplewood
Best Hot/ Spicy Dish – Big Sur Roadhouse
Best Table Display – Fernwood
Most Artistic Presentation of Dish – Esalen
Most Easily Adapted to Home Cooking – Bernardus
Most Nutritious/Healthy – Big Sur Bakery
Best Vegetarian Dish – Hyatt Carmel Highlands
Most Local Ingredients – Carmel Valley Ranch
Best Cooking Technique – Tap House
Special Trophies Awarded
People’s Choice – Bernardus (Cal Stamenov)
Judges’ Pick for Celebrity Chef of Show – Ventana
From my perspective, I was just having fun figuring out which wines went best with each shroom-infused dish. Here are my favorite fungus wine pairing clearly mastering the Secret Wine and Food Pairing with Mushrooms.
Top Fungus Wine and Food Pairings
2008 Mercy Zabala Chardonnay, Arroyo Seco, with the grilled prosciutto wrapped prawn with nori from Big Sur Taphouse. The intense minerality and lanolin-like core from bottle-aging an already limestone-laden wine was the perfect “like meets like” pairing with the richly textured prawns wrapped with fatty prosciutto.
2012 Chesebro Sauvignon Blanc, Cedar Lane Vineyard with the scrumptiously delicious “Everything Carrots,” from Big Sur Bakery, roasted with balsamic, herbs and sesame seeds and served with a wood sorrel cream cheese, with nutritional yeast serving as their “fungus.” The liveliness and great body of the wine paired with the cream cheese and spices perfectly. Other nice wine pairing with the carrots were the 2012 Scheid and Morgan sauvignon blancs.
The Dawn’s Dream 2011 Monterey Pinot Noir was a tasty match with the Fernwood couscous with dried fruits, chanterelles and house-smoked bacon. The nutty chewiness of the dish really complemented the tannins of this wine, and the inherent cherry and raspberry elements were drawn out by the dried winter fruits.
2011 Wrath 4/777 Pinot Noir proved a particularly fine pairing with Bernardus Chef Cal Stamenov’s goat cheese polenta with maitake and yellow foot mushrooms, topped with crispy garlic brioche croutons. This was my husbands’ favorite dish of the day, although he adored the Highlands Inn cannelloni also.
2010 Chesebro Pinot Noir with the Carmel Valley Ranch mushroom and pulled pork bruschetta, topped with a radish, but the beauty of this wine is that it is built for food, and can really play up the savory angles of anything made with funghi.
2011 Comanche Cellars CharEva Vineyard Pinot Noir, Arroyo Seco, with the smokey, bacon and pork-infused mushroom chowder that I thought would be a dead-ringer for the Comanche syrah, or the cab franc. They both brought out and accentuated the smokiness of the dish, whereas the exceptional structure and finesse of the pinot coaxed the more delicate mushroom flavors out. Although I didn’t try the Scheid 50/50 syrah/cab with this dish, it might have worked really well.
2011 Wrath Ex Anima Pinot Noir (which is made entirely without new oak) brilliantly played off Ventana’s most amazing magic mushroom macaroons filled with porcini infused cream. Exotic!
2009 Comanche Cellars Mission Ranch Syrah with the Hyatt Highlands Inn’s awesome mushroom, spinach and cheese filled cannelloni, which were a meaty and hearty delight with a wine that wears the same saddle: big, bold and smokey. The Comanche Cellars Tempranillo was a close second with this dish, but would be happier if it had meat. And you want to keep a wine like that happy, or else it just might buck you to Kingdom Come, as my mother is fond of saying.
A few wines stood out as compelling solo acts all on their own, including the 2012 Madeleine Chenin Blanc, made by Damien Georis, a simple, delicately white peachy delight. You could drink that all afternoon on days we’ve been having of late.
Similarly, the finely tuned and graceful 2012 “Summer Shade” Grenache Blanc from Cholame, in San Miguel, was captivating with its succulent pear, white nectarine and citrus accents. It mostly paired beautifully with the summer weather, from which we all needed shade.
Let’s hope we get some much-needed rain before mushrooms become, like our lakes and streams, extinct.
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.
Photo Credit: Jane Mitchinson