Of all the wine and food events I attend on an annual basis, Taste Our Terroir in Livermore tops all for its wine country camaraderie and culinary creativity.
This year, 18 restaurants and wineries paired up for an evening of delicious competition at Casa Real at Ruby Hill, while a dozen other wineries poured outside in the courtyard or in the Dessert room.
First of all, kudos to all the winners, beginning with the People’s Choices
People’s Choice Winners
Best White Wine Pairing: Longevity Wines and Johnny Garlic’s
Longevity Wines 2015 Pinot Blanc, Livermore Valley, by winemaker, Phil Long, paired with Won Ton Taco with Ahi Tuna, Mango Jicama Salsa, Wasabi Cream and Eel Sauce by Chef Ulises Rodriguez. This was a dish you could easily find addictive, with its interplay of slightly spicy and sweet, excellent textural crunch and wollop of wasabi, complimented by the lithe texture and perfect acid of the Pinot Blanc.
Best Red Wine Pairing: McGrail Vineyards & Winery and Beets Hospitality Group
McGrail Vineyards and Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley, by winemaker, Mark Clarin, paired with 12-Hour House Smoked Dry Rub Brisket with Homemade Smoky Paprika Pimento Cheese in a Crispy Risotto Shell, by Chef Clay Brunton. This one had to win for red pairing, with its killer combo of smokey meat and utterly decadent pimento cheese and that tantalizing snap of crispy risotto.
Now, to the Judge’s choices, which are always an interesting take on things. It’s no secret that the dishes presented to the judges can vary quite a bit from those presented to the public. Take the results with a grain of salt, like all those medals awarded to Russian Olympic athletes. Happy to see Wine Oh TV friends Deborah Parker Wong and Fred Swan at the judges table!
Judges’ Best Pairing: Wente Vineyards and The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards
Wente Vineyards 2014 Small Lot “Serenity,” Livermore Valley (winemaker: Karl D. Wente) paired with Chef Mike Ward’s Berkshire Pork Sausage with Bing Cherry Mostarda and Riesling Fermented Kraut on “everything” cracker.
Best Classic Pairing: Rodrigue Molyneaux and Gan Restaurant
Rodrigue Molyneaux 2013 Chateau Molyneaux Merlot, Livermore Valley (winemaker: Garry Rodrigue) paired with Wedding Cheeks with a Charred Korean Pepper Soubise, Crisp Potato and Pickled Red Daikon by rising star Chef Peter Jee-Oh Chung of Gan Restaurant in Pleasanton. This was a classy and classic dish paired perfectly with a handsome, well-built Merlot, among the finest in the Valley. The Judges got this one right.
This matchup could best be described as a last minute romance. The chef originally slated to pair with RM backed out about ten days before the event, causing a rather hasty search for the proper prom date to accompany this sleek wine to the dance.
Fortunately, with some assistance from Laura Olson of Pleasanton Downtown Association (a referral by Emily Kasten of Visit Tri Valley), Chef Peter from Gan stepped up to the challenge. And step up he did with a cheerful grace befitting of someone with such obvious talent. Put this restaurant on your “must” list.
Most Innovative Pairing: Dante Robere Vineyards and Lazy Dog
Dante Robere 2013 Roberitage, 50% Syrah 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley, by winemakers Dan Rosenberg and Bob Bossi, fancifully paired with Minced Chicken in Lettuce Spears with a Sweet Hoisin Sauce by Chef Adrian Rodrigues. This gets extra points for a healthy edible delivery device, and the only piece of lettuce in the entire place.
Honorable Mention Awards
Prettiest in Pink Award: Concannon and Underdog Wine Bar
You can’t go wrong with a pretty pink wine mated with splendidly lime and rose-swirled watermelon radishes as the delivery device. The 2015 Rosé of Petite Sirah was divine with the ceviche of scallops, fresh peaches, cilantro, habanero and rose reduction. This wine should be on your summer bucket list.
Happy Conehead Award: Occasio and Posada Catering
This was actually one of the finest pairings in the place, with the lively playfulness of the 2015 Malvasia Bianca dancing merrily with the crispy waffle cone of smoked salmon perfectly punched up with an energetic southwest salsa. Hopefully, this will appear on the menu when Posada finally reopens. Alas, the wine is already sold out.
Kick Sand in the Face of Convention Award: Retzlaff and Salt Craft
You have to love Salomé Retzlaff’s attitude when it comes to this event. “Let’s just have fun with it!” is her enduring motto. She teamed up with the irrepressible Matt Greco (remember him from Wente?) of the soon to be open Salt Craft, to create a perfect companion to the 2013 Chardonnay: exquisitely toasted bars of Olivina olive oil bread topped with goat cheese, leeks and popcorn. There should be an award for Most Fun pairing. She’d win every time.
Star-Crossed Lovers Award: 2013 Cuda Ridge Cab Franc with Elisa’s Chili Colorado Short Rib
Sometimes the right wine for the food is that stranger across a crowded room, as Robert Goulet belted out in “Some Enchanted Evening,” from “South Pacific,” one of the few musicals I adore. In this case, the perfectly chile-spiced short rib with avocado sour cream begged for the incense and chile-dusted Cab Franc from Cuda Ridge.
ShotGun Wedding Award: Big White House Chardonnay and Elisa’s Catering
Winemaker John Evan had planned to serve his Riesling with the jalapeno brined pork belly with lemongrass ponzu sauce. It was the perfect plan, right up until he got the proof for the program and saw a typo. In a moment of panic, he realized that the Riesling, which is from the Santa Lucia Highlands, wouldn’t fit the grown in Livermore theme. He frantically searched for a white he could substitute, finally locating a yet to be released 2014 Chard in the warehouse. “I about gave Elisa a heart attack!” Evan admits. Surprisingly, that Chardonnay made best friends with aforementioned bacon and the wedding was on. Thumbs up for pork belly and Chardonnay!
Taste Our Terroir is held the third Thursday of each July, with seminars, brunches, lunches and dinners on three subsequent days and evenings. Visit LVwine.org to sign up for their mailing list.
Image Credit: Livermore Valley Winegrowers
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.