For the very first time in all the years of this event, parity was achieved on the number of white and rosé wines vs. red — eight of each. Had Darcie Kent Winery participated as planned, (unforeseen circumstances prevented their appearance), there would have been one more red offering, as they had planned to showcase their Petite Sirah.
Another first for the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association’s Taste Our Terroir 2019 was the sheer number of vegetarian and seafood offerings, a welcome departure from the past, when there was a flotilla of duck one year, meatlockers filled with beef another, followed by lamb up the ying yang. This year’s Taste Our Terroir really represented well the panoply of contemporary dietary preferences, and truly brought out creativity on the part of the participating chefs, many of whom clearly are taking seriously the impact of their food choices on Planet A. Kudos to all those who offered such a delicious diversity of wines and foods for an evening of matchmaking, mostly made in heaven.
This year’s judges were Ethan Fletcher of Diablo Magazine, wine and travel writer Jill Robinson and Mike Dunne of Dunne on Wine, each of whom tasted through the pleasant variety of 16 food and wine pairings at this year’s sold-out event at Casa Real at Ruby Hill Winery. Last year, there were 20 such pairings, but with Nottingham Cellars and Concannon Vineyard no longer in the Winegrowers Association, and Occasio and Crooked Vine opting out, the field narrowed somewhat.
Here are the 2019 Taste Our Terroir Judges Awards, provided by the Winegrowers Association:
Best Classic Pairing: Page Mill Winery and Millennium Restaurant
• 2017 Vintners Select Chardonnay, Livermore Valley (Dane Stark, winemaker and owner)
•Chilled sweet corn soup, crisp polenta crouton, herbed almond ricotta, smoked pimenton oil (Chef Eric Tucker)
Most Innovative Pairing: Big White House Winery and Sauced BBQ & Spirits
• 2015 Das Riko Syrah, Livermore Valley (John Evan Marion, winemaker and owner)
• Burnt End Rednexican Nachos: Burnt Ends with poblano queso, black beans, roasted corn, fresh jalapeno and a cilantro garnish, drizzled lightly with BBQ sauce (Chef Brenden Scanlan)
Judge’s Best Pairing: Cuda Ridge Wines and Campo di Bocce
• 2016 Merlot, Livermore Valley (Larry Dino, winemaker and owner)
• Duck “Merguez” Sausage with Stone Fruits: house-made duck sausage with toasted coriander, charred chili cream and an apricot relish, finished with a summer stone fruit Merlot reduction and epazote garnish (Chef Salinna Grant and Chef Michael Wogen)
The People’s Choice Awards went to:
Best White Wine Pairing: Longevity Wines and PlaYT
• 2018 Pinot Grigio, Livermore Valley (Phil Long, winemaker and owner)
• Cajun Crab Cake Bite finished with lemon aioli and she-crab sauce (Chef Spike Williams)
Best Red Wine Pairing: Wood Family Vineyards and First Street Alehouse
• 2016 GSM, Livermore Valley (Rhonda Wood, winemaker and owner)
• Gochujang Roasted Pork: pork seasoned with fermented soybean paste and other spices (Chef Tara Teetsel)
Congratulations to all the winners, and to all the hard-working chefs who toiled for hours keeping the food coming, and to all the winery staff who kept the wine flowing. To those teams who didn’t win an award this year, and most certainly deserved to, thank you for adding excellent dishes to further brighten a memorable evening.
A word again about portion size, delivery devices and edibility factors. While most chefs are clearly paying attention to the environmental impact of their delivery devices and portion sizes, some still haven’t figured that out. It’s not possible to eat a mastodon-sized hunk of meat without both knife and fork; please consider cutting things into bite-sized pieces. It’s also not easy to manage an entire (large) slice of prosciutto with burrata on a large crostini. Think smaller.
Anything that requires serving dishes and utensils to cut or manage really adds up — and contributes to waste in this setting. Many dishes employed disposable spoons and other inedibles, which might be avoided with some thought. A couscous salad could have been put into a small lettuce or radicchio cup, for example. A little creativity can surely lead to some clever and tasty delivery vehicles.
As always, a few random awards:
MVP Award: This goes to brilliantly talented winemaker Brent Amos, who donned a chef’s coat to help prep the Las Positas pairing, along with the rest of the LPW culinary team, including Lothar Maier. Not only does Amos deserve to be recognized for his winemaking prowess, but his dedication to food and wine pairing is legendary, mostly among those who know him well. He truly understands the harmony of the perfect wine with the perfect food, whether it happens to be cheese or chocolate truffles. At this year’s Taste Our Terroir, the pairing of the excellent 2015 Las Positas Meritage with the house-made red pepper and Italian sausage tamales was a textural harmonic convergence, well deserving of its own award. It took guts and ambition for the LPW team to create and serve their own food, and they hit the mark nicely.
Best Table Décor Award: This goes hands down to Nella Terra and On the Vine Catering, for a beautiful, natural and mostly edible presentation, featuring fresh apricots and baby’s breath. They also deserve an award for the most excellent pairing of that Sparkling Viognier with the Asian spiced braised pork on seasoned rice with apricot drizzle and daikon sprout garnish.
Dish That Made The Wine Sing: Chef Matt Greco of Salt Craft elevated the Retzlaff 2017 Sauvignon Blanc to a new level with his excellent green tomato and goat cheese curry dish. It might have been even more lovely on a small slice of pita or atop a piece of his excellent bread.
Best Natural Delivery Device: Fenestra Winery paired its fantastic 2018 Sauvignon Blanc (winemaker Aaron Luna is one of this Valley’s major winemaking geniuses) with The Backyard Bayou to provide a refreshingly satisfying pairing of shrimp canapés with mango salsa on endive spears. No muss, fuss or waste. Right on, and a fantastic pairing that was seamless in every way.
Most Fun Pairing: Everyone loves Lola, and pairing this sassy Sauv Blanc/Semillon lass from Steven Kent Winery with Gulf shrimp in Thai green curry from Sabio on Main really showed how this partnership is blossoming. And also how versatile this wine can be.
Serious Dinner Food Award: Mitch Katz teamed up with his pal Chef Chad Walsh of Atria Senior Living, for another hearty and satisfying dish, this time featuring fantastic (although nearly impossible to eat) smoked lamb ribs with an outstanding mash (parsnips?) topped with dried fruits. The 2014 Fat Boy Cabernet showed itself proud, with its lovely cedar and tobacco notes providing a nice counterpoint to the smoky sweetness of the ribs. Mitch loves working with Chad, his original chef from the early days of The Palms. True partnerships, like well-made wines, age gracefully.
As each year goes by, it makes one stop and think how much things change, and how many wineries, restaurants and people have come and gone over the lifetime of this event. It truly is one of the best events of the year.
Thanks to all who made Taste Our Terroir possible for 2019.