Congratulations to this year’s winners of another high-stakes competition where bragging rights are the reward. Taste Our Terroir 2018 was a tale of divergence and a search for harmonic convergence. Tasters were presented with a good mix of whites and reds from a varietal perspective, although whites and rosés are still in the minority, numbering 7 vs. 13 reds. For the first time since La Rochelle left the region, a Pinot Noir showed up to play. Wente’s Winemakers Studio brought their excellent 2016 Pinot Noir Clones, from Arroyo Seco. Hmm, did Livermore just annex Monterey?

But I digress. The rosés were really solid this year, and given the popularity of the category overall, it might be nice to have a People’s Choice rosé award in the future.

This year, there were definitely fewer seafood options: good for some, not for others. There seemed to be a bit more red meat, which tends to bring out the Cabernet, or maybe it’s the other way around. There was far less bread than in the past, and there were a whopping three vegetarian dishes. Wow.

This year’s Judges were Jim Gordon of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Ellen Fort of Eater SF and Ian White of Modern Luxury San Francisco magazine, each of whom tasted through the wildly varied selection of 20 food and wine pairings at this year’s sold out event at Ruby Hill.

Best Classic Pairing: Mitchell Katz Winery and Atria Senior Living

• 2013 Speechless Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, Livermore Valley (Mitchell Katz, winemaker)

• Wagyu Ribeye topped with Barrel-Aged Shoyu and fresh grated Horseradish (Chad Welch, executive chef)

Most Innovative Pairing: Wood Family Vineyards and First Street Alehouse

• 2015 VIVA Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley (Rhonda Wood, winemaker and owner)

• Curry Fried Chicken Frankie with Mango Chutney Aioli, Pickled Vegetables, Chimichurri Sauce and Fresh Cilantro (Tara Teetsel, chef)

Judge’s Best Pairing: Longevity Wines and BackDoor Bistro and Wine Bar

• 2017 Pinot Blanc, Livermore Valley (Phil Long, winemaker and owner)

• Shrimp Aguachili and local Melon on a Chili Dusted Potato Chip with Avocado Crema (Lindsey Chelini, head chef and founder)

Around 700 guests, including an instantly sold out VIP crowd, which got early access to the event at 5pm, had their chance to taste and vote, this year by electronic ballot. No cork or token stuffing allowed and no voting by visual clue, as in years past.

The coveted People’s Choice Awards went to:

Best White Wine Pairing: McGrail Vineyards and Winery and Attraversiamo

• 2017 McGrail Vineyards Kylie Ryan Rose, Livermore Valley (Mark Clarin, winemaker)

• Mexican Street Corn—Local Brentwood Corn, Mayo, Pimenton, Pine Nuts, Lime, Chives topped with a Spicy Chicharron (Jourdan de Sanctis, executive chef and owner)

Best Red Wine Pairing: Wood Family Vineyards and First Street Alehouse

• 2015 VIVA Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley (Rhonda Wood, winemaker and owner)

• Curry Fried Chicken Frankie with Mango Chutney Aioli, Pickled Vegetables, Chimichurri Sauce and Fresh Cilantro (Tara Teetsel, chef)

Kudos 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.

Some chefs are clearly paying attention to edible delivery devices and their zero-waste impact. Kudos to all the Wente group chefs for this. The pressed watermelon at the Winemaker’s Studio table was particularly clever, if not a tad too large to scarf in one bite. The Murietta’s Well Provencal pork terrine with prosciutto cherry- fennel compote was easy to eat, and Executive Chef Mike Ward’s plantain chip delivery of the King salmon crudo served with burnt avocado puree, apple-wasabi relish and lemon was pretty manageable.

If I had to give an award for most sumptuous bite on an entirely edible delivery device, it would have to go to On the Vine Catering for their cocoa and espresso braised lamb shank with steamed bread topped with a salsa of fresh mission fig, mint, carrot and roasted pistachios, paired with the 2016 Nella Terra Petite Sirah from Casa De Vinas. The pieces could have been a wee bit smaller and the flavors would still have been just as impactful. This was an impressive debut from this TOT first time duet.

Anything that requires serving dishes and utensils to cut or manage is truly wasteful in this setting. Bases of yogurt and creamy polenta are also tough to pull off unless you use a disposable spoon like Garré did. But again, disposable. A little creativity can surely lead to some clever and tasty delivery vehicles.

A few random awards.

Best paired couple of the night: Debra and Phil Long. Their outfits were as seamlessly matched as their beautifully paired dish that was well-deserving of Judge’s Best.

Best White wine of the night that needed an easier to eat pairing: Concannon Assemblage Blanc. Best Red wine that could have used a slightly less smoky companion, Nottingham Smith Ranch Cabernet.

Best natural delivery device: Fresh pickled oyster with white wine and oyster bouillie over English cucumber capellini and fresh dill, topped with eggplant caviar by Zephyr Grill & Bar, paired with Las Positas Vineyards 2016 Estate Reserve Chardonnay.

Best Back to the Future déjà vu pairing: Mitch Katz and Chef Chad Walsh of Atria Senior Living. That “Sleepless” Cabernet barrel-aged for three years was really gorgeous, and although I was quite skeptical of the soy sauce as a partner on that Wagyu beef, it worked nicely. The barrel-aging on both seemed to slow dance well together. To see Mitch working with Chad, the original chef back in the early days of The Palms, was heartwarming.

It makes you stop and think about how time flies, how things change, how many wineries, restaurants and people have come and gone over all the time that this event has been going on. And just how fun and beloved a tradition this is.

Thanks to all who made Taste Our Terroir possible again this year. And start cranking on ideas for the next one.

The event is presented by the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association.