The Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association hosts an annual festival of food and wine called Taste Our Terroir, which highlights the very best of the Livermore Valley’s unique wine and food scene. This multi-day event kicks off with a food and wine pairing competition that really gets the creative juices flowing!
We are no strangers to the food and wine of the Livermore Valley. What made the food and wine pairing competition so attractive was the combination of our favorite winemakers with our favorite chefs. As a premier event in the valley, the competitive spirit of all the participants was guaranteed to produce amazing results. We were not disappointed!
The food and wine pairing competition was hosted at the Casa Real event center. Tickets were sold at two levels: VIP and General Admission. The difference between the two levels was arrival time. VIP admission started at 5:00 while general admission started at 6:00. Since 700 people attended the competition (yes, it was sold out again!), that one hour of early access was valuable beyond words.
Arriving right at the stroke of 5:00, we entered to find the large Casa Real event room buzzing with excitement. Armed with our tasting glass and plate, we were ready for action. Chefs were laying out their first plate of single bites, winemakers were tweaking the arrangement of their bottles and adjusting the signage. Hours of preparation were coming together at this very moment!
Each table delivered a consistent experience: a generous splash of wine and a small bite of coordinating food. That is where the similarity ended. Each winemaker brought their most distinctive wine, and the randomly paired chef pulled out all the stops to create a festival of flavor in a single bit that maximized the positive features of the wine while bringing focus to their own gastronomic creativity!
The room was laid out to deliver a classic wine tasting experience: starting with white wines at the entrance and then on to the reds toward the back of the room. With the stream of excited tasters pouring into the room, we hurried to the back of the room, starting with the red wines, absent the bustle of new arrivals. This somewhat unconventional strategy leveraged our flexible palates to give us more one-on-one time with the winemakers and chefs. This was a great opportunity to discuss the food and wine pairings and catch up on winery news. All done while munching on some out-of-this-world single bites. With all of these talented people working together to deliver the very best of the region, it is hard to imagine a better evening!
In addition to the pairing tables in the main event room, the courtyard area featured a number of additional wineries pouring without a paired chef, and a special painting demonstration featuring the artists from Pinot’s Palette Livermore. The pleasant weather made strolling between the tables, taking in the artistry in action and sipping on their wonderful tastings a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the competition area.
As we visited each pairing table in the main room, we developed our own list of favorites. Eagle Ridge Vineyard poured a 2011 Petite Sirah, paired with an Arancini Calabrese con pesto Trapanese. This Italian twist on a Scotch Egg was both delicious and an amazing counterpoint to the lilting fruit of the Petite Sirah. The Hoisin-glazed pork belly mornay from Double Barrel Wine Bar was absolutely heavenly paired with the Steven Kent Winery 2013 Vincere. The McGrail Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a dry rub brisket with homemade smoky paprika pimento cheese in a crispy risotto shell from Beets Hospitality Group was probably our favorite tasting of the evening. We may or may not have returned for a second opinion, which supported our first impression.
Just as we completed our tour of each and every contestant, another wonderful thing happened: the dessert room opened! Yes, there was a dessert room that opened at 7:00. Tasty bits of chocolate and other delights, along with some of the finest Ports the valley has to offer. The event organizers certainly know how to cap off a food and wine pairing! A bit (or two) of chocolate revived our flagging energy and give us just the boost we needed to give proper attention to the rest of the evening.
Properly refreshed, we returned to the main event area to hear the official judging results. The food and wine pairings were judged by Deborah Parker Wong of The Tasting Panel Magazine, Linda Carruci, well-known food and wine writer, and Fred Swan, a wine writer and educator. There was also a “People’s Choice” award category, allowing every visitor to cast tokens for their favorites. The evening’s winners were:
Best Classic Pairing: Rodrigue Molyneaux and Gan Restaurant
Rodrigue Molyneaux 2013 Chateau Molyneaux Merlot, Livermore Valley (winemaker: Garry Rodrigue)
Wedding Cheeks with a Charred Korean Pepper Soubise, Crisp Potato and Pickled Red Daikon (chef: Peter Jee-Oh Chung )
Most Innovative Pairing: Dante Robere Vineyards and Lazy Dog
Dante Robere 2013 Roberitage, 50% Syrah 50% Cabernet Sauvignon Livermore Valley (winemakers: Dan Rosenberg and Bob Bossi)
Minced Chicken in Lettuce Spears with a Sweet Hoisin Sauce (chef: Adrian Rodrigues)
Judges’ Best Pairing: Wente Vineyards and The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards
Wente Vineyards 2014 Small Lot Serenity, Livermore Valley (winemaker: Karl D. Wente)
Berkshire Pork Sausage with Bing Cherry Mostarda and Riesling Fermented Kraut (chef: Mike Ward)
People’s Choice Best Red Wine Pairing: McGrail Vineyards & Winery and Beets Hospitality Group
McGrail Vineyards and Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Livermore Valley (winemaker: Mark Clarin)
12-Hour House Smoked Dry Rub Brisket with Homemade Smoky Paprika Pimento Cheese in a Crispy Risotto Shell (chef: Clay Brunton)
People’s Choice Best White Wine Pairing: Longevity Wines and Johnny Garlic’s
Longevity Wines 2015 Pinot Blanc, Livermore Valley (winemaker: Phil Long)
Won Ton Taco with Ahi Tuna, Mango Jicama Salsa, Wasabi Cream and Eel Sauce (chef: Ulises Rodriguez)
Some memories of the evening:
Congratulations to all of the participants, and thank you for producing such an amazing evening!
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?