Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ventura County Wine Trail - Local Food & Wine Challenge - 2012




Local Food & Wine Challenge - 2012


The Ventura County Wine Trail really did put a new spin on food and wine shows as advertised with the first annual Local Food & Wine Challenge on January 19th from 6:00 - 8:30 pm in Ventura at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. This event was held at the top of the hotel in the Bay View room overlooking Ventura beach. All of the 350 tickets were sold a week before and at times it seemed like there were about 400 people. There were 13 different wineries from the VCWT pouring their best wines and 12 restaurants pairing special dishes with each of 12 wineries.

Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach

Santa Barbra County?

If you paid attention to the displays at each table you could see which of their two tastings were entered in the official judging. The program was also a little nebulous about this, as it didn’t highlight which entry was being judged, but it did list the official entry dishes first. No problem; my unofficial judging rated every pairing that I was able to taste, and my results were radically different! What do I know? Or just maybe, what do they know? And the judges were Lisa McKinnon of The Star, Lynne Andujar and Angela Pattera of 805 Living magazine, and Tom Hilton and Sandy Seekins of KVTA-AM 1520's "Tom and Sandy" show.
Ye Olde Judges
Sparkling Start!

Panera Line-up


















The evening began with a reception hosted by Malibu Family Wines and Panera Breads in the Aqua Bar on the first floor. Holding a “reception” for over 300 people in a relatively small entry way is kind of funny, it really isn’t too cozy with a steady stream of people in line for checking in.



Tony Ybarra, a local Santa Barbara guitarist, played a wide range of music at the reception and at the tasting event – his playing really livened up the atmosphere and at times he sounded more like a duo.


The 12 teams of local wineries and restaurants that competed for the best wine and food pairing in Ventura County were listed and arranged in the Bay View ballroom in this order:


Winery
Restaurant
1
Magnavino Cellars
La Dolce Vita
2
Sunland Vintage Cellars
The Kitchen
3
The Ojai Vineyard
The Ranch House
4
Squashed Grapes
5th Street Steak & Seafood
5
Rancho Ventavo Cellars
Aloha Steakhouse
6
San Vicente Cellars
R & R Chocolate Palace
7
Rosenthal-The Malibu Estate
Carbon Beach Club
8
Four Brix Winery
Cafe Zack
9
Old Creek Ranch Winery / Vino V Wines
The Jolly Oyster
10
Bella Victorian Vineyard
Bella Victorian Bistro
11
Herzog Wine Cellars
Tierra Sur
12
Cantara Cellars
C-Street



Boccali’s Vineyards & Winery and their Restaurant were originally listed as participants, but they must have cancelled at the last minute.


Not listed as part of the competition, but equally enjoyable, was the Malibu Family Wines Saddle Rock Sparkling Rosé with Panera’s two bread appetizers that were topped with chicken salad and artichoke spread. I didn’t go for Panera’s Green Tea drink (what were they thinking?) or their strawberry scone (probably good for breakfast though).


I guess the room layout was what someone thought would be a natural order for tasting, working in the same way that most people read – from left to right (or clockwise) around the circular room, but as everyone walked into the Bay View ballroom they were acting more like they were driving than reading and naturally they all kept to the right! So tasting started at the twelfth table, which had a much shorter queuing area than the first table did. Gridlock! As a consequence people were lined up out to the elevators. Kind of a funny way to start off and made it necessary to read the program in reverse order following the counter-clockwise route. I skipped the herd though and managed to taste in the program’s original order, although I still had to join the long line at the twelfth table eventually.


Cheese Extravaganza

I managed to taste 23 of the 24 different wines paired with dishes and a little of the “cheese extravaganza” on a very large table in the center of the room. Of the 2 cheeses I tasted my favorite was the “Vintage Van Gogh” cheese. Roth Käse USA describes it this way: “It is crafted in limited quantities from fresh, full-cream milk, making it creamier than most Goudas and aged a minimum of six months to create a golden body and rich flavor with undertones of caramel and coffee.” Great Gouda! And it went well with the Cabernet Sauvignon that Squashed Grapes was pouring.




The challengers and entries along with my ratings are listed below. The first entry for each pair of challengers is the entry for the official judging.



Rancho Ventavo Cellars & Aloha Steakhouse

2006 Cabernet Franc, Central Coast paired with Black & Blue Steak and Mushroom Crostini. 

Wine:

Food: 5

Wine + Food Average: 5


2008 Mouvedre, Santa Barbara County paired with Seared Ahi over Wasabi sauce with mango & ginger.

Wine: 5

Food: 5

Wine + Food Average: 5



Both Pairings Total: 10





Bella Victorian Vineyard & Bella Victorian Bistro

2008 "Romeo" Grenache paired with Grenache Braised Oxtail with a corn mushroom polenta and white truffle oil essence, natural jus reduction sauce, Grenache glaze, and micro greens.

Wine: 4.5

Food: 4.5

Wine + Food Average: 4.5


2009 Dornfelder paired with Chocolate Truffles with Dornfelder Glaze. (I highly recommend the Dornfelder wine!)

Wine: 5

Food: 5

Wine + Food Average: 5



Both Pairings Total: 9.5





Cantara Cellars & C-Street (in the Crowne Plaza hotel)

2009 Frankenvine Red, (Cab Franc, Syrah, Zinfandel, Old Vine Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, and Malbec blend) paired with Wild Cherry &  Coffee Bean Braised Short Rib with Frankenvine Red and natural juices. Seared over Yukon Gold mashed potatoes infused with Maytag Bleu Cheese and topped with crusty tobacco fried leek.

(Frankenvine was served right from the barrel.)

Wine: 5

Food: 4.5

Wine + Food Average: 4.75


2009 The Bride (barbera, sangiovese, zinfandel, and petit syrah blend) paired with chipotle BBQ Roasted Salmon with Black Bean Rice. (The presentation of this salmon and of the braised short rib was the most interesting at the event.)

Wine: 5

Food: 4.5

Wine + Food Average: 4.75



Both Pairings Total: 9.5





Magnavino Cellars & La Dolce Vita

2009 Petite Sirah paired with Crispy Prosciutto wrapped pork loin with pan seared wild mushrooms, home made chive crème fraiche and garlic chips topped with citrus grilled asparagus tips and blackberry-balsamic thyme reduction.

Wine: 5

Food: 5

Wine + Food Average: 5


2009 Sangiovese paired with Aracini - the restaurant's famous risotto balls stuffed with provolone with a marinara dipping sauce.

Wine: 3

Food: 3

Wine + Food Average: 3



Both Pairings Total: 8





Sunland Vintage Cellars (made at Camarillo Custom Crush) & The Kitchen

2007 Dolcetto Giovinazzo Wines paired with Lamb Burger made with herbs and spices served with red pepper relish on house made bun.  (Tasted like Anise.)

Wine: 3

Food: 3

Wine + Food Average: 3


2008 Montepulciano, Giovinazzo Wines paired with tasty home style Meatloaf with grilled onion and spicy house BBQ glaze on a mini house made bun. (This was my favorite of the two dishes!)

Wine: 4

Food: 4

Wine + Food Average: 4



Both Pairings Total: 7





Squashed Grapes & 5th Street Steak & Seafood

2011 Alicante Bouchet Rosé paired with Braised Pork Belly in smoke

Wine: 3

Food: 3

Wine + Food Average: 3


2010 98% Cabernet & 2% Syrah blend paired with Goat Cheese Artichoke Dip with spinach, garlic and bacon.

Wine: 4

Food: 4

Wine + Food Average:



Both Pairings Total: 7





San Vicente Cellars   &   R&R Chocolate Palace

2010 Viognier paired with Butter Caramel with Seasalt. Listen to Cathleen Pantess describe the pairing here.

Wine: 3

Food: 4

Wine + Food Average: 3.5


2009 Sangiovese paired with Violet Lavender Truffles. Listen to Cathleen Pantess describe the pairing here.

Wine: 3

Food: 4

Wine + Food Average: 3.5



Both Pairings Total: 7





Rosenthal - The Malibu Estate & Carbon Beach Club

2008 Cabernet Sauvignon paired with Short Ribs Sliders with currant braised short ribs with mint coleslaw.

Wine: 3

Food: 3

Wine + Food Average: 3


2011 Viognier paired with Spicy Tuna Tartar on Crispy Wonton with Seaweed & Granny Smith Apple.

Wine: 4

Food: 4

Wine + Food Average: 4



Both Pairings Total: 7





Four Brix Winery & Cafe Zack

2009 Rhondezvous, (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise blend) paired with certified Angus Filet layered with a  Rhondezvous reduction sauce & topped with Maytag bleu cheese.

Wine: 3.5

Food: 3.5

Wine + Food Average: 3.5


2009 Zeductive, (zinfandel, petite syrah blend) paired with Portobello, Shitake & Buttonwood Champignons sauteed with black truffle oil, garlic butter & herbs de Provence.

Wine: 3.5

Food: 3.5

Wine + Food Average: 3.5



Both Pairings Total: 7





Old Creek Ranch Winery / Vino V Wines & The Jolly Oyster

2007 Nebbiolo, Stolpman Vineyard Old Creek Ranch Winery paired with a rustic flatbread topped with Manilla clams, red potatoes, garlic and broiled kale provided by Rio Gozo Farm, and lemon zest.

Wine: 3.5

Food: 3.5

Wine + Food Average: 3.5



2010 Confundida Vino V Wines (100% Gruner Veltliner) paired with raw Kumamoto oysters in the shell topped with green onions, Pebre sauce and caviar limes.

Wine: 3.5

Food: 3.5

Wine + Food Average: 3.5



Both Pairings Total: 7





The Ojai Vineyard & The Ranch House

2008 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay paired with grilled diver scallops creamed with corn curry sauce with basil oil.

Wine: 4

Food: 3

Wine + Food Average: 3.5


2009 Sauvignon Blanc, McGinley Vineyard paired with Chilled Poached Salmon.

Wine: 3

Food: 3

Wine + Food Average: 3



Both Pairings Total: 6.5





Herzog Wine Cellars & Tierra Sur

2010 Eagles Landing Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir paired with Veal and Duck Boudin Sausage.

Wine: 4

Food: 3

Wine + Food Average: 3.5



2008 Alexander Cabernet Sauvignon paired with Cherry & Chili Glazed Lamb Ribs. (This may have been good – because it disappeared fast!)

Wine: -

Food: -



My vote went to Rancho Ventavo Cellars and Aloha Steakhouse
It was close and there wasn’t a bad (less than a total rank of 5) pairing in the competition.  After a very fun tasting my vote for the winning team goes to Rancho Ventavo and Aloha Steakhouse!  And three other teams round out the top three.



Place
Winery
Restaurant
Both Pairings Total
1
Rancho Ventavo Cellars
Aloha Steakhouse
10.0
2
Bella Victorian Vineyard
Bella Victorian Bistro
9.5
Cantara Cellars
C-Street
9.5
3
Magnavino Cellars
La Dolce Vita
8.0
4
Sunland Vintage Cellars
(made at Camarillo Custom Crush)
The Kitchen
7.0
Squashed Grapes
5th Street Steak & Seafood
7.0
San Vicente Cellars
R & R Chocolate Palace
7.0
Rosenthal-The Malibu Estate
Carbon Beach Club
7.0
Four Brix Winery
Cafe Zack
7.0
Old Creek Ranch Winery / Vino V Wines
The Jolly Oyster
7.0
5
The Ojai Vineyard
The Ranch House
6.5
6
Herzog Wine Cellars
Tierra Sur
               ?





 

The Winning Team: The Ranch House and The Ojai Vineyard
The Ranch House and The Ojai Vineyard entry of Chardonnay and scallops were pretty good, but I enjoyed many other pairings even more. Must be that my palate is different than those of the official judges, because they voted The Ojai Vineyard and The Ranch House as the winning team! The early tour and exclusive presentations the judges received may have enhanced their appreciation of certain entries vs. others. Or maybe waiting in lines and getting an occasional elbow had the opposite effect on me.



Overall it was a very fun tasting event and well worth the price of admission.  I recommend buying your tickets online – and early – next year.  After sampling many awesome food entries I’m looking forward to checking out the cuisine at Aloha Steakhouse and Bella Victorian Bistro in the near future.  And I’m sure they’ll have great wines on their wine lists!



PS – It was interesting to see how some of my favorite wineries from my previous review ranked this time around. And one that didn’t make my short list last time won this time.  I guess it pays to sample wines again, especially with the addition of gourmet foods!  Wish all wine tastings could have tasty appetizers with them…