Sunday, January 27, 2013

Local Food & Wine Challenge 2013

I like a good challenge - especially one that involves food and wine!

The Ventura County Wine Trail recently organized twelve restaurant-winery teams at the Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach to compete for the best pairing of cuisine and fine wines. Proceeds from the event were donated to Ventura County FOOD Share to support the hungry of Ventura County. An interesting challenge for a good cause made for a great time.

The Paul Weitz Jazz Trio filled the ballroom with a nice jazz vibe to complement the wine and food.

The evening started with a festive glass of sparkling wine (Kosher Castell d’Olèrdola Semi Seco Cava) courtesy of Herzog Wine Cellars.  And for the next two hours I sampled some inspired food and wine with about 300+ fellow tasting fans.  

I planned to complete the circuit in the logical order of 1 through 12, but had a little trouble locating the team signs and tables in the crowds, so I just went with the flow while avoiding long lines. 

The two teams where I encountered lines were Magnavino Cellars/C-Street Café and Alma Sol Winery/La Dolce Vita.  Both were worth the wait though!  C-Street Café created the best setting and food presentation – same as they did last year.

Arriving at the Four Brix/Aloha Steakhouse table I saw the last two of their scallop dishes being served to the people in front of me.  The chef told me they’d gone through 450 servings as he managed to scrape together a 451st for me to taste.  I thought it was the best pairing of food and wine I’d sampled.  Seems like serving all of their food to 300 people might win them the Peoples Award, but it didn’t.  I cast my coupon vote for this team based on the pairing criteria (and not the individual ratings for the food and the wine).

Don’t Forget To Vote!

Everyone who attended received one coupon to cast as a vote for their favorite team.  After sampling the food and wine from all twelve teams, those that could still remember what they tasted could vote for the Peoples Award.  A blind tasting panel of experts from local food and wine businesses decided which team won the Judges Award. I kept my own score, and same as last year, I didn’t agree with the Judges.  The new Peoples Award results were different from the coupon vote I cast as well.  What do I know?  I may not have the same tasting perspective as the judges, or even the rest of the crowd, but I did tally up a complete list of relative rankings for all twelve teams.  It was interesting that the team members that I ranked in first place last year - Rancho Ventavo and Aloha Steakhouse - were both in the top two teams that I picked this year!  Well, at least I’m consistent!

The judges voted on a scale of 1 to 5 for food in the “Taste & Flavor” and “Creative Use of Ingredients” categories and for wine in the categories of “Taste & Aroma” and “Balance.” They also voted on a scale of 1 to 10 for the pairing of the food element(s) with the wine.

With all of these variables I needed a spreadsheet to tally up my ratings and didn't figure it all out until I got home. (Let me know if you want the details and I'll email them to you.) My top 5 ratings were very close and if there weren't criteria like "Creative Use of Ingredients" it would be impossible to choose a first place!  

The winner of the Judges Award was the Bella Victorian Vineyards & Bistro team and the winner of the Peoples Award was Cantara Cellars & Twenty 88 team.

Ventura County Wine Trail's Lauren Belshe did a fine job of coordinating the whole event and the presentation ceremony with local radio celebs Tom & Sandy.

Bella Victorian Vineyards & Bistro team
Cantara Cellars & Twenty 88 team
Rancho Ventavo Cellars
Hollywood Beach Wine Company

After carefully considering the criteria for rating the food and wine I thought the Rancho Ventavo Cellars & Hollywood Beach Wine Company pairing was a winner - by a slim margin.  Closely following was the Four Brix Winery & Aloha Steakhouse team in second place.  And my third place choice was a 3-way tie of Alma Sol Winery & La Dolce Vita, Herzog Wine Cellars & Tierra Sur, and Magnavino Cellars & C-Street Café teams.

The evening of fine wine, tasty food, and cool jazz was very enjoyable and all the tasters were the real winners.


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March/April - Exploring the Ventura County Wine Trail

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November/December - Wine for Holiday Gatherings and Gifts

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Winter Wine Classic, Santa Barbara, 2013

Another fun California Wine Festival event was held at Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort on Sunday, January 20th from 6:30 to 9:00 pm.  My wife and I were able to visit most of the 36 wineries and 15 food booths (if you count the Acqua Panna & San Pellegrino as food) in the 2 1/2 hours.

Well, maybe I could have used another hour to visit the dozen wineries I missed, but it’s my fault … that New Year’s resolution of “Swirl, Sniff, Sip & Spit” seems to slow me down considerably.  My old “Gargle, Gulp & Go” technique was much more efficient and faster, but it tended to degrade my wine appreciation, as well as impair other basic capabilities. I find my challenge with the 4S approach is the spit part.  Sure there’s usually a dump bucket available, but I still can’t bring myself to squeeze in past a bunch of people standing there tasting wine (and apparently drinking it) to actually spit into a bucket.  I saw a very sophisticated wine taster from Europe do this pretty effectively at a winery once.  I was impressed, and yet it was still gross to watch.  Anyway, my solution, for indoor tastings at least, is to sip less and dump more wine – except once in a while when it’s an awesome wine!

Speaking of awesome wines – I had a few extra sips quite a few times at the Winter Wine Classic.  This is the first wine event that I’ve be to where over 80% of the red wines that I tasted scored a 4 or 5 (out of 5, of course) and 60% of the white wines that my wife, Devon, tasted were in the 4-5 range.  Even if I did have to miss the second half of the AFC championship game, it was great to attend this event.  The competing football schedule on Sunday might have accounted for a little extra elbow-room.  There were about 400+ people in the ballroom, but it could have held a few hundred more.  This made it one of the more relaxed wine tasting events I’ve ever been to, a nice atmosphere, great food, terrific wines, and live music.  It was well worth the price of admission.

Music supplied by Gypsy Guitar and Violin duo
Vincent Zorn & Vedant Koppera.

Shopping + Wine = Kissy's Creations

Wine Tasting
Devon tasted white wines and I focused on red wines. The following are a subset of the wines available - just the ones that we tasted.

Au Bon Climat
2008 La Bauge Au dessus Pinot Noir - 91 pts, Wine Advocate, 90 pts, IWC - $30
2010 XXXth Anniversary Chardonnay - $40

Ahnfeldt Winery - Consulting Winemaker is Paul Hobbs
2007 Reserve Classic Bordeaux Blend- 91 pts, Wine Spectator - $85
2008 Reserve Cabernet, Diamond Mountain Vineyard - $90
2008 Reserve Merlot, Hartman Vineyard - 91 pts, Wine Spectator - $65
2010 Provocative Cabernet Sauvignon - 91 pts, Wine Enthusiast - $28
2011 Reserve Chardonnay, Gaps Crown Vineyard - $45

Ampelos Cellars
2007 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, RHO - $45
2008 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, LAMBDA - 92 pts, Wine Spectator - $35
2008 Sta. Rita Hills Syrah, GAMMA - $35

2011 Pinot Grigio - $21
2010 Chardonnay - $24
NV Sparkling Wine - $16

Bouchaine Vineyards
2010 Estate Chardonnay - Gold Medal, 2012 Sommelier Challenge - $30

DAOU Vineyards 
2010 DAOU Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - $56
2010 DAOU Celestus - $46
2011 DAOU Chardonnay - $42

2009 Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley - $44
2010 Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley - $32

Flying Goat Cellars

2009 Pinot Noir Clone 2A Rio Vista Vineyard - $42
2009 Pinot Noir Solomon Hills Vineyard - $42

2008 Pinot Noir Dijon Rio Vista Vineyard - $44

Foley Family Wines
2009 Chalk Hill Estate Red - 90 pts, Connoisseurs Guide - $70
2009 Two Sisters Chardonnay, Courtney's Vineyard - 91 pts, Wine Enthusiast - $55
2010 LinCourt Steel Chardonnay - $18
2009 Lancaster Cabernet Sauvignon, 93 pts, Tasting Panel Magazine - $75

Fritz Underground Winery
2009 Reserve Chardonnay, Russian River Valley - $50

Grassini Family Vineyards
2010 “Articondo” Bordeaux Blend - $38

Hammersky Vineyards
2010 Viognier - $28
2009 Open Invitation Estate (Zinfandel - Merlot) - $34
2009 Estate Zinfandel - $39
2009 Red Handed Estate - $44
2009 Party of Four Estate - $54

Honig Vineyards & Winery
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon - $60
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Bartolucci Vineyard - 93 pts, Wine Spectator - $75
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Campbell Vineyard - $75

Lone Madrone Wines
2009 Old Hat (Zinfandel, Petite Sirah) - $46
2009 Tannat - $40
2009 Von Dog (Tannat, Cabernet, Syrah) - $54

Medlock Ames Winery
2008 Merlot, Bell Mountain Vineyard - $38
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Bell Mountain Vineyard - $52
2009 Kate’s & B’s Cabernet Sauvignon - $75

Melville Winery
2010 Estate Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills - 92 pts, Wine Spectator; 91 pts, Wine Enthusiast; 91 pts, Stephen Tanzer; 91 pts, Robert Parker  - $34
2011 Estate Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills - 91 pts, Stephen Tanzer - $26
2011 Estate Pinot Noir -Terraces (new release) - $56

2011 7 Heavenly Chardonnays - $14

Miner Family Winery
2009 Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon - 93 pts, Connoisseur’s Guide - $75
2009 Wild Yeast Chardonnay - $50
2010 Gary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir - $60

Roxo Port Cellars
2008 Magia Preta - Bronze, Sunset International - $75
2008 Paso Mélange - Silver, Sunset International and San Francisco Chronicle - $44
2008 Ruby Tradicional - Silver, San Francisco Chronicle; Bronze, Sunset International - $44

Saddleback Cellars
Chardonnay - 90 pts, Stephen Tanzer - $29

Silver Oak Winery
2008 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon - 91 pts Wine Spectator, 94 Wine & Spirits - $70

Star Lane Wines
2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara - $44

Tablas Creek
Espirit de Beaucastel Blanc - 94 pts, Rhône Report; 93 pts, International Wine Competition, 91 pts, Wine Advocate - $40

Viansa Winery
2010 Sangiovese - 2 Silver Medals - $30
2010 Zinfandel - 2 Silver Medals - $35

Food Tasting
The complete list of food purveyors included:

We didn't have a chance to visit each booth, but we still enjoyed sampling many of the tasty appetizers.

My first stop was Rodney's Steakhouse (at Fess Parker) for the Crab Cake with Garlic Aioli. It paired well with Bouchaine Chardonnay.

Casa Blanca served some pretty spicy quesadilla triangles. I was surprised, but I liked them! A good way to clear my pallet and move on to tasting red wines.

Blush Restaurant served a tasty trio of colorful appetizers.

And continuing with a spicy theme, Cabot Creamery had a very tasty and spicy cheese offerings. I visited it several times and enjoyed it with a fresh roll from Marmalade Café.

After tasting the Grassini “Articondo” Bordeaux Blend I paired it with a nice chocolate cupcake from Cupcakes in Wonderland.

Enterprise Fish Company was very popular with their excellent lobster bisque. It paired very well with the Star Lane 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara.

Georgia's Smokehouse served some real food - smoked sausage - and I enjoyed it while sipping the Lancaster 2009  Cabernet Sauvignon.

Devon tried the Kerrygold Cheeses and I'm sure they were as great as I've had at past festivals... buttery, creamy, tasty.

Wine Ratings
White wines that Devon liked best (rated from 4 - 5):

I did try the Bouchaine 2010 Estate Chardonnay as my first taste of the evening - very nice!

White wine values (the ratings related to the price):

Red wines that I liked best (rated from 4 - 5):

Red wine values (the ratings related to the price):

New Finds & Good Deals
We had a truly enjoyable evening with plenty of new wineries to visit and new wines to sample.  Wineries that I was glad to learn about were Ahnfeldt, Ampelos, DAOU, Hammersky, and Medlock Ames.  Devon liked discovering Bianchi and Fritz Underground.

Of course it's all subjective, but for the best values in white wines, Bianchi, Melville, Bouchaine, and Foley/Lincourt appear to be good deals.

Ahnfeldt, Ampelos, Au Bon Climat, Viansa, Grassini, and Lone Madrone were tops on my value list for red wines.  And red wines from Flying Goat, Hammersky, Melville, DAOU are still good buys too.

And all alone in its class - Roxo Port Cellars - is always a winning port wine to me.  I enjoyed all three, but my favorite is the 2008 Magia Preta - the only wine I rated a  5+!

What did you think of this tasting event?  Leave a comment below...


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March/April - Exploring the Ventura County Wine Trail


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Wine Tasting Events 2013

It looks like another great year
for Taste N Trips

Wine Tasting Event Glasses - 2012
(Filled to show the event names, not the size of a typical pour!)

The upcoming events that I'm hoping to attend are listed below.  They are located in the Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Paso Robles areas.

Sunday, January 20, 2013 / 6:30 - 9:00 pm
California Wine Festival presents Winter Wine Classic
Santa Barbara

Thursday, January 24, 2013 / 6:00 - 8:30 pm

Ventura County Wine Trail: Local Food & Wine Challenge 2013

Thursday, February 28, 2013 / 6:00 - 8:30 pm

Paso Robles Wine County - Grand Tasting Tour 2013
Los Angeles

Saturday, April 20, 2013 / 11:00 am - 4:00 pm 
First Annual Sierra Pelona Valley Wine Festival at Reyes Winery
(Check out the recently established AVA - Sierra Pelona Valley Appellation.)
Agua Dulce

May 17 - 19, 2013

31st Annual Paso Robles Wine Festival Weekend

Paso Robles Downtown City Park

Sunday, May 19, 2013 / 1:00 - 6:00 pm

The California Jazz & Wine Fest 
(formerly Conejo Wine & Jazz Fest)

Conejo Creek Park North, Thousand Oaks

Sunday, June 2, 2013 / 1:00 - 5:00 pm

Casa Pacifica Angels 20th Anniversary Wine & Food Festival 2013 
California State University Channel Islands

Saturday, June 8, 2013 / 2:00 - 6:00 pm & Sunday, June 9, 2013 / 12:00 - 5:00 pm

8th LA WineFest 2013

Raleigh Studios, Los Angeles

Sunday, June 9, 2013 / 12:00 - 4:00 pm

The 27th Annual Ojai Wine Festival
Lake Casitas, Ojai

Thursday, June 20, 2013 / 5:30 - 8:30 pm
6th Annual Ventura County Wine Trail Celebration

Heritage Square, Oxnard

June 21 - 22, 2013 / 7:00 - 10:00 pm

7th Annual Calabasas Malibu Wine & Food Festival


Saturday, June 29, 2013 / 2:00 - 5:00 pm
2013 Santa Barbara Wine Festival

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara

July 18-20, 2013

10th Annual California Wine Festival, Santa Barbara Wine Festival 2013

Chase Palm Park at the Beach, Santa Barbara

Sunday, July 28, 2013 / 1 - 4 pm
Meadowlark Service League’s 26th Annual
A Taste of Camarillo Wine & Food Festival

Adolfo Camarillo Ranch House, Camarillo

Hope to see you on wine taste n trips in 2013!

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Articles and photography in Calabasas Style magazine:

September/October - Calabasas Food & Wine Festival, Malibu Beaches 
November/December - Wine for Holiday Gatherings and Gifts