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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Articles and photography in Calabasas Style magazine:

March/April - Exploring the Ventura County Wine Trail

July/August - Wine tasting in the Bu

September/October - Calabasas Food & Wine Festival, Malibu Beaches

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