The 2014 Anderson Valley International Alsace Festival is now in the history books. To find it, all one has to do is Google "the Friendliest, Foodiest and Most Festive Wine Festival" in Northern California. That search will return wonderful Alsatian wines from the Anderson Valley, numerous other California Appellations, other American Appellations as well as Europe and New Zealand. Despite the weekend rains, this sold out event provided wonderful experiences for all participants on both Saturday and Sunday.
The Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association has perfected this event over the past 9 years by recruiting exceptional international and American producers of Alsatian wines (Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat and some lesser known varietals), including selected food purveyors to pair with these wines and notable wine educators, judges and chefs to extol the virtues of these wines and to offer insights to foods that pair well with them. (Think shellfish, seafood and Asian food for starters.)
The educational seminars began Saturday morning at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds. Joe Webb, AVWA President welcomed his guests and quickly turned the floor over to Glenn McGourty, Farm Advisor, UC Cooperative Extension who served as moderator. The first panel was lead by Dan Berger, noted wine writer and international wine judge to discuss and compare an array of Rieslings specifically focusing on the presence of residual sugar and whether that consideration is even of any value. Panelists Milla Handley (Anderson Valley), Thomas Houseman (Willamette Oregon) and Peter Bell (New York Finger Lakes) joined Dan in this lively conversation. Fun and informative.
The second panel included growers and winemakers from Oregon and Mendocino who shared their secrets on growing premium Gewürztraminer grapes and compared a horizontal sample of Gewürztraminer from Navarro, V.Satuii, Corison, Toulouse and Phillips Hill Wineries all of which source grapes from Ordways Valley Foothills Vineyard.
The last panel was an exceptional pairing of food with Alsatian wines. Chef/Instructor Lars Kronmark from Culinary Institute of America Greystone in St. Helena wittily and smartly discussed his recipes and the wines he paired. This six (6) course journey included some unlikely but exquisite pairings of muenster cheese, charcuterie, frogs' legs and smoked trout from European wine houses, some of whom have been making wine for over 400 years! This was an amazing educational opportunity and Chef Lars made it delightful and fun.
These panel discussions were followed by a equally informative and humorous food demonstration by Chef Francois de Melogue from Figue Mediterranean Restaurant located in La Quinta, Palm Desert. Chef created a Moroccan Sea Scallop, Preserved Lemon Farrotto (think Farro and Risotto), Green Charmoula with Gewürztraminer Beurre Blanc! He paired this well structured dish with the Toulouse Gewürztraminer. A beautiful and flavorful combination.
The Grand Tasting was the capstone of this exceptional day of aromatic white wines. Over 100 wines were offered and strategically placed around the venue were perfectly paired foods from local restaurants and food purveyors. The international wineries/Houses representing France (3), Germany (3) and New Zealand (9) came bearing gifts of 17 different Alsatian wines. It is clear that these venerable European Houses and the New Zealanders alike, know what they are doing.
The top five wines enjoyed by this correspondent (impossible to taste them all and do them justice), in no particular order, included:
Cutruzzola Vineyards 2010 and 2012 Riesling (12 more powerful, fruit forward.) Vineyards in Cambria (2 Riesling and 5 PN) 2010 ~$19
Phillips Hill Winery 2011 and 2012 Dry Gewürztraminer ~$20 each Anderson Valley, Stainless Steel 14%
Lichen Estate, Sparkling 2010 Willamette Blanc de Gris
Foris Vineyard and Winery, 2012 Riesling 2012 Moscato YUM ~$13.50
Fox Run Vineyards Finger Lakes New York 2012 Gewürztraminer and 2012 Riesling Both ~$20
The food offered at the tasting deserves special note.
Chef/Owner Marc Dym from The Little River Inn Restaurant in Little River (along the Mendocino coast) prepared a mouthwatering Pork Belly, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich. Fresh and flavorful, this was a huge hit.
Piaci Pub & Pizzeria blew everyone away again this year with a constant flow of delicious hot pizzas produced on their transportable pizza oven. Piaci is located in Ft. Bragg (also on the Mendo coast) and is well know for their craft beers as well as their pizza.
This event, and the Anderson Valley, are real hidden gems in California wine country experiences. Mark your calendars for February 2015 for "the Friendliest, Foodiest and Most Festive Wine Festival" in Northern California. Oh yeah, their Pinot Noir Festival is coming up in May. Check it out.