Here’s the recipe: First, gather up some of the best winemakers in the Paso Robles area for a little friendly summer competition. Second: don’t just judge them simply on the quality of the wine they make (which we already know is excellent), but actually require the winemakers to cook a dish that pairs well with their wine. Third: invite the thirsty, hungry public and give all net proceeds from ticket sales to the Harlow Ford Scholarship Foundation which awards money for education to deserving local high school students. Delicious!
The Paso Robles Rotary Club has put on the Winemakers’ Cookoff for the past decade and has raised roughly $230,000 in scholarship money so far, not counting what was raised at yesterday’s 11th annual event.
Craig Reed (right), winemaker at Martin & Weyrich, grilled up some carne asada for their tasty (and competition winning) tacos.
It was our first year at the Winemakers’ Cookoff,held at the luxuriously-lawned River Oaks Hot Springs property, and we made a few rookie mistakes, like arriving pretty much at the start time of 6pm–along with hundreds of others. The bottleneck at the entrance was soon soothed, however, by the smells coming from nearby grills and mini-kitchens set up by the 30 participating wineries. This lead to our second mistake: not consulting the very detailed and very helpful event program we were handed at the entrance along with our monogrammed wine glasses and sturdy plastic plates with built-in wine glass holder.
After plenty of yummy meat, fish and shrimp dishes these brownies were just what our second glass of Eberle 2001 Estate Reserve Cab called for.
Instead of using the list of menus and special offers listed in the program to guide us through the impressive and slightly intimidating sea of food and wine, we just dove into the first food and wine stand we stumbled upon. It was Mondo Cellar’s and there we enjoyed a tender and tasty lamb slider–a four-bite treat that would stand out as a culinary highlight of the night. A taste of their 2006 Mistress, a Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc, washed it down–more pleasantly after the initial high-alcohol nose dispersed.
Our initial manic rush to eat and drink sated, we took a more leisurely approach to our next stop at WCP Cellars stand where staff was dressed like extras from a B-52s video complete with shades with lenses emblazoned with “WCP.” Why? We have no idea. What we do know is that their ribs were a touch greasy, but very tasty and their 2004 Tempranillo handled the heft with just the right amount of earthiness.
Whalebone's Umami short rib bites were a hit and we liked their Bob wine.
We applaud the creative-thinking at Bianchi Vineyards, our next stop, where they served seared ahi on a disc of raw jicama with either a green sauce (paired with their palate-refreshing 2007 Pinot Grigio) or a red sauce (paired with a red wine we can’t remember). Unfortunately, the creative thinking didn’t translate to creative eating as the slightly-starchy jicama battled (and beat) the subdued flavor of the tuna.
Not so at Calcareous Vineyard where they did beef sliders with bacon coupled with their yummy 2006 Meritage. Next we were tempted by the offerings at Eberle where we enjoyed a glass of 2008 Cote du Robles (very good for one so young) and mostly enjoyed their pulled pork tacos. The filling was delicious (pork, cilantro, sesame seeds), but it came encased in a corn tortilla that was unpleasantly crunchy and dry, not soft and freshly warmed–next time we suggest a tortilla warmer or two.
Eberle served up pulled pork tacos. Not shown here is the six liter bottle of amazing
2001 Estate Reserve Cab they offered in exchange for People's Choice vote tickets.
And now it’s confession time: along with the serious official judging of each winery’s food and wine offerings, participants in the Winemakers’ Cookoff are also judged by the public, which has inspired many wineries to come up with vaguely cloaked bribes to try to get as many of the “public choice” vote tickets as possible. At Eberle, this persuasion took the form of a very generous pour from an imperial bottle (that’s eight standard bottles) of their 2001 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
Was it good? We actually returned and each gave Eberle another vote ticket in exchange for another glass of heaven. Will vote for wine!
During the course of the three hour event it is simply not possible to eat and sip what all 30 wineries have to offer–that breaks down to about six minutes per winery which would be an unpleasant exercise in Speed Eating. One omission we really regret is that we never made it to the Tobin James Cellars booth where the line for their ancho rubbed white prawns over Peruvian potatoes was always a mile long–plus they closed up shop right at the stroke of 9 even while others were still pouring, thus foiling our plan to return later when the crowd had thinned.
Not that we could have eaten another bite at that point. All in all, a unique fun-filled evening and we can’t wait to hear how much scholarship money was raised.
Listening to the music of Julie and the Bad Dogs on the luxurious lawn.
Mitchella Vineyard grilled up Mini Sirloin Sliders that were beloved by the judges and the public alike.
Most popular ingredient: Bacon by far. Got a problem with that?
Most popular type of dish: A tie between variations on sliders and variations on tacos.
Best theme: Clautiere Vineyard’s culinary (and costumed) ode to Mexico’s awesome take on the fine art of wrestling. Called Lucha Libre, this Mexican obsession involved grown men wearing brightly colored masks and tights while mixing wresting and campiness to such extemes as to make WWF fans blush. A Clautiere staffer was dressed as a Lucha complete with mask and cape (below) and they served up steaming plates of Nacho Libre Mole with chicken. Delicous fun.
Clautiere's Lucha Libre cooked up Nacho Libre Mole.
Best t-shirt: Pear Valley Vineyard, whose Cookoff workers all wore tees that said “Nice Pear” across the front.
Best freebie: Chronic Cellars stickers featuring the lable off their “Sofa King Bueno.” Hilarious.
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