Escape to Great Wine and Food on California's Central Coast
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir reign in California's Monterey region, and attendees at the recent Great Wine Escape Weekend had plenty of opportunities to taste them and many other wines produced by the area's fifty or so award-winning wineries. The Monterey County Growers and Vintners Association, along with Wine Enthusiast, sponsored the yearly event, held November 9-11, 2007. Winemakers encouraged guests to discover Monterey's wines, while chefs from all over the country presented culinary matches for them.
The weekend began fittingly with a seminar at the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa introducing Monterey County's nine appellations. Wine Enthusiast's West Coast Editor Steve Heimoff moderated a discussion with representatives from each of the region's AVAs: Carmel Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, Chalone, Arroyo Seco, San Bernabe, San Antonio Valley, San Lucas and Hames Valley. Monterey Bay and the surrounding area's mountain ranges create a variety of microclimates and, consequently, diverse viticulture.
During one of many cooking demonstrations offered during the weekend, Chef Clay Conley from Miami's Azul Restaurant prepared 4 Asian-inspired dishes to pair with four area wines. Likely choices Riesling and Gewürztraminer worked nicely with oysters as well as Indian crimson lentils topped with halibut. But Conley also showed that local Chardonnay and Pinot Noir work equally well with the right Asian dish, matching the former with a creamy coconut soup topped with shrimp, and the latter with seared duck breast marinated in soy and served alongside fresh figs.
Bleu cheeses can be notoriously difficult to pair with wine, and the safest bet is usually Port. But Master Sommelier Peter Granoff of San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants, and Kent Torrey, proprietor of The Cheese Shop in nearby Carmel, threw out the book on wine and cheese pairing with their "Everyone's Got the Bleus" seminar. Eight bleu cheeses from all over the world were matched with 8 Monterey wines. Consensus was that some of the match-ups worked, and some did not. Perhaps the most fun for those who attended, though, was finding and sharing their own perfect pairings.
Dinner options Friday and Saturday evening included Wine Enthusiast's Signature Dinner at Bernardus lodge, a shuttled progressive dinner in Carmel, or any one of a number of featured winemaker dinners at area restaurants. Guests were also invited to tour and taste at the region's wineries throughout the weekend.
Sunday's Grand Finale, held at the picturesque Quail Lodge in the Carmel Valley, featured four hours of walk-around wine tasting, cooking demonstrations, and culinary samples from the region's top restaurants. Kris Morningstar from Los Angeles' Blue Velvet restaurant presented a pasta making primer, and treated guests to a bit of Sweet Potato Agnolotti with Cherry Glaze and Rock Shrimp. Rick Moonen of RM Seafood at the Mandelay Bay in Las Vegas is passionate about the sustainable seafood movement. Attendees tasted Moonen's creation of squid with watermelon, cucumber and mint and chili oils, and also learned how to promote sustainable seafood, including fish to eat and those to avoid.
With 40,000 acres under vine, diversity in climate and winemaking styles, and a commitment to continued quality, the Monterey wine region has much to offer to wine lovers. Those who escaped to the Monterey peninsula this past weekend experienced a great taste of that.
Kelly Magyarics is a wine writer and educator living in the Metro D.C. area. She can be reached through her Web site, www.trywine.net.