Appetizers
September 8, 2008
Classic Pairings Sweep Competition

Three classic pairings of food and wine showed why they are classics at yesterday's Lake Tahoe Autumn Food & Wine Festival, three days of cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, food seminars and even a pizza spinning contest, with almost all the events at the Village at Northstar outside Truckee.

As a prelude to Sunday afternoon's concluding public tasting of wine and food, six judges gathered several hours earlier to taste their way through 26 courses, each of which involved a dish by a regional restaurant coupled with a wine by a participating winery. The intent of the judges - Las Vegas restaurateur and chef Joseph Keller, Napa Valley master of wine Robert Bath, Culinary Institute of America instructor Lars Kronmark, San Francisco cookbook author Laura Werlin, longtime competition chairman Bill Ryan and myself - was to find the combination that most clearly enhanced both food and wine.

We started at 9:30 a.m. with deep-fried lobster corndogs with a sweet and soft riesling, an OK marriage, and finished about four hours later with a rich appetizer of blue cheese and pear preserve on a crispy gingersnap tile coupled with a dry medium-bodied red wine that showed some pairings just aren't meant to be, the fruit and cheese just too powerful for the modest wine.

By the time our votes were tallied, the winning combination involved seared scallops stuffed with crab pesto on a risotto cake in a beurre blanc aromtic with sage and zesty with lemon, coupled with a ripe and oaky chardoanny with enough spunky acidity to refresh the palate after a couple of bites of the concentrated scallop. The dish had been made by Sunnyside Resort of Tahoe City. The wine was the Rombauer Vineyards 2007 Carneros Chardonnay.

Full Belly Deli of Truckee and Dogwood Estate Winery in Humboldt County teamed up to win second place in the pairing contest with a substantial dish of sliced tri-tip steak wrapped around gorgonzola, caramelized onions and an ancho chile pepper sauce that was coupled brillitantly with a ripe, dense and sweet zinfandel.

Third place went to West Shore Cafe of Homewood and Anomaly Vineyards of Napa Valley for combining a spicy Moroccan-inspired lamb tagine with a supple and elegant 2005 cabernet sauvignon whose lush berry fruit was shot through with suggestions of herbs.

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