The weather was unseasonably warm at the Northstar-at-Tahoe ski resort last weekend, but that didn't slow down the 2,000-plus foodies who sipped fine wines and sampled delectable small-plate dishes at the 27th annual Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival.
The nine-day fest, which featured food- and wine-related events around the lake and at the ultra-luxurious Ritz Carlton hotel (situated a gondola ride above Northstar), culminated at Sunday's Grand Tasting. It featured 24 area restaurants teamed with 24 wineries to vie for gold, silver and bronze medals in various categories.
A panel of judges had huddled earlier in the day for an extensive tasting. From noon to 4 p.m., crowds of attendees went from tent to tent, tasting samples and sipping wines while bands played on the main stage.
The judges' choice for "best pairing of food and wine" was Granlibakken Resort of Tahoe City (mushroom stuffed with red lentil hash, chevre, duck and red currant) and Morgan 2010 pinot noir
Second place: Jake's on the Lake of Tahoe City (seared scallop) and Wente 2010 chardonnay
Third place: North Tahoe Catering of Kings Beach (chile smoked beef tender with roasted-peach truffle sauce) and Renwood 2010 old-vine zinfandel.
The Hard Rock Cafe chain won for "best pairing of food and beverage other than wine" for its bayou shrimp burger and Indian spices-dusted potato chips, with Charbay blood-orange vodka negroni cocktail.
In the "best food" category, Jake's on the Lake of Tahoe City took gold for its seared scallop; Six Peaks Grille of Squaw Valley took silver for its roasted beet salad with goat cheese and fried shallots; and Hawks took bronze for its smoked pork belly with corn pudding and pluots.
Once again, Hawks of Granite Bay was the competition's only entry from the Sacramento area. Last year, co-owners Molly Hawks and her husband, Michael Fagnoni, took gold for "best food" and silver for "best food and wine pairing."
As for the people's choice winners, "best food" and "best pairing" both went to the Chocolate Bar of Northstar (turkey crepe), teamed with Francis Coppola 2009 petite sirah.
As our group tasted, we found other favorites:
- A delectable smoked Korean pork rib roll from Plumpjack Cafe in Squaw Valley, teamed with our new favorite wine, the grenache D-66 from Orin Swift winery in the Napa Valley.
- A perfect seared scallop with corn-crab pudding and fig space from the West Shore Cafe in Homewood.
- A luscious vanilla-saffron mussel from Farm to Belly personal-chef and catering service in Truckee.
- An exceptional pork rib with black bean sauce from Drunken Monkey Sushi in Truckee.
We also ran into an old friend among the dozens of exhibitors and vendors selling goods in the Northstar central plaza. Limerock Orchards of Paso Robles makes a silken walnut oil that we use on everything we grill, from pork roast and ribs, to chicken and corn on the cob.
For the complete list of festival winners, visit www.tahoefoodandwine.com.