Wally's 5th Annual Central Coast Wine & Food Celebration - Report w/ Photos
It took me a few days, but here is my report from this past Sunday, whichmarked the day that Wally's Wine Store held its 5th Annual Central Coast Wine & Food Celebration benefiting the Michael Bonaccorsi UC Davis Scholarship Fund.
Photos can be found here: http://nochoiceatall.blogspot.com/2008/08/wallys-central-coast-wine-food.html
For the $110 cost of admission, participants got access to Wally's "Big Top" parking lot tent with practically unlimited tastings from more than 50 of the finest wineries on the Central Coast as well as signature dishes from an All-Star lineup of restaurants.
Along with the annual "anchor" restaurants, the Hitching Post and Spago Beverly Hills, Santa Barbara's Bouchon, Olio e Limone and Brothers Restaurant, Artisan in Paso Robles, and LA's Lucques/A.O.C., Comme Ca/Boule, Hungry Cat, Sushi Roku, Campanile, Mozza, and Jar, were all serving food.
Participating wineries included Central Coast luminaries such as Sea Smoke, Paul Lato, Talley, Brewer-Clifton, Au Bon Climat, Saxum, Ojai Vineyard, L'Aventure, Melville, L'Aventure, Rusack, Ambullneo and Tantara.
Unlike other events, Wally's makes a concerted effort to keep the crowds small and the lines short. At Taste of the Nation, for example, the line to get in this year was over 50 people long and it took a while to run through. At Wally's, the doors opened at noon and everybody waiting was in by 12:10. Even better, there wasn't really ever any wait for the wine, the food, or even the restrooms.
The food options are always pretty limited at the Bonaccorsi event, but the few restaurants that do participate go the extra mile to please the crowd. Each restaurant has its own tent where the offering is laid out on small plates. There is no limit on helpings, which means that popular items can go quickly with people taking two, three or even four portions of their favorite dish.
This year, sandwiches were the order of the day as at least half of the food tents were serving a sandwich of some sort. They ran the gamut from pulled pork, to pork belly, to soft shell crab, to sausage and peppers, to a grilled cheese, to a croque monsieur, to, well, another version of pulled pork.
One of the day's highlights was Spago's soft shell crab sandwich. It was served on a brioche bun with coleslaw, sliced piquillo peppers (I think) and an herbed mayo. On the side was a small Sweet 100 and pear tomato tart with fresh burrata. Wolfgang wasn't there that day, but it didn't mean his staff was taking it easy. Somebody actually went through the trouble to peel each and every one of the tomatoes they served that day. Hat tip there.
That isn't to say that the other sandwiches (clockwise from top left in the photos on the link) weren't good. They were really quite tasty. Lucques' pan bagna (basically a niçoise salad sandwich) was excellent. Despite it being over 85 degrees, a pregnant Suzanne Goin was out there plating the sandwiches herself. As a side note, also in that first photograph is the Hungry Cat's red and yellow watermelon, tomato and feta salad, which was a big hit with the crowd.
Continuing clockwise, the smoked sausage and peppers from the Hitching Post was a great summertime sandwich. Frank Ostini, owner/operator of the Hitching Post was working the grill. He comes down every year to give what he can to the event. Brothers (Mattei's Tavern) in Los Olivos was dishing up delicious pulled pork sandwiches, served with a side of even more pulled pork. The pulled pig was very peppery and smoky, dressed ever so lightly in a spicy barbecue sauce and then served on a dinner roll with coleslaw. Rounding out the photo circle is Comme Ça's croque monsieur. I have to think that it the croque monsieur is a tough sandwich to pull off buffet style in 85 degree heat, but David Myers' team did a nice job (although I don't actually remember seeing Myers there).
Our biggest disappointment was that we missed out on Suzanne Tract's pork belly and cucumber sandwich. We were so distracted by the closing of the silent auction that the last of the pork belly disappeared before we even knew it existed.
It being summer, you knew that Spago wasn't going to be the only restaurant serving tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Mozza was also serving up the classic combination. A generous portion of their delicious mozzarella di bufala was plated with two ridiculously sweet roasted tomatoes, some basil pesto, a few fresh basil leaves and extra virgin olive oil. It was a nice, simple, well made summer dish.
For dessert, there were a few options to keep you cool. Gelato Bar made the trek over from Studio City to serve up mini cones to all those who asked. The most popular flavors appeared to be the pistachio, gianduia (Nutella), and yogurt. Gelato Bar is owned by Gail Silverton and her partner and fiancé, Joel Gutman. Silverton is sister to Nancy Silverton of Mozza and La Brea Bakery, which means that deliciousness runs in the family.
Boule was sharing the Comme Ça tent and dishing out chocolate spring rolls with fresh mango and macadamia nut ice cream. Campanile was serving a refreshing passion fruit sorbet and Spago had what could best described as a frozen strawberry shortcake with a scone in place of the cake.
In my opinion, this is, by far away, the best charity wine event of the year. Over 50 wineries were there tasting - almost all of them pouring at least two different samples. The focus of the event was on the Central Coast, which meant the wines were heavy on the Rhone varietals (Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier). There was also a number of stellar Pinots, Cabs and Chardonnays as well as some excellent blends thrown in for good measure.
Wine tasting is obviously subjective, but my personal highlights included Albullneo's 2006 Solomon Hills Chardonnay and 2006 Bulldog Pinot Noir; Demetria's 2006 Pinot Noir, 2006 Viognier and 2006 Papou (50% Roussanne, 50% Viognier); L'Aventure's 2006 Estate Cuvee (49% Syrah, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot); Tablas Creek's 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel (44% Mourvèdre, 26% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Counoise) and 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc); Saxum's 2006 Broken Stones (63% Syrah, 24% Grenache, and 13% Mourvedre); and Paul Lato's 2006 Gold Coast Vineyard Duende Pinot Noir. As an aside, I heard that Paul Lato's Cinematique Larner Vineyard Syrah was excellent, but they unfortunately ran out before I had a chance to try it.
I also really liked Sea Smoke's 2005 Gratis Chardonnay, but the winery rep staffing Sea Smoke's table mentioned that it wasn't publicly available. The Gratis Chardonnay is grown exclusively on Sea Smoke’s Estate Vineyard and receives the same care and attention as the famed Sea Smoke Pinot Noir. It is the wineries way of saying thank you to their customers for their continued support of Sea Smoke. In that sense, this wine is only distributed as a gift by Sea Smoke Cellars, it is, unfortunately, not available for purchase.
To be clear, there is really no limit to the amount of wine you can drink. The wineries are very generous with their pours and if you find your favorite at the beginning of the day, they don't mind if you keep coming back for more. But, if you are more into exploring the many tastings, you can do that too. Each of the winery reps are ready to explain the winemaker's notes from any individual wine and they are also happy to answer any questions you might have.
I think I ended up trying 40 different wines myself (thankfully, Fiji was handing out free bottles of water throughout the event), and I found a number of new favorites that I had never tasted before. This is by far the best aspect of the annual Wally's Central Coast Celebration. You can always look forward to seeing the standard bearers of the Central Coast wine scene, but, each year, there are also a couple of new standouts that make it onto your radar for the first time.
With the silent auction over and the live blues/rock band winding down, the wineries dish out their last few pours. Looking around the crowd, it seemed like everybody had a great time. A few folks were a little tipsy, but none the worse for wear. Two ladies got around the need for a designated driver by having a chauffeur bring them to and from the event in a Rolls Royce - I should have thought of that. If you didn't get a chance to make it this year, be sure to put it on your calendar for next year.
Nice report. I can just see myself at the Saxum table in your wine tent photo.
I've been every year and this is a great event. (I've posted a heads-up here before but the monitors deleted me as allegedly being commercial). Food-wise Taste of the Nation was better, but wine-wise this blows that away.
I think the crowd is smallish largely due to the price. $110 is creeping up there (though I'll always go for charity) and the $150 at the door makes little sense. It was more subdued this year as the crowd was a bit smaller, and they didn't do the live auction. The latter I believe is a mistake if they're actually trying to raise the max. amount for charity.
The food highlight IMO was definitely the soft-shell crab sandwich from Spago. It was fantastic. The crab was fresh, and perfectly battered. By contrast I had the "special" soft-shells at King's Fish House the next night and the batter was way to substantial, ala extra crispy KFC. The tomato tart Spago served was also tasty (though the one at Josie still reigns supreme) and an item we'll be making this summer.
I don't know that you missed a lot in the pork belly sandwich. We thought it was not cooked enough and at that temp came off as a bit chewy.
Multiple pulled pork sandwiches was unfortunate, but I love them and liked Hitching Post's best.
Did you try the lasagna from Olio e Limone? Even though it was not perfect for a hot sunny day, it was delicious. Similar to the one I had at another event by Gino Angelini. More of a creamy bechemel style with very fine meat, than course with chewier cheese.
The mozzarella in Mozza's tomato, basil salad was great. It was so creamy I was sure it was burrata.
I won't go too in depth on the wine as this is a food board. The Saxum wines (James Berry and Heartstone) were both excellent as usual. I think perhaps the best wine I had was the Ojai "special" Bien Nacido Syrah that they kind of poured only on request. It was excellent. Indeed the Paul Lato wines were all very good, and in a more subdued style than many of the typical Central Coast wines. The Arcadian wines are similar and being restrained in comparison. Herman Story doesn't get much press, but they make really good stuff.
re: john gonzales
Also, Tantara had a Pisoni Pinot Noir under the table that was very good.
Agreed on the Herman Story comments.
Still liking Tablas Creek and the Perrin Family efforts.
In addition, liked the Margerum M5 a lot as well as the Melville Carrie's Pinot Noir, as well as the Ambullneo and Demetria wines.
re: john gonzales
re: Hobsons Choice
Thanks for a most excellent report! This is something I'll probably never
get to and it's great to read such detail and see your pictures. I would have liked to try the aforementioned Pisoni having just hung out with him during the Kapalua W&FF and enjoying his wines in his room with him and his wife and another friend. That soft shell crab sandwich sounds great Thanks again and a hui hou!
Outstanding report on an outstanding event that I have attended for the past 3 years.
However, don't know whether I was the only one feeling it, yet it seemed to be a bit more subdued/less frantic than in past years, which depending on point of view can be either a good or bad thing.
I felt the uniformity of types of food lessened the variances of the food from previous years and thus I did not even try all the food, because it was "just another sandwich", even though at very high standards. I understand the portability factor and easier preparation and presentation on the part of the restaurants, and for that, I don't blame them one iota for doing it the way they did.
ps - did not see David Myers either.
ps - two women arriving in a chauffeured Rolls was a real highlight!!! Ended up talking to them for a while, and they said they were just raising the bar on the DUI issue - indeed they did!
Totally understand your point about the food. If I wasn't such a sucker for pulled pork sandwiches I think I would have felt the same way about the uniformity of the food choices. With the small number of participating restaurants, some people are bound to be disappointed by the limited options. But then you just have to turn around and look at the wine tent and realize that this is a wine event with incredible tasting options.