2011 California Wine Fair

What event combines three hundred wines, tasty appetizers, one of the most stunning spaces in Edmonton and the ability to support fine theatre? If you answered the California Wine Fair, you’d be correct! A fundraiser thirteen years running, the proceeds from the event go towards the artistic endeavours of the Citadel Theatre.

I was lucky enough to be given two tickets to this year’s fair, which ended up being a blessing of sorts. Due to a prior volunteer commitment, I wasn’t able to meet up with May until the last hour of the event, which, though unfortunate, still meant we could get a taste of what the California Wine Fair was all about.

Walking into Hall D at the Shaw Conference Centre was a bit overwhelming. Sure, there weren’t three hundred vendors (most booths were pouring several different bottles), but the fair still presented a veritable sea of wines to try. The crowd was diverse, but was definitely younger than I expected – a majority consisted of that “next gen” set.

Given our time limitations, May and I opted to be selective with our sampling choices, opting for varieties that we knew we would enjoy – namely, rosés and dessert wines.

California Wine Fair

We love rosés!

We ended up only trying about ten different wines. Our top three: the Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi Moscato (no surprise, given the Moscato was our favourite from a wine tasting at Vinomania); the sweet nectar also known as Deviation by Quady; and the Classic Brut from Domaine Chandon. I was particularly tickled to see Domaine Chandon represented – Mack and I had the pleasure of touring their winery in Napa when we were down in San Francisco last fall.

California Wine Fair

Domaine Chandon

We observed that there weren’t as many rosés as we would have expected, though we acknowledged the season and the fact that they are meant for more uncomplicated palates. Also, it was somewhat surprising that some wines being sampled weren’t (yet) available in Edmonton liquor stores. Of course, a room full of wine enthusiasts provides a great opportunity to introduce new patrons to a brand in the hopes they may look for it in the future.

After attending the appetizer tasting and wine preview, it was neat to be able to see which the planning committee ended up choosing. Like me, May enjoyed the goat cheese sphere with caramelized onions marmalade most of all. The cheese plate and the chocolate truffles were much appreciated (in pairing with our wines and preventing the alcohol from going straight to our heads), but a hearty meal would have been the ideal proactive move.

California Wine Fair

The jerk chicken and mango chutney in a tortilla cup and roasted shallot, spinach and feta cheese tartlet were good too!

At the end of the night, May and I agreed that we would attend the California Wine Fair next year. For the food, atmosphere and of course, the wine, it would be well worth the $65 ticket. Especially if one were to be on time.

Thanks again to the Citadel for the chance to check it out! See you in 2012!

The 2011 California Wine Fair: A Sampling

I know you’ve seen it, just as I have – the bold, back-page ad in The Tomato advertising the California Wine Fair, now in its thirteenth year. One of the Citadel Theatre’s premiere fundraising events, the California Wine Fair boasts over 300 wines and food catered by the Shaw Conference Centre, all for the price of $65 a ticket. This year’s event will be held on March 8, 2011 at 7pm in Hall D.

Part of the preparations for the Citadel staff include selecting the food which would complement the wines. Along with Mel, it was a privilege to be asked to join several staff for a tasting of hors d’oeuvres at the Shaw Conference Centre on Thursday.

Table

The tasting table

Natasha Susylinski, of Treasury Wine Estates, had chosen four wines for this tasting. A range of representative California wines, they included a Stag’s Leap Chardonnay, Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon, and a St. Clement Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon (a list of the wineries that will be present can be found here).

Wine selection

The wine spread

As one who prefers white wine, and sweeter whites at that (most Chardonnays are too dry for my taste), my palate probably wasn’t the best one for the wines. That said, like most wine reps, Natasha had a fun anecdote about each of the wines, which always helps with making that particular label memorable. For example, Sapporo (the Japanese beer company) once owned St. Clement, and named one of the wines after themselves: Oroppas (or “Sapporo” spelled backwards).

After we had familiarized ourselves with the wines, we were introduced to the food options. The idea was to choose three appetizers from the fourteen options presented.

SEared scallop fork with vanilla apple chutney

Cold platters, featuring seared scallop form with vanilla apple chutney

All of the hors d’oeuvres were so visually appealing – daintily prepared, garnished with bursts of colour, they were almost too beautiful to eat.

Jerk chicken and mango chutney in a tortilla cup

Jerk chicken and mango chutney in a tortilla cup

Though most of us were hard pressed to pick our preferences, a few emerged as favourites around the table, including the goat cheese sphere with caramelized onion marmalade (creamy texture with just the right amount of sweetness), the barbequed duck with hoisin mayonnaise and wonton chip (a perfectly rounded bite with a satisfying crunch), and the roasted shallot, spinach and feta cheese tartlet (buttery and a good alternative to the more pedestrian spanakopita). These three will likely end up on the final menu.

oat cheese sphere with caramalized onion marmalade

Goat cheese sphere with caramelized onion marmalade

Barbequed duck with hoisin mayonnaise and wonton cup

Barbequed duck with hoisin mayonnaise

In addition to the plated hors d’oeuvres, three varieties of cheese will also be served (oka, brie and old white cheddar). As well, expect to see another classic wine supplement at the event – chocolate truffles.

Truffles

Dark chocolate espresso with biscotti crumbs, ginger milk chocolate, banana with toasted coconut, and salted caramel truffles

These weren’t the heavy, unyielding mounds I am used to – instead, each bite revealed a thin chocolate shell that encompassed a velvety filling. The standout flavour for me was definitely the salted caramel – there is no doubt I’d be eating my weight in these truffles at the Fair.

Thanks to Pam and Sydney for inviting me to be a part of a fun afternoon!

Tickets for the March 8, 2011 California Wine Fair can be purchased online.