Wednesday, March 27, 2013

FoodTrek: Releasing the Food and Wine Kraken at Taste Washington

Is it possible to taste and imbibe all of Washington State in one weekend? It's a lofty goal, but I give Taste Washington, the largest single-region wine and food event in the US of A, kudos for laying down the gauntlet for the brave souls wanting to fit all the flavors of the Pacific Northwest in-mah-belleh, over a single weekend. Or in my case, I challenged the threshold of food/wine consumption in a single day and tried to document as much of it on the ol' soul-capturing-DSLR-devilmachine. So sit back and be prepared to be overwhelmed with an epic day of drinking and sampling through Taste Washington, 2013. Bring on the antacid!

Kraken - or smoked octopus from W Hotel's TRACE - unleashed at Taste WA - Photo by Wasabi Prime

This was my first time attending Taste Washington -- a last minute opportunity opened up for me to attend, and I gratefully and somewhat nervously made my way to the CenturyLink Field Event Center (aka, "The Clink" - I know, so intense-sounding), not really knowing what to expect. I knew it was a huge annual food and wine event -- one that's been steadily growing for the last several years, providing a showcase for local restaurants, bakeries and specialty food stores and products to get their name out to a giant expo hall of people, as well as hundreds of Washington wineries. There are many wineries who don't have tasting rooms on the Western half of the state, so it's an opportunity for guests to discover new favorites and start making travel plans to head out towards Central and Eastern Washington to experience these wines firsthand. This year's Taste Washington promised 200 wineries and 60 restaurants aiming to dazzle the tastebuds of several thousand ticket-holders for the 2-day edible extravaganza. And it's not just a giant roving buffet (well, it kind of is), there were seminars ranging from the winemaking process, pairing food with wines, the growth of cider's popularity, plus a chef's exhibition stage which had a steady stream of local chef superstars doing live demos and interacting with the crowds. It's pretty cool to just be wandering the floor and see Tom Douglas walk by, all casual-like. I've seen him at so many events, and even after all these years, I'm still too shy to say hello. Durgh.

In the belly of the beast - an early snapshot before the crowds really filled the space - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I was surprised how many out-of-towners were in attendance -- I saw several international film crews doing news-type recordings throughout the day I was there. It's no secret that the Seattle area can hold its own in terms of food and wine. Maybe it was just another sign of how Big Pimpin' Taste Washington has become. But I wasn't there to ponder over the region's place on the popularity scale -- I find that giant events like this can go one of two ways: you're either so overwhelmed that you stick with your familiar favorites, or you cattle-prod your palate out of its Hobbit-hole and make an effort to introduce it to new wine and food friends. I choo-choo-choose Option B.

1st Rule of Food/Wine Club: Food First, and Make it Pretty! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Given my Taste Washington n00b-ness, I read up on a few primer articles about what to expect and how to navigate the rather ginormous expo hall. The biggest and most oft-repeated tip was: taste the wine, don't drink it. The spit bucket at every tasting station is there for a reason -- do the swirl/sniff/sip and don't think spitting the wine is rude, you're just saving your palate for many more tastings instead of being hammered by the fifth pour. Another tip was to not to go on an empty stomach -- show up with an eager appetite, but not famished. Again, you want to taste the food, not just inhale it because all you had in the last 12 hours was that cold slice of pizza. I made sure to have had a hearty breakfast before going, and while I was tempted to start sampling wine, I hit the food samples first, to continue laying down the barrier against Regrettable Drunken Social Indiscretion.

Presentation is Everything - make the food ready for its closeup, Mr. DeMille - Photos by Wasabi Prime
There's no need to rattle through every little sample -- suffice it to say, I sampled as much as I could, but I couldn't get to everything. The bites I managed to try were delicious. There were some restaurants I didn't even know were in attendance until after I'd left, there were so many people about. I came to realize a few good basic rules of a good tasting event -- one of them being, Presentation is Key. The Wagyu meat loaf bites over potato, and scallop ceviche with cilantro-lime salad from Tulalip Resort Casino, seared ahi with woodear mushroom over edamame in a tasting spoon from Washington Athletic Club, chimichurri prawn over ginger and lentil salad in funky bamboo tasting boats from the Washingon State Convention Center, smoked salmon wrapped around asparagus on pumpernickle from Palisade, and the kraken-tastic smoked octopus over soybean hummus with tomato raisin jam from the W Hotel's TRACE were eye-candy standouts in terms of drawing a crowd and getting people to try something they may not have considered eating before. Tentacle Food? Delicious.

Simple comforts, for those who don't want to fuss and just want to enjoy the food - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Another rule of drawing in crowds: Food Can be Purdy-Like, but Don't Ignore the Power of Comfort Food. People love pasta, cheesy/crispy/fried things, and definitely slow-cooked, saucy meats full of flavor. Even if the samples are on all-black plates and make for so-so blog photos, you can't deny the satisfied sigh after a bite of Kona coffee-crusted dry-aged sirloin with shallot butter sauce from Capital Grille, bacon-wrapped dates and gazpacho from Tablas Woodstone Taverna, Painted Hills beef meatball with tomato jam over ricotta on foccacia from Restaurant Bea, and braised coppa with risotto Milanese from Visconti's Italian Restaurant (who also owns Cured, if you find yourself in Leavenworth). The mob of people clamoring for a bite of rigatoni in a rich bolognese at the Palomino table was proof alone that however familiar a dish is: If You Serve Pasta, People Will Come.

Ice sculptures! Hot sizzling food! Adorable golden pigs! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

There's as much showmanship in food as what's served on the plate -- Everyone Loves a Little Razzle-Dazzle. Like watching the food be cooked right in front of you on a sizzling grill, or, oh hey -- giant backlit ice sculptures! Who doesn't love a little touch of Vegas? Plus it's something to admire as you're waiting in line at one of the more popular areas, like the Oyster and Chowder Bar, which had a mad crew of badazz-mother-shuckers from Taylor Shellfish, AQUA and El Gaucho, doling out more fresh oysters than you could count. But don't forget a little cleverness goes a long way -- the happy little golden pig card holder at Uli's Famous Sausage table made me smile as I had one of their spicy Italian samples.

Taking a break with some salad and cheese - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Another rule of Food/Wine Club - Ease Down, Have Some Salad, Maybe a Little Cheese. The bites of food are incredibly rich, and you will be fighting indigestion the next day, mark my words, but lessen the soft tissue trauma with some vegetables and put together a cheese plate for yourself as you contemplate your next row of tastes to tackle. The colorful chopped greens from Seattle Salads and some creamy brie from Mt. Townsend Creamery were a nice breather midway through my food-graze.

Sweet with the savory, even if it's just for decoration - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I don't naturally gravitate towards desserts, but the temptation is hard to resist when you're met with a tower of mini cupcakes or a full table of chocolate samples. When it comes to sweets: There's Never Too Much of a Good Thing, at least for drawing people in for a swift sweet snack attack. I browsed most of the sweets, but I did partake of the Pancakes and Bacon cupcakes from Yellow Leaf Cupcake Company, vanilla ice cream with caramel sauce from Street Treats mobile dessert truck, chevre cheesecake with apple from RN74, lemon and ginger chocolates from Strita Supreme Chocolat, and a chocolate mousse topped with raspberry gelee and mini macaron from South Seattle Community College. I know, that's a lot of dessert-sampling, but they're small and bite-sized, and that's the story we tell our rapidly expanding waistline and we're sticking to it.

Mini desserts are always charming - TAKE A MEMO! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
And there it was, the Food Bases were loaded, I was finally ready to explore the wineries of Taste Washington. It was a dizzying array of wineries, there's no way in hell anyone gets through them all, even in two days, and still be alive to tell the tale. I'm still amazed I tasted through as many as I did -- which I think was well over a dozen, possibly 20...? But I walked away perfectly upright, thanks to the sample/spit rule. Another thing to note -- food is easy to take photos of, but wine in a crowded expo hall? It's really hard to get an ooh-la-lah shot. So consider the next grouping of photos more of a visual list of what I managed to taste my way through.

THIS. IS. TASTE WASHINGTON! Upon my signal, unleash HELL! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I'm by no means a wine expert, I'm just a happy imbiber, like anyone else. My biggest problem is always sticking with favorite grapes and not trying new varietals. I'm a Wine Hobbit, a creature of viticulture comfort, and I'm not leaving Hobbiton to try some crazy-ass grape or throw some ring into an angry volcano with a giant fiery eye staring at me. So my only rule was, for every familiar sip, step outside of your wine comfort zone and go for something different, be it winery or varietal. It wasn't about finding the best of the best -- and really, what does that ever mean -- it was about getting more wineries on my radar, it's as simple as that.

There's no place like home... for Woodinville-area wines - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I headed to the Woodinville Wine Country wine lounge for inspiration -- they were pouring several Woodinville-based wines, and it was a chance to see variety before getting my wine-tasting mojo on. It was a good reminder of what to be prepared for in a few weeks, namely Passport to Woodinville, the winery open house extravaganza is coming up on its 11th year on April 20-21st, and the new Woodinville RESERVE event on April 12th, where it will be a rockstar tasting of more than 40 wineries pouring high-score, limited bottle vintages for one night, over at the Columbia Winery. I've got the date penned-in, a ticket in my clutches, and really looking forward to it, especially after Taste Washington's tasting primer. I feel like with every wine event, I'm slowly improving my ability to discern particular flavors -- not necessarily what's the best of the best, just what makes my palate happy.


Don't be afraid of the light(er) wines, Carol Anne! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I'm a red wine drinker, so I made it a point to mix it up and try more white wines, and ones from wineries I wasn't as familiar with, like Cloudlift Cellars' 2011 Updraft White Bordeaux Blend, Badger Mountain Vineyard's 2011 Organic Chardonnay,  College Cellars' 2012 Muscat Ottonel and Claar Cellars' 2010 Estate Riesling.

Keep things light with more white wines and a bit of rose - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Keeping the lighter wine tasting going, I continued with AniChe Cellars' 2011 Come and Go Albarino, AntoLin Cellars' 2011 Riesling (I also had their Syrah, I couldn't help myself), and Copper River Estate's Diversion Chardonnay. There were several brand-spankin' new rosés being poured, like Tranche Cellars' 2012 Pink Pape Estate -- perfect for the springtime-sunny day we had.

Jumping back to the reds, but keeping it new for my habitual wine drinking - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I couldn't stay away from the reds for long -- I jumped headlong into new-to-me wines from Corvus Cellars' 2010 Petit Sirah, Basel Cellars' Merriment blend and Cavu Cellars' Horizon Red. There's no photo, but I also grabbed a taste of Cave B's new 2010 Caveman Red blend. And then there were totally new wineries, like Double Canyon, who debuted their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Presentation matters, either in label design  or just making your bottle heard! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It's hard to attend an event of this size with sharks-with-lazer-beam-focus, so yes, label design and bottle presentation matters for catching the eye of a wandering taster. These bottles caught my eye amongst the crowds, leading me to taste Amavi Cellars' 2011 Estate Syrah, Almquist Family Vintners' 2009 Dolcetto and Bergevin Lane Vineyards' 2010 Dreamweaver Malbec. The wine pourers can also be a great draw, as the friendly pourer at Sun River Vintner got me to try some of the last of their precious 2008 Nebbiolo, introducing me to yet another varietal that I wasn't as familiar with.

Don't take wine too seriously, it's meant to be enjoyed - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Presentation is important, as is a good sense of humor -- people appreciate beloved pets on labels, as shown on Barrel Springs Winery's bottle, Kaella Winery had the Krunk Glass of Gibraltar which surprisingly shows how small two bottles of wine looks in a massive glass, and speaking of March Madness... GO ZAGS. Although I was very glad to hear my Uof A Wildcats beat out Harvard that day.

A little old with a little new - mixing favorites with new-to-me wineries - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Yes, I had some favorite sips from Dusted Valley and Kana Winery, but I made sure to mix things up with a Pinot Gris from Jones of Washington and Glen Fiona's Syrah. So there, I wasn't a total comfort zone/Hobbit wine drinker - my palate is getting out and meeting new wineries!


Meet the winemakers! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Of course it's not just about what's in the bottle, but the people who worked hard to get that grape all fancy-like. The folks from Wind Rose Cellars and Covington Cellars were just a few of many winemakers on-hand to chat with tasters and put a personal face to every sip, which I think counts for a lot, especially at big events. It's kind of like ComicCon, but for wine nerds.


Gotta dazzle 'em, especially with so many wines to choose - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Again with presentation, I especially liked the dazzle and bling of Purple Star Wines' table; I can't resist having a taste of Syrah when a decorative duck is luring me in with his colorful plumage. And while I was marveling at the many rows of perfectly aligned glasses at the Riedel table, wishing someone would do a musical water-glass performance, I spent more time browsing the South Seattle Community College booth, featuring their Northwest Wine Academy program, where students learn the ABC's of winemaking in an official curriculum and produce vintages, like any winery, plus they also have a full restaurant doing daily lunch service. They're not the only school developing a viticulture-focused program, but it was an encouraging sign of a growing movement of people interested in taking both food and wine seriously as a career.

Other fun tastes that caught my eye - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I kept with my rule of trying new things, even if that meant being distracted by cork-related art. Airfield Estates Winery has a tasting room that's a hop-skip-and-a-jump from where I live, but their little cork biplane sealed the deal for a taste of their 2011 Runway Syrah. I made sure to totally mix things up by having some of the dessert-friendly Chocolate Shop Wine. Their Red Blend, which has a nice balance of bitter cocoa, but not heavily-sweet made them a good wild card to mix in with all the other typical varietals. And their cork keyfob is wine/food event gold, in terms of interesting swag.

I can't quit you, Cider and Beer - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I was hitting my limit, but couldn't resist the pull of a whole wine barrel wall, lined with ciders and beer. My wine palate had done some hefty exploring, and a finish of strong-tasting cider seemed the best way to cut through those tannins. Eaglemount and Finnriver are old favorites, but I picked new-to-me sips, namely Finnriver's Spirited Apple Wine and Eaglemount's Ginger Cider. Both were rejuvenating for my palate, as they were not shy on flavor, which inspired a few more food tastings before I headed home. I skipped a taste of Pike Brewing Company, as I have a full pint from them plenty of times out on my own, but they always take the cake for having a great tasting table.

A weirdly wonderful day of food, wine and sharing some of the spoils with a fuzzy friend - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Even for one day and way too many photos for a single blog post (sorry for the scroll-a-thon), I barely scratched the surface of Taste Washington, since I skipped the seminars and demos to just focus on the tasting area. But I wore my lucky wine-tasting necklace (a pendant made from an old Cava cork - classay!) and I decided to just embrace the lone wolf mentality, as suggested by a bizarre True Blood sticker tagged on a bus stop. I departed the event with a full stomach, but still hungry to keep exploring, especially with wines, just to prevent myself from falling into that wine-drinking-rut. And after sifting through all the goodies from the event, I made sure to take time and share some of the spoils with Indy.

5 comments:

  1. I was wondering if you would be in attendance. My dad co-owns Visconti's... you'll have to Mame the trek to Wenatchee thus summer to sample their latest ventures, Fire and Ice, when they open in the new Pybus Market.
    Have Brock tell me if you go and I will make sure they treat you nice!

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    1. Hey Megan - sorry it took me so long to reply, pesky blog replies. Brock told me about his connection to Visconti's -- we loved going to Cured when we were there for Oktoberfest! Thanks for the head's up, we'll probably be back again for this year's 'fest!

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  2. I am so sorry that I missed this event. How did you find out about this? Do you belong to a food/wine club? How can I join?

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    1. Patricia - I found out just through Twitter/Facebook and word of mouth. This event's annual, so they'll be doing it again around the same time next year!

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  3. thanks for share..

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