Monday, August 18, 2014

Food Trek: A (Wine) Barrel of Fun at the Auction of Washington Wines Picnic

I'd like to say it's no picnic being a food blogger, but that's a total lie -- it's totally a picnic. With incredible food and wine. I attended my first (but not last) Picnic and Barrel Auction, the kickoff event for the 3-day Annual Auction of Washington Wines. It's a big meet-and-greet with local winemakers, sips and bites of all kinds, and it's a fundraiser for Seattle Children's Hospital and the viticulture and enology research departments at Washington State University.

Cheers to Washington Wines! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

The Picnic and Barrel Auction is held at Chateau Ste Michelle winery in Woodinville, which is a perfect setting. "Picnic" sounds quaint and charming, but it's really quite an impressive and elegant garden party with multiple tasting bars full of wines, live music, wine-themed carnival games, many food tables with a variety of tasty bites, and the winemakers themselves are walking around, serving up pours throughout the evening. It's a wonderful, big party and you inevitably run into many familiar faces -- it was so good to see so many folks from the food and wine world.

Don't rain on my parade, Northwest Weather! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
There were overcast skies on our evening, but luckily the rain only came in intermittent, light showers, which was actually kind of refreshing in the humid summer weather. I jumped between red and white wines, sipping a little rose between tastes. Over a hundred winemakers were in attendance; it really is a great opportunity to meet the people behind your favorite wines. Events like these are great for sampling a little of everything -- your favorites, new releases you haven't tried yet, and if you're lucky, finding new favorites. 

A little of this... a little of that... enjoying all the favorites - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I had a chance to sample Reynvaan wines, which I really liked -- they're a small family owned winery in Walla Walla, they make beautiful Syrahs and white blends, and they're tough to get. They're already sold out of all current vintages! But it's a name to keep an eye out for -- if you see a bottle of their wine, grab it before it's gone.

Reynvaan - a new favorite to keep an eye out for - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I had the benefit of the wisdom from friends who have attended the Picnic and Barrel Auction before -- hit the barrel tasting tent first. Even if you're fighting the crowds as it gets filled up, that's the place to bring a fresh palate to. It's a over a dozen or so wineries who are pouring barrel samples of wine that has yet to be bottled. Yes, they're bottled for pouring purposes, but you know you're getting something unique when the bottles are labeled with silver Sharpie marker or a strip of tape and a quickly-written vintage. You're sampling wines that won't be released for months, so they're a little young, and some may need more maturing than others, but it's a rare opportunity to get a glimpse of the winemaker's world. You're trying wines that are in the process of aging and you appreciate how the factors of time and a winemaker's blending expertise comes into refining the finished product.

Inside the coveted barrel tasting tent - just one glass, please! (a big one) - Photos by Wasabi Prime
This is also where the auction takes place -- it took me a little bit to see how the process went, but it was a pretty cool method of bidding for wine. The sampling is a chance to try-before-you-buy, and you make bids on cases. The bid numbers are written on cool wooden blocks, placed across a railing in back of the tasting tables, lined up with the winery they're bidding on. The top five bids for each winery will be awarded cases and they have the distinction of being the first to get their thirsty mitts on the finished product. The wooden bid blocks can only fit five per rail, so the second a higher bid shows up, the lower bid gets knocked to the floor, which is kind of fun since the crowd starts to cheer when a wooden block falls -- it means a new possible winner is on the board, and hey, it's for a good cause. And we love to cheer and shout when we're drinking wine.

Ready...steady... sip. - Photo by Wasabi Prime
All this wine... how about the food? The food is prepared beautifully by the Tulalip Resort Casino. They set up multiple tables with small sample bites and appetizer-sized nibbles. They smartly prepare mostly single-handed bites, since you'll likely have a wine glass in hand and may not want to fuss with silverware.

Not your typical wine and cheese party - food by Tulalip Resort Casino - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Everything really was beautiful -- lobster bisque, rare Wagyu beef tenderloin sliders, smoked salmon nicoise salad in a little endive. Even the simplest things were delicious, like the chicken Lorraine, stuffed with spinach, bacon, sun dried tomatoes, herb cheese, topped with a sweet fig jam. And a simple tart filled with brie was heavenly. The Cutest Food Award goes to their silver dollar-sized muscovy duck confit "slider," which was literally a single bite, but so much flavor packed into such a tiny morsel.

Sliders big and small, and elegant salads and soups - Photos by Wasabi Prime
There was a whole pig being roasted slowly on open coals -- that was a Wow Factor. We missed Burning Beast this year, so this was like a mini-makeup session. They made multiple bites with that, sprinkling the shredded pork on mini Johnny Cakes, a salad of microgreens with pork, and pork nachos.

Food, wine, and of course coffee - Photos by Wasabi Prime
One of my favorites was a smoked lamb carpaccio on a thin little triangle of flatbread, with chevre, microgreens and a medjool date balsamic jam. That was a treat -- I definitely went back for seconds. And it was probably one of the prettiest things served.

Lamb carpaccio with many microgreens - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Presentation was definitely worth noting on all the little bites. I try not to think about the landfill factor, what with all these adorable, elegant mini sample plates, but I'm a sucker for little bites of food that look nice. The use of microgreens was big, which made sense for such tiny bites -- they added both color and a little fresh kick of flavor. And the colors! I had a lobster sushi roll topped with fresh avocado and strawberry -- it was as vibrant in flavor as it was in appearance.

So much color! Beautiful food - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I have to hand it to a wine event where the level of the food matches the excellence of the vintages. It really felt like a full experience. My tastebuds were doing a Happy Dance all night long.

Christmas in... August? - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The dessert table of Christmas themed sweets was a sugary, slightly stressful reminder that the holidays are coming. Consider yourself warned. And grab a few more sugar cookies, just in case.

Drinking games - Photos by Wasabi Prime
So I'm totally hooked on the Picnic and Barrel Auction. I've always let this event slip past my radar in previous years, but now I've seen the light. What a fun night. I can't wait for the next one!

UPDATE: The big Saturday auction raised $1.8 million for Seattle Children's Hospital and WSU's Viticulture and Enology Program, and the Picnic and Barrel Auction raised $93,000 - CHEERS!

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