Last weekend, we attended the International Alsace Varietals Festival in Anderson Valley, California. It was our second year attending, and something we plan to repeat each year. As I’ve mentioned a few times, Anderson Valley is one of our favorite areas in the world. It’s one of those places that feels like home, and the festival is a great reason to visit.
Alsace varietals that are focused on for the festival are Riesling, Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris. (Also in the Alsace varietals are Pinot Noir and Sylvaner as well as Auxxerois, Chasselas, and Chardonnay, via WineFolly. Anderson Valley has a separate Pinot Noir Festival in the spring.)
Last year’s focus was a bit more farm-oriented, and we learned a lot of interesting things about the challenges of growing grapes. This year was a bit more varietal focused. The first panel was about Riesling and the second about Gewurtztraminer. That meant we got to start sampling wines right away – score! – as well as learn about farming those specific varietals, environmental effects, bottling and closure choices, and fermentation practices. I loved it and took copious notes. The wine geek in me rejoiced.
The third panel brought even more fun, focusing on food pairings from frog legs to stinky cheese. Flammekueche, Salad Truite Fumee, Terrine de Cuisses (frogs legs), Charcuterie et Moutarde, Goose Liver Pate, and Alsace Munster Cheese with Caraway Seeds and Sugared Walnut created a meal unto itself. Chef Lars Kronmark made excellent choices for the pairings, and all of the wines were amazing. Maybe because of my Super Taster-ness, maybe because I’ve never been a liver lover, but as beautiful as the chef made the goose liver sound, I couldn’t enjoy it. It was way too strong, but I enjoyed everything else, especially the smoked trout (Truite Fumee) and the Munster/sugared walnut pairings – delectable!
After filling our bellies with amazing food and wine, it was on to a cooking demonstration. Chef Francois de Melogue showed how to make Moroccan Sea Scallops to pair with Gewurztraminer. It was a gorgeous plate, and he was quite entertaining. If I’m ever in La Quinta, I’ll be visiting FIGUE, the restaurant where he’s the Executive Chef.
Then it was on to the Grand Tasting in which we enjoyed the craft of many wineries and continued to eat awesome things like pork belly and pizza. I love me some Anderson Valley Alsace wines, but there were also awesome options from Michigan and the Finger Lakes region of New York. Charles and I were quite taken with the wines of Fox Run Vineyards from Penn Yan, NY.
To top off the weekend in extraordinary fashion, Sunday was spent traveling from winery to winery. We started with our absolute favorites, all three of which we’re wine club members: Handley Cellars, Husch Vineyards, and Navarro Vineyards. From there we ventured to Balo Vineyards, Esterlina, Phillips Hill Winery (At Phillips Hill I also learned that 1)my One Pan Meal is actually a traditional Alsatian meal and 2)it pairs amazingly with Alsace whites), and finished with a visit to Brutocao Cellars. We have never gone to so many wineries in a day, but it was so worth it. Everything we tried was terrific, proving once again that Anderson Valley wines are a force to be reckoned with. Man, I love them! If you’re a wine lover, especially of Alsace varieties, and have never had Anderson Valley wines, what are you waiting for? You won’t be disappointed, and you will be quite pleased to add another region to your go-to list for great wines.
We ended our final evening in the valley with a dinner at Aquarelle. I had a sumptuous swordfish that was absolutely delightful. The vibe was rustic/modern and like all good Anderson Valley things, casual and comfortable. The food was gourmet and very reasonably priced and was the perfect way to top off the weekend. We fell into bed that night quite satisfied with our festival experience and vowed to visit more regularly. We really do love it.
Other don’t-miss places while you’re in the valley besides the ones already listed:
Mexican food at Libby’s
Booneville General Store for an amazing breakfast or lunch
Mosswood Market and Café for great coffee and amazing empanadas
Coq Au Vin for lovely French Country cuisine
Lauren’s Café for an awesome home-style dinner (and the owner is SO NICE.)
Lemon’s Market and Deli for a quick but very tasty sandwich
Anderson Valley Brewing Company for some of the best beer anywhere (I had an ESB this trip — OMG!)
and where we always stay:
Anderson Valley Inn (the owners are awesome and do so much for the community)