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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Two Words: Wine Festival

When five dozen wineries like Silvestri and Summerland each flow upwards of four wines to complement dozens of restaurant treats, that qualifies as a worthy wine party. When it happens at the Aquarium, and includes a California hall-of-fame hit list of varietals that could go like this: Sweeny Canyon Chardonnay, De Tierra Pinot Noir, Silver Oak Cabernet, Parsonage Syrah and Peachy Canyon Zin, then that’s a festival.

The oldest continuous wine toast in the country made some dramatic improvements a year ago under new festival managers E2C, reclaiming the Aquarium for its gala, remastering its ranks of food purveyors and adding a new releases act with a ton of wineries, a succulent oyster bar and a cooking demo.

Now the Monterey Wine Festival’s got more pouring where that came from—like rivers of chowder.

Having restaurants revered for their soups vie for love from a panel of judges, including pros like American Culinary Institute Monterey Chapter president Paul Lee and cons like yours truly, feels like a natural for one of the region's chowder capitals. Flaherty’s, Domenico’s, Abalonetti and Forge in the Forest, among others, are all sending chefs for a Saturday showdown stacked with more than two dozen wineries like Chappellet and Opolo Vineyards.

But festival Executive Director Chris Cannard seems most particularly excited to see more great grape juice from some of Paso Robles premier powers than clam soup.

“We’ve got some new people in,” he says. “A lot of good stuff from Paso Robles: Pretty Smith, Adelaida, Derby, Pear Valley, Pianetta.”

Not that Monterey County isn't coming en force. "Strong boutique wineries known for small lots and painstaking winemaking from the Monterey area pervade the festival," Cannard adds, "with offerings from the valleys to the mesas bringing a selection of wines as diverse as Bordeauxs Cabernets and Germany's Reislings—Cambiata, Equinox, Heart of the Mountain, Lockwood , Mesa Del Sol, Michaud Vineyard, Pietra Santa Winery, Scheid Vineyards, Silvestri Vineyards and Ventana Vineyards."

The gala 7:30-10:30pm Thursday, June 10, ($99) will be capped at 1,500, which means limited lines to all the mezmorizing wines. Friday’s “New Releases and More” ($99) gets the Monterey Conference Center swirling Friday, June 11. The chowder challenge ($45) goes down noon-3pm Saturday.

Hit the Monterey Wine Festival website here.