22 December, 2016
Sustainable Food and Drink of Contra CostaPosted in : Dining in Walnut Creek - CA, Fortified Wine, Moscato d’Asti, Port, Red Wine, Restaurants, Sparkling Wine, White Wine, Wine on by : The Gourmez
For the second year in a row, I had the honor of attending the Sustainable Contra Costa Awards Gala, an annual fundraiser and ceremony honoring businesses and individuals who’ve modelled sustainable practices in Contra Costa County.
Lest you get confused, the event took place in September, not December! I’m a little behind on my blog write-ups…oh, and obligatory disclaimer! I was invited out by Sustainable Contra Costa to highlight the food and drink vendors who donated their wares to the event. Each and everyone one of them also practice sustainability in their businesses. Thus, every nibble and tipple I mention in this post was provided to me for free and they benefited a worthy cause.
Appearing bottom right in the photo: caesar deviled eggs from Corners Tavern in Walnut Creek. Corners Tavern’s chef, Adam Carpenter, just happens to have been the opening chef for Jasper’s Corner Tap, which is one of my favorite San Francisco restaurants because of its inventive pub fare.
If those deviled eggs are any indication, Walnut Creek patrons are lucky to have him now! Light anchovy had just enough presence to intrigue the palate, and the crouton bits provided a great crunch to challenge the deviled egg’s typically soft texture.
I passed by the pâté on the Corners Tavern table, as I’m not a fan of most liver-based items, but it was certainly beautifully arranged.
Corners Tavern features reclaimed barn wood, pennies, and garage doors in their eclectic restaurant design, one of the ways they aim for sustainability.
Also on that plate are a black pepper + fig + prosciutto crostini and a caprese crostini from Walnut Creek’s PRIMA. The caprese option, through simplicity, smartly focused on the bright flavors of tomato and basil, but the fig blew me away! Its black-pepper-butter bed had me thinking goat cheese at first bite because of the rich complexity it imparted. That butter complemented the fruit and meat so well. I love a surprise!
Chef Peter Chastain is one of PRIMA’s co-owners. The restaurant’s location has been a wine destination since its early days as a tiny deli in 1977; co-owner John Rittmaster is exceptionally well qualified to direct the wine program that now features over 1300 bottles. Chef Chastain uses only the best organic and seasonal ingredients, and the wine list shows them off. The Elvio Tintero Sori Gramella Moscato d’Asti poured that night was full of sweet peach, orange blossom, and honey notes. It’s the kind of wine that reminds you terroir is really, truly, worth pondering.
But domestic winemakers were also present, including the always delightful team behind Captain Vineyards, Sal and Susan Captain.
As Captain Vineyards is a very small operation, I tried many of the same wines from their dry-farmed vineyard that I had sampled last year, though different vintages brought different results! Last year, I loved their 2010 Petite Sirah for its woodsiness, but the 2011 had more of a grassy feel that called to mind hanging webs of Spanish moss. Tight, yet beautifully expressed fruit made for an interesting glass.
But I was most intrigued by their 2010 Captain Vineyards Petit Verdot, a harder-to-find grape outside of Bordeaux blends.
Bright fruit came first, black raspberry and persimmon, followed by light spice and a finishing smile of citrus. Grape leaves with a little brine provided backbone. Was the wine perfectly balanced? No, but it was full of personality. Let it breathe to discover even more.
Many smiling faces were happy to serve at the gala, and why not? Some of them served the fruits of their studies from the Diablo Valley College Culinary Program!
Using ingredients from local farms Dwelley, Shelly’s, G & S, and First Generation, the students provided a bevy of options to choose from.
The bell pepper, broccoli, and cheese mini-quiches provided great flavor with a gentle heat kick, and the bacon-wrapped scallops shined for the smokiness imparted to the shellfish.
But my favorite Diablo Valley College offering was the summer corn salad featuring roasted corn, tomato, feta, cucumber, and a light honey dressing.
I love sweet corn so much, y’all, and the dressing was nicely used to apply only enough moisture to bind the ingredients together — it didn’t steal the show away from the naturally delightful flavors of fresh produce.
The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc from Hannah Nicole Winery would go quite well with that salad, adding fruitiness through strawberry marshmallow notes and salt from a clean, saline body.
Located right beneath Mt. Diablo, Hannah Nicole farms sustainably and even dry farms some of their blocks to concentrate flavor, just as Captain Vineyards does on their property. That commitment to minimally impacting the environment yielded a great 2015 Hannah Nicole Viognier, which is not a varietal I typically enjoy.
But this one would work wonderfully with a salt and pepper shrimp dish. Restrained, tasty notes of caramel and banana stood out.
The final wine table held another familiar face, that of John Viano, winemaker at Viano Vineyards, a fourth generation winery in Contra Costa County.
It was a delight to try John’s zinfandels again, as they reflect the many years of experience in the family. I loved the Sand Rock Hill zin last year, and the 2012 vintage continued to impress with a full nose, unique spice, and toasted vanilla bourbon notes. Hard orange candy sticks also came to mind. The 2008 Viano Old Vines Vintage Zinfandel Port was even better than last year’s and had a completely different flavor profile. This is a port for thrill seekers! Tamarind with a toffee nose and plenty of mango and chili pepper. Hardened sugar syrup coats the Mexican candy. Take a sip and smile.
Another returning vendor was Plate & Vine, which makes sense as the restaurant’s home, the Hilton Concord, has long hosted the gala and is the Sustainability Flagship hotel, as designated by Interstate Hotels & Resorts. Chef Dwayne Griffiths was again on the assembly line.
This time he was finishing off plates of pork belly served over risotto with mushrooms, black beans, and lemon honey.
For so large a chunk of pork belly, achieving that great a crunch is impressive! I think I could eat the whole pan…
Could you blame me? For pork, one’s mind often wanders away from wine for a pairing, and luckily, Calicraft Brewing Co. was on hand.
This is an adventurous brewery, using esoteric Californian ingredients in the beers, like anise hyssop and hop varietals first grown in Pleasanton in the 1800s. Zinfandel sour ale, anyone? They have it! I didn’t get to taste that one, though, but the Buzzerkeley Light & Zesty Sparking Ale did well.
It uses star thistle honey that comes out on the finish of this herbaceous beer. Thyme, rosemary, lemon verbena, and hops all took a turn on my tongue. It impressed enough to make a stop in their tasting room a must the next time I’m in the Creek.
Wow, I’m full! Aren’t you? What a great collection of taste makers assembled for the Sustainable Contra Costa Gala! Their know-how and follow-through on the importance of implementing sustainable practices in food and drink production impressed as much as their wares. I’m sure they’ve already received their thanks from Sustainable Contra Costa for donating their time and products at the gala, but consider giving them your own thanks through a visit soon!
The gala took place 21 September 2016.