Ventura County Wine Trail: 2013 Food & Wine Challenge


Just outside the heart of Los Angeles sits Southern California’s very own Wine Country.  We often hear of areas such as Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, Temecula, and Malibu flourishing with tourists, but another area has begun to put itself on the Southern California Wine Country map, the Ventura County Wine Trail.  This trail spans from Malibu to Ojai, and includes nineteen local wineries, thirteen fine dining restaurants, and six conveniently located hotels to ensure nothing but the best wine tasting experience only miles outside of the city.

In an effort to bring this area into the mainstream eye the Ventura County Wine Trail has organized a local food and wine challenge that hosts both wineries and restaurants under one roof for a bit of friendly competition.  This year at the 2nd Annual Food & Wine challenge twelve wineries were teamed with twelve restaurants to create their perfect food and wine pairings to be served to a room of over 300 guests, including a panel of judges.  The judges took part in a blind tasting which included the following criteria: 


-taste & flavor (dish)

-creative use of ingredients (dish)

-taste & aroma (wine)

-balance (wine)

-synergy of interplay of food elements and wine (pairing)


Guests were also given the opportunity to vote for their favorite team under the People’s Choice category.


Here’s the list of participating teams:

Team 1- Cantara Cellars & Twenty 88

Dish: Crisp & Spicy Short Ribs with Dark Cherry Ginger Glaze, Peppers & Onions

Wine: Intrepid 2009, Red Wine Lodi


Team 2- Malibu Family Wines & Jolly Oyster

Dish: Smoked Pacific Oysters soaked in Brandy, Soy, Garlic brine and smoked with Apple Wood

Wine: Saddle Rock North Coast Brut Sparkling Wine


Team 3- Plan B Wine Cellars & Sugar Beets

Dish: Marinated Duck on Chili Wonton with Cherry Hazelnut Compote and Chocolate Grenache Drizzle

Wine: Grenache 2010, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara


Team 4- Magnavino Cellars & C-Street

Dish: Coriander Dusted Seared Diver Scallops with Mango-Grapefruit Relish and finished with Chive Oil

Wine: Gewurztraminer 2011, Santa Barbara

Team 5- Rancho Ventavo & Hollywood Beach Wine Company

Dish: Cumin Glazed Pork: Succulent Cumin Pork enhanced with a Raspberry/Horseradish/Balsamic Glaze. Accompanied by Portabella Mashed & Roasted Corn & Heirloom Tomato Salsa

Wine: Mourvedre 2008, Central Coast


Team 6- Four Brix Winery & Aloha Steakhouse

Dish: Sea Scallop over a pickled relish with a red wine reduction and served on top of a sliced cucumber

Wine: Scosso 2010, Paso Robles Blend: Sangiovese, Cab & Merlot


Team 7- Gone West Cellars & Austen’s

Dish: Braised Pork Tenderloin Topped with Dried Fruit Compote over a Dijonnaise Cream Sauce

Wine: Just Red, 2007 Paso Zinfandel


Team 8- Ojai Vineyard & Osteria Monte Grappa

Dish: White Wine Mushroom and Nettle Risotto

Wine: Santa Barbara Syrah 2010


Team 9- Herzog Wine Cellars & Tierra Sur

Dish: Green Peppercorn & Garlic Veal Sausage with Pear Compote & Grilled Fennel Salad

Wine: Meritage, 2010 Blend of Cab & Cab Franc, California


Team 10- Bella Victorian Vineyard & Bistro

Dish: Rustic Wild Boar Stew with Pancetta, Root Vegetables & Winter Mushrooms

Wine: Elena Syrah 2008, California


Team 11- Alma Sol Winery & La Dolce Vita

Dish: Ricotta Spinach and Portobello mushroom stuffed shells with a marsala cream sauce

Wine: Cab Sauv 2010 Paso Robles


Team 12- Sunland Vintage Cellars & Café Zack

Dish: Veal Osso Bucco

Wine: Barbera 2010, California


The Results:

Thanks to the fabulous panel of judges Lisa Stoll, owner of Explore Wines/ Certified Sommelier/ Coordinator of the Wine Enthusiast Club; Tim Kilcoyne, Executive Chef & Owner of Sidecar Restaurant in Ventura; Eileen Medina-Jordan, Assistant Tasting Room Manager and Hospitality Representative for Sanford Winery; Steven Stroh, Chef & Owner of chef Stroh’s Pestos; and Brittany Rice, Winemaker and Owner of Millesime Cellars in Camarillo, Bella Victorian Vineyard & Bistro (team 10) came out on top for the Judges Award.  While the events attendees voted for Cantara Cellars and Twenty 88 (team 1) to bring home the People’s Choice Award.  Both dishes proved to be delicious with perfectly complimenting wine selections.  

Here’s more on the winning wines:

Bella Victorian Vineyards is a small family owned Artisan Winery and Vineyard located in Camarillo, CA that specializes in luxurious and elegant wines.  Since their establishment in 2004, Bella Victorian Vineyards has crafted wines that are well balanced and food friendly.  The 08 Elena Syrah was filled with notes of blackberry, black cherry, and sweet tobacco that paired nicely with the Rustic Wild Boar Stew.  The spicy finish on the wine was well rounded by the salty pancetta which brought out a slightly earthy tone in the wine that also complimented the root vegetables and winter mushrooms.  It was a well deserved score for Bella Victorian Vineyards and Bistro.  

Cantara Cellars, the winning winery of the People’s Choice Award, is located in the heart of Ventura County and specializes in red and white wines made from grapes grown in the Lodi Appellation in Northern California.  The 2009 Intrepid, which earned the awarded honors alongside Twenty 88 is a dense blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  This beautiful wine had hints of boysenberry, ripe blackberries, sweet tobacco and vanilla for a complex and long lasting finish that perfectly complimented the dark cherry ginger glaze found on Twenty 88’s the spicy short ribs.

Other standout Wines: 

Malibu Wines teamed up with the Jolly Oyster to serve a Saddle Rock Sparking Wine from the North Coast.  With 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir this sparkling was made in the traditional French method of Champagne.  There were notes of green apples, pears and citrus as well as a hint of toasted brioche on the finish which enhanced the brandy soy sriracha base of the Jolly Oyster’s smoked oysters dish.  An excellent combination for an afternoon snack by the beach!

Alma Sol Winery shared its 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from Paso Robles with guest to enjoy alongside La Dolce Vita’s Ricotta Spinach and Portobello mushroom stuffed shells with a marsala cream sauce.  This big and bold Cabernet Sauvignon nicely balanced such a heavy pasta dish with its luscious mouthfeel and complex aromas of dark fruit.  While the supple tannins and notes of vanilla spice and blackberry intensified the sweetness of the Portobello mushroom.  

Sunland Vintage Cellars had an elegant 2010 Barbera made in California to compliment a veal osso bucco crafted by their teammates at Cafe Zack.  With hints of black cherries, plums, currants and overall good acidity this domestic Barbera was a natural pair for such a strong Italian dish.  It’s difficult to find such an outstanding domestic grown Barbera, so here’s your match.  

Herzog Wine Cellars had a delicious 2010 Meritage (blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) to pair with not only a garlic veal sausage but also a banana semi-fredo and raspberry chocolate petite four cake from their Tierra Sur Restaurant.  Versatility is an understatement with this Meritage as it proved to be incredibly food friendly, fruit forward and smooth on the finish.  This is a perfect go to wine for almost any pairing to to be enjoyed on its own.  

Until next year, cheers!



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