Favorite Drinks from the Wine Rave at the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival
Entering its sixth year, the 2009 San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival is an epic week-long (November 18 to 22) eating and drinking extravaganza. At least 19 events stretch over the five days, including a series of cooking and wine appreciation classes, wine-tasting parties, and the banner Grand Tasting Event.
The festival is the largest food and wine event in Southern California, with an anticipated 9,000 attendees, 170 wineries, and over 70 San Diego restaurants and chefs participating. The press fact sheet breaks things down to brass tacks: There will be over 800 different wines poured, totaling over 120,000 ounces over the week.
The climax of the festival, like most of these food and wine festivals, is The Grand Tasting Event, a parade of wine and food stations, celebrity chefs, and culinary competition. It's a four hour-long open bar in sunny San Diego, with some serious eats tossed in.
First up on my list of events was the Wine Rave, promoted as featuring 25 of the "edgiest" wine and spirits on the market today. Hosted at the chic W Hotel in downtown San Diego, the event suggested something more modish than the usual afternoon festival tasting.
The price point was lower than most of the events for the festival—the $45 ticket was about a third of the cost of Saturday's Grant Tasting. With a younger crowd, a swanky venue, and a nighttime schedule, people came not just to sample, but to be seen. While fun, the event was a departure from the relaxed casualness that one usually associates with wine appreciation. The wine and spirits sometimes played second fiddle to the dual distractions of loud music and flashy fashion—admittedly, this ambiance worked pretty well for the theme of "edgy" drinks.
There were some standouts among the drinks sampled. Villa Creek from Paso Robles poured two of the best wines of the night. Both were blends of Syrah and Grenache, with mild richness and easy drinkability.
Black Box Wines is producing very quality wines, which they distribute in cardboard boxes. This isn't Franzia, but good table wines packaged in a cheaper, more modern format. The idea is to increase the quality of the wine by decreasing the costs associated with bottling it. Boxed wine is getting some respect, from sources as rarified as The New York Times. Black Box is trying to eliminate the stigma of a box, but even they had the good sense to pour samples from decanters, not straight from plastic spigots.
Twim Poms poured their pomegranate wine that tasted, well, like pomegranates. It wasn't that exciting. But they also served more interesting cocktails made with the same wine, adding some vodka and grenadine. It had all the fun of a fruity martini, but with more oomph and depth than something containing only sugar water and booze.
Quady poured the most diverse set of spirits, including desert wines and vermouths. The Orange Muscat "Essensia" was a playful light indulgence that danced on ones tongue and lingered on one's nose. Their "Elysium" Black Muscat was deeper and more direct, with uncomplicated black cherry accents designed for pairings with chocolate.
Quady's most interesting samples were their "Vya" vermouths. Their sweet vermouth is palatable enough to drink by itself, with layers of 25 botanicals unified by a flavor of easy underlying molasses. Their dry was a bit more harsh, but with bright spring notes. A small amount would go a long way in a classic martini.