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Appellation St. Helena’s 10th annual bASH, a wine and food pairing competition, will include a panel of celebrity judges and students who have been perfecting their recipes for months.

Leslie Sbrocco, wine educator and founder of the multimedia company Thirsty Girl, said she is excited to be a part of an event that has “so many glorious wineries.”

“I came last year as a regular attendee and will come this year as an industry professional. This event is casual, fun, and enjoyable. Appellation St. Helena is known for its superb wines. The bites are delicious and thoughtfully prepared,” said Sbrocco.

Sbrocco said St. Helena is known for its “big reds, and Cabernet Sauvignon is the star. But there are still beautiful whites and plenty of other wines to play with.”

The event will be held from 6-8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 30, at held in conjunction with the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. Lesley Russell, president of Appellation St. Helena, a nonprofit trade organization which promotes wineries and vineyards in St. Helena, said bASH is a popular, friendly event. Wine collectors and consumers are welcome to visit 32 different wine and food tasting stations in CIA’s historic barrel room.

“This year, we have 27 student teams of two people as well as five professional teams from restaurants or wineries participating. Each team is paired with a winery and asked to create a perfectly paired bite for one wine,” said Russell.

Winners take their title, as well as cookware from Le Creuset and grapeseed oil from Salute Santé! Both companies are sponsors of the event. The St. Helena Chamber of Commerce is helping to promote the event.

Russell said many distinguished wineries are participating this year, including Saint Helena winery, where she serves as general manager, Pellet Estate, Rombauer Vineyards, Ehlers Estate, Ballentine Vineyards, Charles Krug Winery, and Taplin.

“The 350 guests at this sold-out event will vote for their favorite pairing with poker chips. Their pick will receive the ‘People’s Choice’ awards. Our professional panel of critics will be sequestered in a conference room and tasting in private. The labels of the wines will be concealed. These industry professionals will award the ‘Critic’s Choice’ awards,” said Russell.

Besides Sbrocco, this year’s industry judges are Susie Heller, cookbook author, Virginie Boone, wine author and contributing editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine, Christopher Sawyer, master sommelier, and Soleil Ho, restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Russell said featured wines will include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Syrah, Zinfandel, red blends, and Sauvignon Blanc.

“The point of bASH is to elevate Appellation St. Helena. This is the historical heart of Napa Valley. We have a long tradition of vintners who strive to create higher and higher quality wines. This American Viticultural Area sees a lot of innovation. Most of the vines are planted on the sunny valley floor, although some are cultivated on slopes. There are over 6,000 acres of winegrapes in the region. St. Helena has the largest acreage planted in one AVA in Napa Valley,” said Russell.

Sunshine Foods

Jay Smith, owner of Sunshine Foods in St. Helena, said he is proud to be a fifth-year sponsor for bASH.

“The teams come to us to get all the food for their bites. We believe that events that showcase St. Helena wines are good for St. Helena. One of my sons, Matt Smith, who is Sunshine Foods’ wine and spirits director, is competing on a team this year,” said Smith.

Smith said bASH teaches students to learn what it takes to put a good pairing together. “You have to work with a budget. You also have to have a plan B and a plan C. Our staff helps students find alternatives when needed,” said Smith.

Lars Kronmark, head student chef instructor at the CIA, said this will be his seventh time producing bASH.

“It’s the one event place where I don’t have to grade students afterwards, but I get to see them come up with something new. I love seeing that light go on,” said Kronmark. Both undergraduate and graduate students are invited to compete. They commit to the event in January and February and develop their idea for months.

“I coach the students a lot about wine in the beginning. Ninety percent of the wine in this competition is red. I explain to them why they should not pair sugar, a sweet cake, or dessert with a glass of red wine.” He said he has his students try and do a cause and effect about why a pairing doesn’t work.

Kronmark said guests should expect a lot of “dark, ripe, black fruit tastes.”

“St. Helena reds sometimes have aromas of eucalyptus and mint, but often deep berry flavors, black currant, vanilla, sometimes tobacco, espresso, and even new oak.” The flavors are mostly well-hidden and integrated with the dark fruit flavors, he added.

Chefs at CIA Greystone

Kathleen Luu, a first-year CIA student, said she is participating to be a part of the atmosphere and community of St. Helena.

“It’s exciting to be a part of what’s going on here. It offers me more than just going to work and school. I also have enjoyed getting to know wine a lot more since I moved here from southern California. I’ve gotten to see and smell all the changes, from harvest to fermentation,” said Luu.

Luu said working with her partner is a challenge they have overcome because he is younger than 21. “Still, we’re comparing recipes, developing our ideas, doing research on the Internet, and reading books available to us at school to create our pairing. We make a great team,” said Luu.

Caroline Green, a fourth semester CIA student, returns to bASH this year, because she found the experience rewarding and educational.

“I participated in last year’s competition as a first-semester student because it seemed like a fun event to participate in with my classmate. It was a little nerve-wracking. Practicing for this competition has allowed me to cultivate my palette and collaborate with classmates and food and wine industry professionals. I also learn high volume planning, all of the details from experimentation to budgeting,” said Green.

Green said practicing and competing for bASH was “a lot of fun … and very rewarding.”

“This is the one of a handful of times where you have almost unlimited freedom to be creative in the kitchen and show off your skill set to the community. I did not want to miss out on this opportunity to participate again,” said Green.

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