We were super excited to find out that we had won Gourmet Pigs‘ giveaway of a pair of tickets to this past weekend’s LA WineFest at the historic Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. We love food events and this was an awesome opportunity; we otherwise would have had to dole out $60+ a head for admission, although with the wine and beer freely flowing and part of the proceeds going to benefit a good cause, we could see how it could still be very worth it.
With an impressive exhibitors list of over 500 local and international wineries, breweries, spirit-makers, and food vendors, this 8th annual event drew visitors from all over LA to partake in the festivities while also supporting the 2013 official charity Food Forward. Now that’s a pretty good way to spend a weekend in LA, if you ask me!
There were just too many vendors to name, and because of the crowds, we were not able to visit every single table. But we did sample a lot of them and here are just a few of our favorites.
When you think of wine pairings, the first thing that probably comes to mind is cheese. We spotted a huge crowd that had gathered round and decided to check out Fancifull – a gourmet foods and gift baskets vendor.
Wally takes great pride in his cheeses, all made with farmstead dairy. Sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, and plenty of cow’s milk cheeses… My favorites were a tossup between the Beecher’s Flagship (cheddar-like cow’s milk cheese from Seattle) and the Jeff’s Select Gouda from Caves of Faribault, which had a gorgeous bright orange hue.
Stella Artois was very obviously one of the larger sponsors of LA WineFest, and the lines for the biergarten dominated a majority of the main event floor. Good thing the friendly staff meandered through the lines and poured tasters of Cidre, an apple cider newest on their product line. With so little time and so much to see, we left our place in line and continued wandering.
From several feet away, Martin’s keen eye spotted a very familiar bottle – a Rioja from Vibrant Rioja that we have often seen on the shelves at Trader Joes. A mid-tier, very smooth Spanish wine, Martin has aged the 2003 and 2004 vintage until recently, a good 8 or 9 years, before drinking. This 2006 vintage was also deliciously smooth and we may be picking up a few bottles to add to our library.
A delicious vinaigrette that features pickled whole garlic cloves as the prize at the bottom of every bottle, Garlic Expressions was a fun and flavorful vendor. As the presenter noted, the dressing could be used on salads, as a marinade, or even for dipping with bread.
Of course, the local San Antonio Winery had come out to showcase their Maddelena label. Martin has yet to visit their tasting room, but I have been tagging along with my parents since I was a kid. As the winery was (and still very much is) as family business, I remember Santos pouring me glasses of their blood orange sparkling soda while my parents tasted the “adult stuff.” Ahh, memories. I sampled the riesling and was very pleased with it; sweet but not cloyingly so. I’ll have to ask my dad to grab a bottle for me next time.
Among the wine and beer were also vendors of bubbly – this one is actually from France. Luckily we happened to stop by right as he was opening a new bottle. He told us a story of this gentleman who opened a bottle of champagne simply by rubbing the bottle’s neck to create vibrations and then with only a champagne flute, was able to pop the cork right off! The brut was a bit dry for my taste; I overheard other patrons asking about his rosé, which was apparently very popular and he had run out of it.
A very local winery just out of Westlake Village, J. Hamilton Wines offers a few limited varietals, custom blends, and a handful of sparkling wines including a private cuvée that I had to try. A crisp, refreshing brut.
We love olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting. We briefly frequented the Gourmet Balsamic Blends booth where I tried the “margarita” – a few drops of pomegranate balsamic vinegar complemented by lime-infused olive oil. Yum!
Now we really needed to get some real food into our stomachs, so we continued to seek out Lobsta Truck, possibly one of our favorite food trucks in LA. The line was long but we joined the queue, knowing the wait would be worth it. To pass the time, we admired their super cute tip jars — “Help us get to Vegas!” and “Help us get home from Vegas!”
This is only part of their menu but it covers the most important things you need to know — 1) they offer lobster rolls Connecticut-style (with drawn butter) and 2) they have lobster bisque to which you can add extra meat!
I know – it’s pretty dinky. But the split-top buns are always toasted to a golden crisp and stuffed full of lobster meat glistening with hot butter. When we visited New Hampshire and Boston recently, we were surprised to find that the Maine-style (a lobster salad of sorts dressed in mayo) is much more common. Personally, I’m a huge fan of the Connecticut-style and the one from Lobsta Truck is definitely worth the $12.
An outdoor festival is not complete without live entertainment, and we managed to snag seats right next to the band, playing lively music we could sway to while enjoying our lobster rolls.
I had seen and sampled The Chocolate Traveler at Taste of Beverly Hills a few years ago, and I recognized their adorable round tins packed with wedges of silky dark chocolate. This time they had a new variety – tabasco flavored! I thought they were delicious and captured the vinegary, peppery flavor of tabasco quite well. Martin felt quite a kick to his taste buds though.
More cheese! I’m not a huge fan of blue cheeses, but this triple-cream Cambozola Black Label was really wonderful. It was creamy and had a pleasantly nutty flavor. Martin mentioned that it was reminiscent of the cheeses we had at Cowgirl Creamery in Petaluma.
Still a bit hungry, we followed the sights and smells leading us to the cardboard trays of fries. Turns out, they originated from Hot’s Kitchen and they were not just any fries — they were Belgian truffle fries. Sign us up!
Their simple but crowd-pleasing menu of burgers, fries, and tacos meant that there was a bit of a wait but the trade-off was made-to-order noms. Here’s one of their team members tossing a fresh-out-of-the-oil batch of fries liberally with truffle oil.
Doesn’t that look amazing? Being Belgian-style fries, the potato sticks had a great balance of crispy exterior to fluffy, soft insides. The aroma of truffle oil wafted up to our noses as we ate, and the shaved parmesan added just enough saltiness. I liked the maitake aioli but Martin found the texture a bit chunky for his preference.
Our last stop for the day was at Grande Avenue Coffee. Martin selected the iced coffee, which remarkably resembled Vietnamese-style ca phe sua da! It was so good and the perfect beverage for the warm, summer-in-LA day.
I decided to go with the crimsonberry iced tea – a blend of elderflower, rose hips, cranberry, and other goodies that add so much flavor to the iced tea that not a granule of sugar was needed. Super refreshing!
We had a fantastic time at LA WineFest and are already looking forward to next year’s 9th Annual event. Hope you will mark your calendars too – if you haven’t checked it out yet, you’re missing out!
Check out LA WineFest: lawinefest.com
The Historic Raleigh Studios
5300 Melrose Avenue
Hollywood, CA 90038
See their Yelp reviews here!