Pacific Wine and Food Classic Graces Newport Beach

Morning’s fingers released their grip on the day and the early fog that had settled on the shore lifted, finally.

It was bright outside, or brighter than it had been. I stood in a space large but inviting, decorated with white canopied tents that filled with wind and looked like sails along the water. A well-dressed crowd strolled airily from booth to booth. One woman, the fringes on her handbag whisked by the breeze, sunk her heels into the sand and pressed a glass of red wine to her lips. When she was finished drinking, smudges of pink lipstick remained. She didn’t seem to mind. To her immediate right, three men in matching tropical button-ups swirled glasses of sparkling brut, laughing about something I couldn’t hear.

If I had to dole out one word to describe the Pacific Wine & Food Classic, I’d call it elegant. The ordeal was the first of its kind, and took place this past weekend at the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort in Newport Beach, CA.

It was a Saturday and Sunday for refinement, for blushed rosé and fresh yellowtail tuna, cut into small medallions delicate enough to eat in one bite.

Credit is due to the team at the O.C. Restaurant Association for not only producing such a chic event but also for having the foresight to know unending lines are the bane of a hungry gourmand’s existence. Pacific Wine & Food Classic attendance was capped at a sizeable yet manageable number and the wait was no more than two minutes for any given pour or plate, though most vendors had no wait at all.

The light crowd also ensured no one would play musical chairs for a spot at one of the many high-boy tables overlooking the waterside vista. Set your wine down, place your small dish on the table-clothed surface, with admission granting unlimited tastings, why not take a moment to sit by the water and sip whatever libation settled inside your glass?

The Classic featured more than 100 dishes from top chefs, and wines, beers, craft cocktails, even Patron ice pops in the VIP section. As hundreds wined and dined, Food Network Star Simon Majumdar led food demos with his signature high-energy style on the Fisher & Paykel/DCS culinary stage.

A highlight in the wine category included We Believe’s 2014 Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Full disclosure, I’ve tasted their wines many, many times before—I even spoke with Patrick Merrell, co-founder and COO of We Believe, last year just weeks after the launch of the brand. Still, I was no less impressed this weekend by their Chard’s gentle tartness, smooth notes of hazelnut and overall approachability. It’s a wine that can hold up to the eloquence of an affair like this just as much as it can enliven a casual night spent at home with friends.

Just a few tastings later, I wandered into the display of gourmet pastries set out by Mixed Bakery, based in Corona del Mar. The bakery is helmed by French Culinary Institute Graduate Elyssa Fournier, who brings more than 100 years of family baking traditions to the kitchen and into her creations. Fournier’s meringues lined the long table like sugary temptresses begging for a taste, and I’m still dreaming about the subtle artistry of one particular variety I tried: vanilla with mascarpone cream and chocolate sprinkles.

I also can’t forget the sour beer offering from The Bruery, a boutique craft brew establishment in Anaheim, CA. Founded in 2008 as a small friends and family business, The Bruery prides itself on creativity and “genre-tilting” beers.

“Sour?” The Bruery bartender asked and I scrunched my face, shook my head. “Oh, come on, you have to try it! Be adventurous!”

With the promise of grand adventure, I took a tiny gulp of the reddish liquid he expertly tipped into my glass, savoring the sharp, tangy flavor, then opting for the blonde ale. I’m not one to ever turn down adventure but prefer it less sour, more sweet.