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Of Bivalves and Bottles in Ensenada

Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo draws hungry crowd from Mexico, US

Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo, Ensenada, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico

ENSENADA, BAJA CALIFORNIA – The 2017 Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo (Festival of Shellfish and New Wines) was held last week in Ensenada and featured a weeklong series of dinners, presentations, and events focused on the region’s aquaculture, viniculture, and gastronomy.

The festival kicked off with tastings at chef Drew Deckman’s raw bar Conchas de Piedra on April 17, and closed with the sold out exposition and friendly competition held on April 23rd at the Hotel Coral and Marina.

Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo, Ensenada, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico

The Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo, Ensenada. Photo: W. Scott Koenig

The Provino Committee, an association of over 50 wineries located in Baja California’s five wine valleys, hosted the events as part of their Fiestas de las Vendemia. The Festival of Shellfish and New Wines drew attendees from around Mexico, as well as the Baja California and San Diego super-region.

In addition to chefs from around the region, the opportunity to work with fresh Baja California ingredients enticed talent from around Mexico, who worked as guest chefs during dinners, grilled shellfish on the beach, and paired their creations with new vintages from the area’s best wineries during the festival’s friendly culinary competition.

Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo, Ensenada, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico

Eduardo García at the Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo, Ensenada. Photo: W. Scott Koenig

In a rare appearance outside of his kitchens, chef Eduardo García from Mexico City’s Maximo Bistro Local and Lalo showed off his skills to a packed tent during the festival on the final day, demonstrating his preparation of shellfish with pork.

During the presentation, García playfully teased a visiting CDMX food writer, stating, “If this dish doesn’t come out well, you can read about it from Good Food Mexico City’s Nicholas Gilman.” Spoiler alert: Nick intimated that the dish was well executed and delicious.

Other visiting chefs seen throughout the festival include Juan Valleseñor of Leon’s La Concinoteca, Australian chef Paul Bentley of Guadalajara eatery Magno Brasserie, and Tomás Bermúdez of Guadalajara’s La Docena.

Baja California chefs were also happily at work shucking, grilling, preparing, and serving the local bivalves they know and love best. Participating chefs included Marco Marin of Latitud 32, Omar Armas of Mantou Gastropub, and Javier Plascencia of Mision 19 and Finca Altozano – arriving on Saturday from the opening of his new restaurant Jazamango in Todos Santos.

Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo, Ensenada, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico

Chefs Javier Plascencia and Claudette Wilkinson, Maricar Granado Castro. Photo: W. Scott Koenig

After week of shellfish and wine-focused events, Saturday April 22 kicked off with the beach parrillada (grilling) on the grounds of the seaside resort Qunitas Papagayo. Over 500 people attended and selected a basket that contained fresh and live mussels, clams, oysters, octopus, soft shell crabs, and other deep-sea delicacies. These marvelous mariscos were then relinquished to a team of chefs and volunteers from the Tijuana Culinary Art School for grilling to order.

That night, several of the Valle de Guadalupe’s best restaurants held guest chef dinners. A Gringo in Mexico and friends ended up at Finca Altozano where we enjoyed six courses paired with Baja California wines. The dishes demonstrated a range of technique from a modern take on aguachile verde to a hearty, braised short rib in salsa de pasilla.

Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo, Ensenada, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico

Grilled mussels and clams at the Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo. Photo: W. Scott Koenig

Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo, Ensenada, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico

Finca La Carroldilla at the Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo, Ensenada. Photo: W. Scott Koenig

On Sunday, the main event of the 2017 Festival of Shellfish and New Wines was held on the grounds of Ensenada’s Hotel Coral and Marina. A sold out crowd of 2,000 gathered at restaurant and vineyard tents to taste shells, wines, and the pairing of the two from some of the region’s best winemakers and chefs.

The new wine winners of the friendly oyster pairing competition were:

1st Place:          Hilo Negro
2nd Place:         El Cielo
3rd Place:         Finca La Carrodilla
4th Place:         Casta de Vinos
5th Place:         Cava Aragón (Madera 5)

Semifinalists included oyster pairings with new wines from Vinos Lechuza, Decantos, Infinito, Vinos Pijoan, Clos de Tres Cantos, Villa Montefiori, and Viña de Frannes.

Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo, Ensenada, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico

Alejandro and Alonso Granados from Decantos Winery. Photo: W. Scott Koenig

With two thousand mouths to feed, it’s inevitable that eventually the event’s namesake bivalves will run out, leaving wastebaskets full of sad, empty shells in their wake. But this year, chef Roberto Alcocer of Valle de Guadalupe restaurant Malva was ready.

Festival de las Conchas y el Vino Nuevo, Ensenada, Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California, Mexico

Tortilla cones with lamb and cotija cheese. Photo: W. Scott Koenig

“We have a lamb we sacrificed yesterday,” he’d shared with A Gringo in Mexico during dinner on Friday at Malva. “I am going to roast it in my Caja China (roasting box) and serve it in cones, topped with cotija cheese after the shellfish are gone. It is similar to an old Ensenada favorite of tortilla cones filled with beans.”

“I love this event, it’s my third year!” enthused Wine n’ Dine Baja tours’ Holly Darrah. “The food is great, the wines are all excellent, and the people here are so warm and friendly!” Feeling fairly warm, well fed, and sufficiently wined as well, we turned from the setting sun and headed out for birria de res, hungry for more meat after a week of shellfish and seafood gorging.

If you missed this year’s sold out Festival of Shellfish and New Wines, be sure to mark your calendar for next year once dates are announced. It’s a veritable bacchanal of bivalves, blends, and mono varietals that will leave you hungry for more. Provecho!

Your Gringo in Mexico,
Scott

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