Okay, that title is a lie. Garlic is delicious with red wine. Tuscan cuisine wouldn't be the same without either Chianti or garlic-laden bolognese! But there is a time and a place, and I found the antithesis of that time and place this past weekend.
If you've ever driven through Gilroy, CA, you know that the city's motto should probably be one word, all capitalized: GARLIC. You see the signs for fresh garlic and garlic ice cream and garlic preserves and garlic braids, you feel like you've got garlic breath just from driving through on 101, you hear about the Garlic Festival every July.
It's a tragedy that I have had three summers in the Bay Area and this past weekend is the first time that I've been to the Festival that makes the city great. I grew up in Small-Town America, so I know how to deal with crowded town fairs in zillion-degree heat (hint: drink early, bring water, wear sunscreen and comfortable clothes). Add garlic fries and garlic bread and free garlic ice cream to that equation, and I am absolutely on board! Plus, I heard a rumor that they would have a wine tent, and honestly, that's a good enough reason to get me to show up anywhere. So on Saturday, my boyfriend and I showed up at my Gilroy-born friend's house at 9:30am to caravan to the festival, eat our fill of garlic-doused food, and have a built-in excuse to drink before noon.
The wine tent turned out to be the best decision of the day; not only was it not crowded when we arrived, but it was a shaded and mist-sprayer-rigged so we could get a respite from the 95 degree heat outside. There were about ten local wineries pouring samples and full glasses for attendees, almost all of which I had passed on my back-roads drive to the festival. I hadn't tasted most of the wineries' offerings prior to that day, so I made quick work of my drink tickets.
Lightheart Cellars gets a shout-out from me here; Sheldon and George poured the gorgeous Colombard of theirs, and they made a white sangria of it for us to taste as well! Both were perfect for the weather and the occasion, and I may have counted the strawberries and apples in my sangria cup as one of my servings of fruit for the day.
Another winner of our sprint through the tasting tent was Clos la Chance, for a fantastic, albeit familiar, Sauvignon Blanc. They are one of the more widely-available South Bay wineries, and I love the balance of acidity and fruitiness in their wines. Passing their tasting room on our way back home made me put them on my must-visit list, too. How gorgeous is their estate?
Finally, Morgan Hill Cellars got on my good side because of their bubbles. They were pouring their Extra Dry sparkling wine, which was a great choice for the Garlic Festival. It was very slightly sweet, which countered the spicy smokiness of the garlic-scented air perfectly, and the fizz and chill on the bottle made it an absolute killer wine for relief from the heat. Leaving that shady, misted, wine-filled tent to continue our quest for most-garlicky-breath-ever was a difficult decision.
If I could offer some advice to the wineries who pour at next year's Garlic Festival, though, I have one very big rule: don't bring only red wine! I know the area is perfect for the bigger, jammier varietals, but at a festival where everyone is looking for a cool, refreshing drink to escape the 90-plus-degree heat, a Petite Sirah is not going to win you many friends. The crisper, lighter wines will win my favor every time. The spicy reds may pair perfectly with a garlic-laden pasta dish when I'm sitting down to a feast in a nice, air-conditioned dining room, but the big bodies and heavy aromatics are just too exhausting at an outdoor festival, in July, in California, in draught conditions. Next year, bring the whites, the rosés, and the bubbles!