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Have You Ever Attended a 'Vertical' Progressive Meal?

Be sure to check out Part Two of this post, Beer + Pizza = Heaven(ly Village)

I'm always insisting to my readers that certain events are worth traveling across the country for, such as the Taos Summer Wine Festival. Well, I finally took my own advice. Three missed days of work, two delayed flights from Albuquerque, and a peppy VW rental car later, I was glad I did. 

The Autumn Food and Wine Festival was on Saturday, September 21st. The Fall Ale Fest was also on Saturday, September 21st.

Faced with a wine festival on one side of Lake Tahoe and a beer festival on the other, I did what any sensible person would do. I drank my wine, then raced an hour south to indulge in bottomless, tiny glasses of beer. When it's a beautiful Saturday at Lake Tahoe (and you have a designated driver), why not attend both?

Now, for this post, you should really be in the beer-and-wine festival spirit. I highly recommend sipping a favorite wine or cold beer while you read. Ah, it's like you're right there with me!

(Many of you are reading this first thing in the morning. It's 5 o'clock somewhere.)

SN and I started our day at the Northstar California resort, where the 34th annual Autumn Food and Wine Festival was in full swing. We had pre-purchased tickets for their Vertical Tasting event. This featured three different red wines from Hartwell Estate Vineyards and was like a progressive meal up the mountain via ski gondola. 

We would return to Northstar California the next day for everyone's favorite event, the Grand Tasting.

Northstar California is known for excellent skiing near Lake Tahoe, but it's a fun resort even when there is no snow on the ground. Actually, I don't ski, so it's even more fun without snow on the ground!

The air was crisp and clean. Not a bad place to spend your weekend, right?

SN and I were a little disappointed to learn about the seminars when we arrived. We'd known there would be presentations throughout the day, but couldn't find any specifics. Our Vertical Tasting event overlapped seminars we would have liked to attend. 

Oh well. We will just have to come back next year to learn the science of distilling and the best coffee brewing methods. I really could have benefited from that Mixology course now though. I think I can probably make a rum & Coke. Does that count?

Wine tasting at Northstar in September
We picked up our tickets and were each poured a "glass" of Napa Valley wine. 

It was technically a reusable plastic cup of wine, but this was actually a nice surprise because we have a million wine glasses and no stemless plastic wine cups. It's going to be perfect for enjoying a drink in the hot tub.

Oh, or for handing to a not-quite-coordinated friend (especially when they've been drinking). We all know one of these people and we love them, but stop breaking my wine glasses.

Use an eggshell as a serving dish
For our first food pairing, SN and I were each egg. 

Neat, right? We've been to dozens of food and wine events and have never been served food inside an eggshell. It's a genius idea, as the shells create a perfect individual portion with no need to purchase (or wash or store) tasting dishes. I need to remember this for when we host Thanksgiving this year!

Inside each egg was a custard (an egg custard - clever) with blueberries, nuts, and candied bacon.

"Elevate Your Palate" was a theme of this year's food and wine festival and we experienced this in a very literal way. For the next tasting, our well-dressed group of food and wine enthusiasts was whisked up the mountain inside a luxurious ski gondola. 

Northstar California is extremely popular for mountain biking during the summer and you can bet the crowd of muddy young bikers gave us some strange looks. 

I felt like they were missing out. They probably thought the same about us.

Ski lift gondolas at Northstar
Wheeee! See the special bikes-only ski lift? Did you know such a thing exists?

Halfway up the mountain, a rooftop deck was set up with more sips and nibbles. We enjoyed another red wine from Hartwell Estate Vineyards, which was paired with a meatball. None of the wine is available for sale to the public, so we felt quite exclusive.

Next was another trip on the ski lift - not a gondola this time but an actual open-air ski lift, which I've never done before and which was absolutely terrifying but fun. Gondolas were available but I was feeling brave, courtesy of two glasses of wine.

There are no photos because there was no way in heck I was taking my hands off the bar! Also, I was willing my sandals (please, please, sandals...) not to fall off my feet during the ride.

Oh, and some joker sitting on the other end thought it would be funny to try and lift the bar. Hahahaha, I hate them.

The ride went on, soaring over the treetops and ant-like bike riders, taking us all the way to the very summit. You know how they say it can be a little tricky to get off a ski lift? I had so much trouble! 

SN was quick to point out that people only have trouble because they're wearing skis. Whatever, SN.

Food tasting at Northstar
The final pour was waiting for us, along with a flatbread that paired nicely. The wine and food were good, but the real highlight was the view.

Wine with a view in Lake Tahoe
At an elevation of almost 9,000 feet, this was a spectacular place to relax and enjoy a velvety wine. 

Guest at the Vertical Tasting Event
Warm and cozy up top, freezing toes down low. Surprisingly, I was not the only guest who'd worn sandals. Hello, my kindred spirits!

Fruit and Cheese Platter
Northstar California encouraged us to linger and enjoy the view. It's easy to do with an assortment of fruit, cheese, nuts, and crackers. There was more than we could possibly eat and it was appreciated. There were also comfortable Adirondack chairs and cozy tables for 2.

An embarrassing quantity of Brie later, we soon found ourselves riding a gondola back down to the hub of the resort. 

Autumn Food and Wine Festival
There, the open-air marketplace was much more popular than when we'd arrived. 

Northstar Wine Festival
To my surprise, there were vendors providing free glasses of wine and tasty treats. It was like a sneak-preview of the next day's Grand Tasting! You can never have too many of those.

Really, I feel sad while writing this because I don't currently have any Grand Tasting events on my calendar. Let's make this a weekly thing, okay? If anyone is looking for a restaurant idea, this is a great one.

California food and wine festival
Vendors were also selling intricate jewelry, designer purses, kitchen gadgets, and more. Everyone was enjoying socializing and shopping in the sunshine. (The samples of little liquid sunshine probably didn't hurt.)

Northstar Lake Tahoe
Everywhere I looked, resort guests were laughing and having a wonderful time.

live cooking demonstration
We even found time to squeeze in a cooking demonstration. How quickly I forgot about the egg custard, meatball, flatbread, and lifetime of cheese I'd just consumed. Fortunately, there were at least a dozen vendors happy to help ease my appetite.

As much fun as we were having at the Autumn Food and Wine Festival, we soon pulled ourselves away. It was time to attend the Fall Ale Fest on the other side of Lake Tahoe! 

We could have recommended a trip to Northstar California based on this day alone, but this had only been a small event. The next day was going to be the real highlight and we had our tickets ready. 

Sunflowers at Northstar California

Ready to continue your virtual festival experience? We're headed to the wild and crazy Fall Ale Fest. (It felt like Spring Break in Key West!) 


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