The Afterglow cocktail, created by Laura Sanfilippo of Burdock in Healdsburg, California. (Photo: Campo de Encanto Pisco)
The Afterglow cocktail, created by Laura Sanfilippo of Duke’s Spirited Cocktails in Healdsburg, California (Photo: Campo de Encanto Pisco)

Yesterday I ventured over to Napa to attend the first Wine Country Cocktail Showdown at the hip and happenin’ Andaz Napa.

The event was a “friendly competition” between seven of the hippest bars/restaurants in Wine Country: Ca’Momi Osteria, Carpe Diem, Napa Palisades Saloon, Morimoto, the Andaz, Geyserville Gun Club Bar & Lounge and the soon-to-open Burdock bar in Healdsburg.

The goal: create a cocktail and food pairing that wows attendees and then said attendees vote for their favorite tasty combo and the winner basks in booze and food glory.

The event was produced by The Perfect Purée of Napa Valley, which produces purees, concentrates, zests and blends for cooking and cocktails, and Campo de Encanto Pisco, a pisco spirit producer.  All the cocktails created used products from these two companies.

A pisco sour at Spoonbar in Healdsburg, California. It was at Spoonbar where I had my first pisco sour made with Campo de Encanto Pisco

Mmmm…pisco

I was particularly excited to attend this event because I love pisco.

Pisco is a wine lover’s spirit: it’s made in wine-making regions of Peru and Chile and is produced from grapes. When I was in Chile, I drank pisco-based cocktails religiously, but have yet to enjoy a pisco drink in Peru – the two countries’ have a long-standing rivalry when it comes to who makes the best pisco and best pisco sour cocktails.

Campo de Encanto’s pisco is produced in Peru, and like wine-making regions in Europe (i.e. you can’t call it champagne unless it’s made in Champagne), proper pisco is produced in a protected designation of origin. It’s serious business.

My half consumed glass of Pisco Punch
My half consumed glass of Pisco Punch

Pisco Punch

Upon arriving at the Andaz Napa, I got my bearings at the Campo de Encanto Pisco table, sipping an absolute delight of a Pisco Punch. The bright and cheerful punch comprises Campo de Encanto ‘Grand & Noble’ Pisco, Campo de Encanto Pineapple Gomme Cordial, lime juice, red wine, a dash of bitters, and a topping off of bubbles.

I could have stood at their table all night just sipping this punch. However, I was judge and jury and had to make my rounds to taste the creations of the many bartenders and chefs competing for the grant prize.

Cocktail highlights

I tried six of the seven pairings. I failed to try the Geyserville Gun Club’s pairing (and of course, they won the competition) because their table was located in the most populated area of the event space, and attendees were failing miserably at the “get your drink and get out of the way” concept.

However, despite my grumpiness about tipsy, slow moving event attendees, I was smitten with a few of the beverages presented. Here are my cocktail highlights from the first ever Wine Country Cocktail Showdown.

The Afterglow, Duke’s Spirited Cockails, Healdsburg, CA

I voted for The Afterglow. I loved this drink. It was the right type of sweet, with a hint of sour, beautiful to look at, and carefully crafted by Laura Sanfillipo of the Duke’s Spirited Cocktails in Healdsburg. The drink was shaken to get a nice frothiness and topped with an edible flower. They paired it with goat cheese drizzled with honey.

The drink comprises 1 1/2 oz. Campo de Encanto ‘Grand & Noble’ Pisco, 1/2 oz of The Perfect Purée Apricot Purée, 1/2 oz. honey chamomile syrup, 1/2 oz. lemon juice and 2 dashes of Burdock’s own house bitters (made of burdock!). Yum yum yum.

Duke’s is set to open soon in downtown Healdsburg. Ex-Spoonbar staff means it will be a happenin’, modern scene with innovative twists on classic cocktails and plenty of house-made infused whatnot to shake a stick at. Can’t wait to check it out when it opens (and it’s woman owned!).

Taint’d Love, Carpe Diem, Napa, CA

After the Napa earthquake two years ago, Carpe Diem, located in downtown Napa, suffered the greatest damage of any restaurant in the area, losing millions of dollars in business while they worked to re-open their restaurant. I lived in Napa for two years and never ate at Carpe Diem, so I was excited just to get a taste – in cocktail form.

Taint’d Love was created by Vince Lee and comprises 1 1/2 oz. of Campo de Encanto ‘Grand & Noble’ Pisco that Lee infused with Thai chili, 1 oz. The Perfect Purée Coconut Purée, 3/4 oz. lime juice, 6 mint leaves, 1 oz. pineapple gomme syrup, and a garnish of toasted coconut and Thai basil. It was paired with a tuna tartar.

I’m not a big coconut person – I like it in curries – I can’t stand the taste of coconut on its own – even coconut water and sweets. However, this drink had me – Taint’d Love is an exotic beverage that sent my mind drifting to a beach in Thailand (even though I have never been to Thailand, but I assume it is as delightful as this beverage).  It’s a bit sweet, a bit spicy, and the mint cut the spiciness of the Thai chili, making a mild and mellow spiced experience.

All Thai’d Up, Morimoto, Napa, CA

Morimoto‘s team had me at cracklin’, but their cocktail was pretty darn tasty, too.

All Thai’d up (Are you seeing a trend? Yup, Thai inspiration.) comprised 1 1/2 oz. Campo de Encanto ‘Grand & Noble’ Pisco infused with jasmine (!!!), 1/4 oz. The Perfect Purée Ginger Purée, 3/4 oz. The Perfect Purée Thai Basil & Black Pepper Blend, 1/2 jasmine simple syrup, 1/4 oz. lemon juice, 2 dashes of lemon + ginger bitters, 1 egg white and a splash of soda water.

The cocktail, created by Ryan Leija, was reminiscent of a traditional pisco sour thanks to the egg white (I’m a sucker for eggs used in any way, shape or form), and the jasmine gave the drink a flowery yet tart taste – topping it off with a hint of fiery pepper to make sure you stay awake.

They paired it with fried pig skin with a dash of aioli. It was like candy. Crunchy, piggy, and just plain delicious. It paired pleasantly with All Thai’d Up – but doesn’t cracklin’ pair well with anything?

Great drinks, great vibe

The first Wine Country Cocktail Showdown had a great vibe – despite a few slow moving folks who probably had a few too many beverages (it was basically all you could drink/eat for $35, with proceeds benefiting Napa’s Harvest Magnet School). It was great to try pisco cocktails and Campo de Encanto Pisco did a great job of promoting the history and culture of pisco. There were many inspired home bartenders at the event, that is for sure.

I have been to many of these events and two things stood out for me: (1) votes were cast in boxes at the entrance by simply putting your ticket in the box of your favorite bar – easy peasy, no forms to fill out and (2) there were pamphlets distributed at the entrance with the recipes for each cocktail – again, easy peasy, and no asking bartenders to repeat the ingredients – you had it at your finger tips.

If you’re feeling inspired, learn more about Campo de Encanto Pisco and The Perfect Purée.

I confess: I received a complimentary ticket to this event – however, all opinions are mine and mine alone!