Celebrating its 24th anniversary, the Taste of Vail, which took place from April 2 to April 5, is the nation’s premier spring food and wine festival. During the annual three day event, more than 5,000 people “tasted the Vail Valley lifestyle” set against dramatic mountain vistas.

During the festival’s 10th Annual Colorado Lamb Cook-Off in Vail Village on April 3, many of the Vail Valley’s world class restaurants participated in a competition to prepare, on-site, the best dish using Colorado lamb. Also on hand were winemakers and winery owners from around the world, providing the perfect pairings with the dishes prepared by the competing restaurants.

A wide array of Colorado lamb dishes were prepared by the chefs from such restaurants as Flame (Chef Jason Harrison), Atwater at Gore Creek (Chefs Todd Beemis, Jay Spickelmier and Adam Smith), Game Creek Restaurant (Chef Collin Meyer), La Tour Restaurant (Chef Paul Ferzacca), Matsuhisa Vail (Chef Brian Busker), Beano’s Cabin (Chef Bill Greenwood), Mountain Standard (Chefs Brian Brouillard and Paul Anders), Sweet Basil (Chef Robert Kennon), Tavern on the Square (Chef Douglas Dodd), The Tenth (Chef Vishwatej Nath), and many more.

Winemakers in attendance
included Napa Valley’s Clos du Val (and its president, Jason Jardine, who was pouring 2012 Pinot Noir Carneros), Chateau du Cayrou of Puy L’Eveque, France (represented by Julien Gourbaud who was pouring the 2009 Classic French Malbec from Cahors), France’s Whispering Angel (represented by Paul Chevlalier who was pouring the 2013 Côtes de Provence Rosé), Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards (with Executive Winemaker, Bob Iantosca on hand pouring its Brut Rosé), and many others.

Tavern on the Square prepared an innovative “Charred Leg of Lamb” featuring poblano mole, white grits, ancho aioli and cotija cheese. La Tour’s “Aji Amarillo Glazed Lamb Leg” was delicious, as it was prepared with pickled buttered spring radishes, crispy sunchoke dauphinoise and lamb chicharones. Beano’s Cabin served a stuff lamb sausage with braised French beans, smoked lamb fat with fig confit, roasted garlic olive lemon gremolata. The lamb was braised in a whiskey glaze and is on the Beano’s Cabin menu, says Chef Bill Greenwood.

Matsuhisa Vail, the world-renowned restaurant founded by the legendary Nobu Matsuhisa, which is known for innovative fusion cuisine blending traditional Japanese dishes with South American (Peruvian and Argentine) ingredients, lived up to its stellar reputation. At the Cook-Off (see photo above), Matsuhisa Vail prepared a delicious Miso Chili Marinated Grilled Lamb leg served slightly charred with aji amarillo potato salad, shiso oil and micro cilantro. “It’s delicious, very simple with very few ingredients,” says Nick Junker of Matsuhisa Vail. “Normally what we do at Matsuhisa is use only two or three ingredients per dish and its full of flavor. What makes Nobu stand out from the rest is the simplicity of each dish.” As for a pairing, Junker suggests a red wine, such as a light pinot noir or a beaujolais.

Atwater on Gore Creek prepared a Calcutta Lamb Wrap with burrata bread, saffron jicama, serano chili relish and a mango glaze. The lamb was paired with Atwater on Gore Creek’s version of a Shandy with Goose Island Barrel-Aged Stout mixed with homemade lemonade. According to General Manager, Mark Roberts, the lamb Atwater used for its dish came from a ranch in Greeley, Colorado.

Julien Gourbaud of Chateau du Cayrou of Puy L’Eveque in Lot (see photo below), located in the southwestern part of France, which was serving his 2009 Classic French Malbec. “People don’t know but Malbec actually originates in France and wasn’t taken to Argentina until the 1880s,” says Gourbaud. “Our soil is gravel, which is key so that there is not too much water available to the plants so the berries are really concentrated for making the wine.”

Gourbaud explained that his Chateau’s Malbec is similar to a classic Argentinian Malbec “except it is soft and easy to drink.” The Malbec, which retails for $16, pairs well with lamb, which is the typical meat for the Lot region where the chateau is located “and it is one of the best pairings”. All the meats that are not too strong in flavor (beef, lamb, etc.) pair well with classic French Malbec, which is high in tannins, he adds. Approximately 800 cases of the Malbec are exported to the U.S. each year.

Jason Jardine, President of Clos du Val brought his 2012 Pinot Noir Carneros from Napa Valley to pair with the lamb dishes served at the Cookoff. “The Pinot Noir goes really well with the lamb because Carneros has really nice black fruit and really nice earthy tones to it,” he says. “With the gaminess of lamb, it goes really well with it.”

The 2012 Pinot Noir Carneros is just now being released. Clos du Val produced 4,200 cases of the wine, which retails for approximately $28. “This pinot noir has enough fruit so that it can be enjoyed now, but it can also be drunk for 15 to 20 years down the road as well,” adds Jardine.

Photos by Sarah Hamilton Shook

Julien Gourbaud of Chateau du Cayrou

Julien Gourbaud of Chateau du Cayrou

Taste of Vail's 2014 Colorado Lamb Cook-Off

Taste of Vail’s 2014 Colorado Lamb Cook-Off

Taste of Vail's 2014 Colorado Lamb Cook-Off

Taste of Vail’s 2014 Colorado Lamb Cook-Off

Taste of Vail's 2014 Colorado Lamb Cook-Off

Taste of Vail’s 2014 Colorado Lamb Cook-Off

La Tour Restaurant at Taste of Vail's 2014 Colorado Lamb Cook-Off

La Tour Restaurant at Taste of Vail’s 2014 Colorado Lamb Cook-Off

Taste of Vail's 2014 Colorado Lamb Cook-Off

Taste of Vail’s 2014 Colorado Lamb Cook-Off

Taste of Vail's 2014 Colorado Lamb Cook-Off

Taste of Vail’s 2014 Colorado Lamb Cook-Off