Esprit du Vin

The Wineries of 46 East Paso Robles held the 18th Annual Esprit du Vin (the “Spirit of Wine”) January 19, 2019 at American Winery of the Year, Riboli Family of San Antonio Wineries, new event facility. This was an exciting evening of wine, cheese pairings, culinary delights and live music.

The event sold out with 350 attendees. Surprisingly, in the new event facility, that did not feel crowded. Being able to roam between the various spacious rooms, with large windows, gave the event a nice airy feel. Being able to step out onto the large patio for fresh air was an added plus.

Nineteen wineries each poured 1-2 wines, all expertly paired with gourmet cheeses. Who doesn’t love a good wine and cheese pairing? This year the cheese pairings seemed to be a step up from what I remember in the past. There were some good old standbys as well as plenty of unexpected surprises.

If I had to pick one pairing as a winner, I would pick the creamy blue paired with a Bordeaux blend named Stormwatch by San Antonio Winery (this is from their San Simeon line and is around $70/bottle). The intense flavors and tannins in the wine played with the harsh yet creamy flavor of the cheese.

I can’t say I have made it to all 18 Esprit du Vins; however, I can say I was very impressed with how much the group has improved this event since I last attended. In addition to each winery having a paired gourmet cheese, there were several other culinary offerings by local purveyors and live music in a grand room with large windows.

A local favorite trio, Burning, Bad and Cool, helped set a fun mood for the event. They managed to keep the sound level just right, and as always, had a few people dancing.

Although I love cheese, I was delighted to see a number of other culinary items added. Foss Farm offered a quail egg with a couple of different options of seasonings. Farmhouse Sweets sweetened things up with both vanilla and chocolate mini-cupcakes. The saucy Miss Oddette, served up hearty ribs (with her own, famous sauce of course) and mac & cheese.

Of all the food served, I am torn to name my top pick. I have to go with a tie between Hurricane Kitchen’s smoked elk sausage crostini (topped with a delicious mustard) by Chef Richard and an over the top yummy paella by Chef Jeffry of Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ (easy to see why he has won so many cookoffs!).

It wasn’t all about the food! With so many wines being poured, I couldn’t taste them all (well I could if I was willing to spit them all out or have a driver). I’m sure there were many wonderful wines being offered that I didn’t sample. My top picks of what I did try are:

Pear Valley Albariño

Penman Springs Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Rio Seco Cabernet Franc

I’m looking forward to the 19th Esprit du Vin in 2020 – early bird tickets are already available on-line.

Restaurant Month

January is the month that so many people decide to cut back, typically on food, spending and alcohol (yes some crazy people actually go for a full month without so much as a glass of wine!).

All of the cutting back makes January a very difficult month for restaurants. San Luis Obispo restaurants decided to do something about that and declared January as Restaurant Month. Basically, participating restaurants across the county offer special prix-fixe menus of three courses at $30-$40 per person or other special offerings. In some cases that is a very good deal and enough to entice people to indulge.

The entire list of participating restaurants (along with a link to each menu) can be view on the SLO Cal website. Each year, I make an effort to try at least one of the special menus. This year my pick was Villa San Juliette Winery located on the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail.

I made my selection for a number of reasons:

  • The three-course $40 menu included wine paired with each course
  • The third course was a cheese plate (I’m not much of a dessert person)
  • There is plenty of parking
  • The meal is served in the elegant tasting room with views of the gorgeous property

The first course offered a choice of Green Salad with Herbed Vinaigrette or Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup paired with 2017 Pinot Gris Reserve. I choose the wild mushroom soup and was not disappointed. The soup was topped with a little truffle oil and fresh herbs – may just be the best mushroom soup I have ever had. The pinot gris was a perfect pairing.

The second course was Osso Bucco over Creamy Polenta & Sautéed Baby Carrots paired with 2014 Petite Sirah Estate (the DTC manager, Tracy Northington, knows me so well she offered to substitute the petite sirah for my favorite wine – cabernet franc). The chef nailed this dish, especially the polenta! My friend stuck with the recommended pairing and thought the wine really complemented the dish. I find cabernet franc pairs with just about anything, so I was happy with my pairing too.

I have to point out, not only was the food and wine spot on, the service was over the top. The tasting room staff take care of most of the service (and they are all new to food service). I’m not sure who took care of the training, but I have to say they did better than most waitstaff in restaurants in the area.

Chef Yavanna Tuftee delivered the entree. I always enjoy meeting chefs and getting a bit of the inside scoop. Yavanna is fairly new to Villa San Juliette; however, with several years as a sous chef at Cass Winery, she certainly is not new to the food and wine scene in the area. She loves being able to focus on the winery’s menu Thursdays-Mondays 11-4 so she can enjoy her evenings with her family. In February she will introduce a new seasonal menu with several “to share” items – can’t wait to see what she comes up with for the winter menu. The menu will change with the seasons, so check the event page of the website for current offerings.

I already mentioned the final course was a cheese plate instead of dessert. This was served with 2015 Grenache Reserve. I found the selection of cheese, a little honey and apricots to be a lovely end to the meal. We stayed a while longer to sip our wine (thumbs up on the grenache as well). A few other groups arrived while we were there and it was nice to hear all the happy chatter.

If you want to enjoy this menu, I’d recommend making a reservation. While it is not required, there is limited seating inside, so best to have a seat waiting for you and your dining companions. This menu ends January 31st.

Central Coast Cider Festival

RedCiderGlassAlthough Paso Robles is known for the diverse wines from over 200 wineries, there are a growing number of spirits, beer and cider producers. Clearly an area where you can “get your drink on” regardless of your beverage preference.

Last year the first Central Coast Cider Festival was held at the Atascadero Lake Pavilion and was such a success it is now an annual event. The second festival is May 13, 2017 from 5-8pm at the same venue, and tickets can be purchased on-line ($65) right up until the event. There will be some tickets available at the door for those last minute decision makers; however, advanced tickets are encouraged.

THE VENUE

BristolCiderFansThe event definitely draws a fun crowd, from the hard core cider lovers, to those looking to enjoy a lovely evening with live music, an English-style pig roast and of course cider tasting. The organizers are expecting approximately 400 people this year, a nice number for the venue which includes walk around tasting in the pavilion, lounge areas and the large outdoor deck overlooking the lake.

DeckPeople

THE CIDER

Last year, was my first time tasting cider, and it was an eye opener. I was only familiar with the old-style, super sweet, apple ciders and have to say that isn’t my thing. I discovered so many different styles and flavors that I can’t wait to sample and learn more about this beverage that seems to be growing in popularity. Not all of the ciders were made from apples and several had added ingredients for an interesting twist.

ciders

I see some new names on the list. This year there will be 16 Cider producers, each offering tastes of their line of ciders. While some producers like Bristols Cider and Tin City Cider have tasting rooms in the area, several of the others can be difficult to find, and do not yet have a local tasting outlet. New this year is the Cider Pop-up, allowing you to purchase ciders on-site! Sounds great to me since last year I tried a few I really liked and didn’t know where to buy. (The best place to find a good selection all year round is 15C Wine Shop and Bar in Templeton).

THE FOOD

PigInBox2The pig was so delicious last year — so glad to hear Chef Jeffery Scott will be back again this year and roasting the pigs on-site. Here is the full menu for the buffet dinner:

  • Brined & slow roasted heritage pork, apple cider bbq sauce
  • Carolina rice & smokey black eyed peas, scallion, espelette pepper
  • Low country cole slaw, vidalia onion, red & green cabbage, pickled carrots, lemon-poppy seed dressing
  • Anson mills cornbread muffins, spiced honey butter

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There will also be a variety of snacks available during the walk around tasting: Tortilla chips from Taco Works ,Bacon wrapped dates, thanks to 15c Wine Bar & Shop, fresh buttery popcorn that will be popped on site in an old fashion popcorn machine and pub mix – clearly no body will go home hungry after this event!

THE MUSIC

Live music will be provided by Erin & The Earthquakes. This funky, jazzy, bluesy band will have you on the dance floor before the end of the night.

OTHER WEEKEND ACTIVITIES

If you can’t make it to the main event on Saturday you have two other opportunities to enjoy cider this weekend:

Friday, May 12 from 6 – 9pm: Cider Tap Takeover at 15c Wine Shop & Bar in Templeton. Taste, Meet and Mingle with some of your favorite cider producers! Call (805) 434-1554 for more info.

    • Bristols Cider
    • Golden State Cider
    • Jean Marie Cidery
    • South City Cider
    • Tin City Cider

Sunday, May 14 from 11:30am – 2:30pm: Mother’s Day Brunch at Bristols Cider House, prepared by Chef Jeffery Scott. Call (805) 400-5293 for more info.  Menu:

  • Festival Style Braustwurst with a pretzel bun
  • Apple sauerkraut, spicy stone mustard
  • Bavarian potato salad

 

 

Foodmaker Dinner at McPhee’s

I was lucky enough to receive a ticket to the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau’s “Foodmaker Dinner”. The dinner was a fund raiser to help support the local agriculture businesses.

I’m a huge fan of Ian McPhee and was delighted to hear they had selected McPhee’s Grill for this dinner as part of their Foodmaker Dinner series. “Agriculture knows quality and prime steaks and seasonal menus have made McPhee’s Grill a destination of choice for more than twenty years. Owner and Chef Ian McPhee embraces the concept of fine food that people understand.” – SLO Farm Bureau.

As we arrived we were greeted with a glass of 2016 Patelin de Tablas Rosé  and given some time to mingle with the other guest. Ian had prepared some wood fired pizza as appetizers for this portion of the dinner. Who doesn’t love a refreshing rosé and pizza?

Crabcake-2

Our first course was Ian’s Jumbo Lump Crab Cake severed over sugar snap pea and fennel salad. This is my kind of crab cake! It doesn’t have all the bread crumbs and isn’t fried crispy like so many people do. This one delivers the large lumps of crab for fresh flavors. The fresh peas and fennel really complemented the crab. (I talked Ian into sharing this recipe in my next book!).

A dish as fresh as this cries for a refreshing wine. It paired perfectly with J Dusi’s Pinot Grigio – a nice white that is less than $20 a bottle. Such a wonderful start to the sit down portion of the meal.

Steak-2

I expected something from the grill and was certainly not disappointed to see the slow oak wood roasted prime strip loin as the centerpiece for the entree. Cooked to perfection, this large (and yes I did eat the whole thing) steak was so tender with a nice sear and smokey aroma. Served with salsa verde, peppers, onions, peas, and grilled scallion mashed potatoes, this was so delicious — a very upscale meat and potatoes meal. The pairing with this course was the Hearst Ranch Malbec. This is one of my favorite Malbecs from the region and I need to get back over to the coast to taste the full line-up again soon.

ChocolateCake-2I had every intention of skipping dessert. Then I saw it was June’s Famous Chocolate Decadence Cake with Caramel Lime Sauce. I am such a sucker for a flourless chocolate cake. It didn’t disappoint! I decided something that good needs to just be enjoyed and savored, so no guilt. This decadent dessert was paired with Roxo Paso Melange, a port-style dessert wine that I could easily have instead of dessert.

Be sure to visit McPhee’s Grill and try some of his seasonal dishes. Ian has been in business at 416 S Main Street in Templeton since 1994. This is a local favorite where you can always count on excellent service, a nice wine list and very satisfying, delicious meal!

 

Somm’s Kitchen

Leg

I’m always excited when a new restaurant opens in Paso Robles. It wasn’t long after I heard that the Somm’s Kitchen had opened that I ventured in.

Wine

 

First let me say it is much more than a restaurant. The Somm’s Kitchen is also a wine shop and will be holding educational wine tastings and private events as well. Sommelier Ian Adamo has brought his passion for food and wine together in this new venture.

There are currently no tables at the Somm Kitchen — everyone dines at the U-shaped counter with Ian at center stage as a very hospitable host. The menu is a very creative collection of delicious small plates that can be enjoyed with wine in smaller portions or full size glass (and of course by the bottle).

 

I decided to enjoy the full experience and had Ian pair small portion glasses with each of my dishes. I gave him a few criteria – like don’t break the bank, and I wanted wines from out of the region (I drink Paso wines daily so it is nice to explore International wines sometimes). His talent for pairing shined — everything I had was perfectly paired.

Foie2

Let’s jump into the food! First up was the Foie Gras Torchon. I had seen a sneak preview of the menu and was dying to try this. I love Foie Gras and hadn’t indulged in several years. Sourced from Hudson Valley, poached in Sauternes and served with a delightful orange oil, I could have stopped right here and gone home happy. Ian selected a lovely Reisling to pair with this dish.

CherryDuck2

 

Next up, and also on my “I must try list”,  was the Smoked Duck with cherries. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the kitchen used Sous Vide for most of their proteins. If you follow my blogs, you will know I have recently began experimenting with sous vide myself — check out – Eat this with… for my first beef sous vide experience.

I’m a huge fan of duck breast, and the sous vide handling of the house smoked duck breast was awesome. The cherry sauce made it over the top delicious and the New Zealand Pinot Noir was perfect.

 

I had planned to stop there. I was thinking my first experience should be just a couple of tastes. But I couldn’t — it was too fun, too tasty and too inviting to go home!

Asparagus

So next up was from the “garden” – I love veggies, and who doesn’t love a poached egg on top of asparagus! I have to confess, I could have skipped the Créme Fraiche on the bottom … but my dining companion loved it!

Speck

 

I was in a “let’s go for the menu” kinda mood. So next up was the Speck. The chestnut ricotta middle with a quail egg on top was yet another fun play on flavors.

 

I wish I had ordered it, but managed to catch it coming out of the kitchen, was another side – Carrots in butter and thyme (I’ll try it next time).

Salmon3

 

There were a few “from the sea” offerings, and after seeing the Salmon delivered to other guests 4 times, I decided I had to have it! The Akarona King Salmon with Potato was delicious. Ian indicated it was started in a traditional fashion and finished sous vide for 2 hours. The texture and flavor were perfect! Paired with a New Zealand Pinot Noir this was another winning course.

Lamb

So after going light, I had to try out something from the “Land” section of the menu. I am a HUGE fan of lamb so the Colorado Lamb Sirloin with Sauce Violette caught my eye. This dish was so good! If there were not other diners at the counter, I might had shoved my face in the plate and licked up all the sauce. Sauce aside, I have to say the sous vide treatment of this lamb was spot on — perfect color, texture and flavor! Perfectly paired with a Syrah!

GFAppleCake

 

Don’t judge me, but I am not a huge fan of dessert. Having said that the people to my right and left were! I heard rave reviews of the Orange confit and the Apple cake. The apple cake is actually gluten free (which made me happy to hear) — and the orange confit is a very interesting dessert. Being from Canada, I was delighted to see an ice wine from Niagra on the Lake paired with the dessert — and even happier to report my friend with the dessert shared her wine with me!

Ian

 

If you are in the Paso area, you really need to check this place out! The restaurant is open Thurs-Sun 11:30-2 and 5:30-9pm. There were many items on the menu that looked awesome and I will be back soon. One of the best points is that Ian is behind the counter, providing information about food & wine while making the whole experience awesome!

 

For more information visit: https://sommskitchen.com/

Albariño Summit Paso Robles 2016

Yesterday I attended the first ever Albariño Summit at Brecon Estate. The event began with a short seminar and was followed by a tasting where 24 wineries from California’s Central Coast poured their Albariño. There was also live music and Spanish-themed food for attendees to enjoy.

The Seminar prior to the tasting was a fabulous idea since it provided information regarding the history, winemaking styles and varietal characteristics of Albariño.

Apparently, there is still some debate regarding the origins of the grape: some say Portuguese, some say Spanish.  We were able to taste an Albariño from the Northern Portugal where some of the best Albariño is made and also a tank sample from Southern Portugal (this would not be bottled standalone but instead would be blended with other varietals). It was interesting to taste the cooler climate versus the warmer — and of course this came in handy when tasting Paso Robles based versus coastal Albariño later in the event.

During the seminar we also tasted a Tangent Albariño and heard from their winemaker. I was surprised to hear that there is currently less than 200 acres of Albariño planted in California. Tangent Wines, located in the Edna Valley, has the most planted acres. Clearly this is a varietal they feel does really well in their vineyards.

The final taste was a Brecon Albariño from their library. It was fun to taste a wine and hear about it while sitting by the very tank in which it was made.

A Few Facts

  • Prior to 1970 Albariño was not bottled as a standalone varietal in Portugal or Spain — today it is very popular, especially in the Northern areas of both countries
  • Albariño is a vigorous vine and will grow into old age with a large trunk and plenty of vigorous shoots. The vines are sensitive to direct sunlight and heat. The vine is easily identified by its heart shaped leaves.
  • The aromatics of this wine come from the grape (versus fermentation in oak). As a result, winemakers will often leave the crushed grapes in contact with the skin for greater aromatic extraction and will typically make the wine in stainless steel. Although, as we heard from the Brecon winemaker, it is sometimes aged oak barrels (he uses neutral oak and lets the wine sit on the lees).
  • Typical aromatics include: pine needles, turpentine, rose petal, banana and peach. There is also a salty element to Albariño that makes it pair extremely well with a wide range of seafood.
  • The grape is typically picked with a high acidity and can have a slight hint of green. As the wine ages it tends to show more yellow.

The Grand Tasting at Brecon, with plenty of trees for shade, was the perfect venue for an outdoor tasting. I wish I could say I tasted all of the Albariño poured; however, with 24 wineries pouring 1-2 wines that was way more than I wanted to tackle in a single event. I will say there were a few that really stood out including: Bodegas Paso Robles, Barr Estate, Shale Oak, TangentPear Valley and Per Cazo.

This was a lovely event complete with guitar music and food paired with the wine (ceviche, empanadas and fruit). The crowd was relaxed and I was happy to run into a few friends with several from other local wineries.

I hope they do this event again next year!

Photo Gallery (click to enlarge).

Paso Albariño – New Event!

AlbarinoSummitWebOne of the things I love about Paso Robles is that you can find so many different wines that thrive in the area. Cabernet Sauvignon is by far the most widely planted grape in the AVA, the red Rhônes are the most talked about, the jammy Zinfandels remind people of the early days and well somehow, the white wines don’t get much attention.

That is all about to change for Albariño. On June 13th, over 20 Central Coast wineries with gather in Paso Robles at Brecon Estate for the sole purpose of shining the light on this Spanish varietal. This is the first ever event dedicated to Albariño in the USA and will include both a seminar and a grand tasting.

The seminar is already sold out; however, if you are interested in attending the tasting you may purchase tickets on-line. The $35 ticket includes tastes of over 20 Albariño wines, live flamenco guitar and food pairings reminiscent of Northwestern Spain.

I plan on attending the seminar and tasting so will post the details after the event. I am looking forward to exploring this grape in depth and I’m especially interested to see what the sommelier has to say about food pairing.

 

Paso Robles Cabernet Franc

While some may view it as “the other Cabernet” or an “unappreciated grape”, to me Cabernet Franc is a star either standalone or as a component of a Bordeaux-style blend. It is after all the father of Cabernet Sauvignon, a grape known as the king of red wine.

Last month I attended a panel discussion about Cabernet Franc at the WiVI Central Coast Conference hosted by Wine Business Monthly. The panel was interesting and they selected three different wine regions with a winemaker from each region participating in the panel and discussing 3-4 Cabernet Francs.

 

Venue

This month the Paso Robles CAB Collective held their annual Trade and Media event “CABs of Distinction” at the bucolic Allegretto Resort in Paso Robles, California. CAB in this case stands for Cabernet and Bordeaux, with the collective “promoting the full potential of the Paso Robles appellation in producing superior quality, age-worthy, balanced, classic Cabernet Sauvignon and red Bordeaux varietals to consumers and media worldwide”.

CabFrancFlight

I attended the En Primeur & Current Vintage Walk-Around Tasting and was delighted with the wines I tasted. I was, however, saving my palate for the panel session “The Other Cabernet”. Needless to say the panel was discussing (and tasting) Cabernet Franc. This time the panel was moderated by Bob Bath, a CIA Sommelier, and the discussion was dedicated to wines produced in the Paso Robles AVA.

Consistent comments from the panel:

  • Cabernet Franc, as a noble grape, deserves more credit
  • Often plays the role of “Best supporting actor”
  • “Coming out” in Paso and around the world
  • Paso Cabernet Francs are not as herbaceous, tend to have a nice ripe quality
  • Cabernet Franc is the “ultimate foodie wine”
  • Does extremely well when planted in “choice” hilltop sites

The panel included the following winemakers who discussed the wines we tasted:

Jeremy indicated only 3 acres of Cabernet Franc are planted on the estate vineyard. As a winemaker he felt Paso was well suited to the varietal since the grape is able to ripen and have a nice level of acidity. The decision to make a standalone Cabernet Franc is made each vintage based on what the grape delivers. The 2013 Cabernet Franc Viking Vineyard Signature Series we tasted clearly made the cut. With less than 300 cases made, this wine is mostly sold to club members and guests of the tasting room.

For Damian, making an estate Cabernet Franc was accidental. When he purchased the property, the fruit was not sold, so he brought it into the winery. The Cabernet Franc on his property was grafted onto old Chardonnay vines planted on the top of a hill with calcareous soils. Although Damian had experience with Cabernet Franc in Europe, Astralia and Napa, he wasn’t really a fan until he worked with the estate Cabernet Franc. The black tea leaf appealed to his tastes and he has now made the varietal a part of his offering. In some vintages he will do a little blending. We tasted the 2013 Cabernet Franc which had a little Malbec in the blend — I would say this was the best wine of the ones tasted during the seminar.

As a 4th generation winemaker, it was interesting to hear from Anthony about a California winery that has been making wine for 99 years. They do not grow any Cabernet Franc in their Paso Robles vineyards, but instead purchase the fruit from other growers. The reason given for this was that the varietal often has vineyard disease such as red blotch. We tasted the 2012 San Simean Cabernet Franc — it must have been a very limited production since I couldn’t find it on-line.

Mike actually let us sample two wines. The 2013 Margene Cabernet Franc which was very approachable, a little floral — this one was made by his wife with a little creative blending and I would say it had lovely feminine notes. The second was 2012 Cask 7 Cabernet Franc and was 100% Cabernet Franc made in 100% new oak. I have to say it may need some time. Of the two I give my vote to Margene. Once again, both of these wines are likely very limited in production since I was unable to find them on-line.

Overall, I think the panel made some good points, and I do believe there are some very good Cabernet Francs in the Paso Robles area. I do, however, appreciate and enjoy Cabernet Franc from a couple of regions in France as well as Napa. While the panel all emphasized how “ripe” Paso Cabernet Franc could be and how less herbaceous it was, I actually like the clove, tea leaf and herbaceous side of the varietal. Don’t get me wrong, I love the violet, floral nose and some ripe fruit, I just think if you let it get too ripe you have lost the essence of the varietal.

Earth Day Food & Wine 2016

 

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Earth Day Food & Wine is an annual event hosted by the Vineyard Team, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization working with growers on sustainability issues. The proceeds from the event support farmers through educational scholarships and free Spanish language education for vineyard workers.

This year, the event was held at Castoro Cellars. The venue was ideal with plenty of parking, several tents, a large stage for the band and open areas to lounge with couches, tables and chairs. Under the clear blue sky, with plenty of shade from the oak trees, event attendees enjoyed vineyard views as well as an unlimited sampling of wine, beer, hard cider, spirits and gourmet delights.

This is one of my favorite Paso events. One of the main reasons is that the food and wine selection is incredible. In general, most events seem to either be focused on wine with a small selection of food (usually just cheese and bread) or a food event with a few supporting wineries pouring limited tastes of wine. Earth Day Food & Wine offers an excellent balance of food and wine in a casual environment. Live music, lounge areas, vendor sampling, beer, spirits, hard cider, education and food demos all add to the package.

See the gallery at the end of the post to get a good sense of what was offered this year. I had a few favorites that I will call out:

Castoro Cellars for the wonderful venue (and the tasty Albariño)

Chef Charlie for the wonderful service and the tasty bite loaded with spice which paired so well with Zenaida Cellars‘ white blend (also delightful).

Jeffry’s Catering for their great food & service — you can find him at Barton Family Wines (the Kitchen Window Thurs-Mon)

Hurricane Kitchen for a full menu of interesting, gourmet items — this is my new favorite food truck in paso!

Negranti’s Ice Cream Truck for offering the best sheep’s milk ice cream I have ever had (favorite treat of the day)

Niner Estate for both the wine and the food at this event

Trumpet Vine Catering for the crowd pleasing pork belly bite

The Vineyard Team for organizing such a wonderful event for a good cause — and for keeping it earth friendly.