Thank you to all who attended the Sip and Savor event this week!
I knew I wanted to do something with California wines, but if I am being honest, the sheer size and complexity of California and its wines are a bit intimating. Old World wines are easy to understand once you realize that they all have their own rules and grapes that are used, but what makes a Napa wine different from a Lodi? Is San Francisco its own region or part of the Central Coast? What the heck is an AVA?
Anyway, I decided to jump right into Paso Robles as I have always enjoyed wines for reasons of nostalgia: to me they seem to taste like Napa Valley wines did before they became so popular. One day we will all have to make a trip as a group to California and visit these regions and vineyards ourselves. This was the first California-only tasting I have presented, so I was curious how the crowd would take to it. Many residents are from California, and seemed to know more than me, so I was reassured we would be OK.
So we started off with a blend from Vina Robles winery called The Arborist. This small vineyard has a story to tell: the property purchased in 1997 had a 300-year-old oak tree in declining health. An Arborist was consulted and was able to save this ancient resident of the land. The winery pledges a portion of the profits from this wine to planting trees--21,000 to date. The blend is Syrah, Petit Syrah, Grenache and Tannat, which is reminiscent of the classic Rhone blends of French wine culture. The color is a deep garnet, and the nose is somewhat peppery and slightly fruity, reminiscent of cherries or plums. The flavor starts off very rich, but with more tannins than I expected. the fruit does come through, but is hidden by the bitterness. This is a good example of why red wines work so much better with food; something is needed to stand up to that bold flavor.
To pair with this wine, I chose a Gougere- a savory cream puff with loads of Parmesan and a slice of Foie Gras Mousse in the center. Foie gras is rich in fat, and fat is the key to balancing bitterness. The smooth, rich flavor complemented this one very nicely, and when I tasted again, the bitterness was tamed. The fruit came forward in a big way and this wine suddenly tasted more youthful and fresh. The crowd seemed to like this one, but some thought it was strong. At 14.5 % alcohol I had to agree.
Not many questions yet, everyone was still very reserved at this point in the tasting. The next wine, another blend, is a much more well-known and popular wine, called The Pessimist from Daou Vineyards. Another classic Rhone blend, but with more Petite Syrah, giving it a more luxurious color and much less spice in the nose. The flavor was very different from the previous wine, the fruitiness was much more subdued, but still present, with a hint of elderberry but an underlying depth of mushrooms or truffles.
For the $20-30 price tag, this one is a great go-to red, the tannin was present but not overpowering, the fruit persistent but not insistent. To pair with this, we decided to use a Tartare of Beef with olives, fresh parsley, thyme and basil. The rich flavors stood up well, I was concerned that the brine of the olives would wash out the wine but there was nothing to worry about as the wine shone even more brightly with this simple food. The crowd was growing a bit louder, and everyone really seemed to clamor for this one. I think we might want to put this on the menu, [I'll talk to Bob].
For the third wine, I have to confess that the label art sold me. Chronic Cellars Dead Nuts with a picture of a grinning sugar skull just brought forth a vision of listening to the Grateful Dead while sipping red wine and I was sold pretty easily. Good thing too, as this small winery is actually very good with a growing following and rave reviews.
This one is mostly Zinfandel, one of my personal favorites. Zinfandel is the quintessential California grape, although it's origins have recently been traced to Croatia. The color is beautiful, and the aroma is of red fruit like currants or raspberries. The flavor is bold but smooth and easily approached with not much tannin, and a finish like a fine whiskey. I really like this one, and for a parining I decided that our spring weather was worth taking a chance with a chilled soup.
Vichyssoise is French chilled soup of potatoes and leeks. The origins are murky, legend has it that the King of France was so afraid of being poisoned that he had his soup tasted many times over so that it was cold by the time he got it. Julia Childs declared this a fallacy, declaring it an American chilled version of a classic French soup called Potage Parmentier from the 18th century.
Throwing tradition out the window, I added pureed asparagus and fiddlehead ferns to give a fresh flavor and color. the soup seemed to compliment nicely, although I'm not sure the wine really needed it. Things were getting louder in the room, we have a couple of die hard Zinfandel fans that seemed to really like this one, and I thought that we should maybe just do a Zinfandel tasting one day.
Finally we have a Decoy Cabernet Sauvignon. I'm familiar with Decoy Wines from the Napa Valley, but was told that this one is sourced from Paso Robles grapes so I felt that it could be included in this tasting.
Cabernet is the wine people are thinking of if they say they don't like red wine. This one does not disappoint, it was bold, loud, and tannic [much like me]. The flavors of leather, wood, and blackberries mingle with the strong finish and demand food.
To pair with this wine, we puréed Point Reyes Bleu Cheese into a mousse which was piped onto a croustade of toasted bread and topped it with crispy bacon and the first chives from our herb garden.
The bold and rich cheese stood its ground well, and the tannins were tamed to the point that the fruitiness of the wine came through and made it even better.
We finished the day with Beef Burgundy stew, served with crusty bread-- a fine compliment to the rich flavors and aromas of the tasting. I declare this event to be a success, and the wines are still available at the bar if anyone wants to order a glass or flight.