Carmel-by-the-Sea – A Food and Wine Weekend Getaway

by Xochitl Maiman – November 27, 2015

Carmel-by-the-sea, on California’s Central Coast, is the perfect spot for a wine weekend getaway between holidays.

If you’re still washing dishes and wine glasses from Thanksgiving, but already thinking about the next big celebration, now might be a great time to plan a quickie wine weekend getaway before the next wave of relatives arrives. California offers myriad wine country destination choices, but perhaps not as familiar to some, is the wine region of Monterey County and the gorgeous Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, home to some of the most elegant and delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay the state has to offer.

Where to stay…

Carmel-by -the-Sea” is just the place to relax and take some big breaths of clean ocean air to rejuvenate your spirit and energy. But don’t be fooled by the tranquility, this charming European-style village, rated a top 10 U.S destination, has it all including art galleries, unique boutiques, bakeries and dining, gourmet food shops, spas, lodging and plenty of tasting rooms. And the best part is that all this can be enjoyed by foot as the village and shore is within walking distance of many of the area hotels and inns. Hofsas House - Carmel, CaliforniaThe iconic family owned and Bavarian inspired Hofsas House has been offering European hospitality in Carmel for over 60 years. Their “hands on” approach to providing their guests with the best possible service is evident from the moment you check in. You’re greeted like visiting family, and, with the wine and cheese package, you’ll find in your room a bottle of Monterey County wine and a cheese selection from The Cheese Shop – Carmel, for you to enjoy as you warm up by the in-room fireplace. Each of the spacious 38 rooms are unique, offering amenities like the aforementioned fireplaces, balconies, wet bars, kitchens and WiFi. The landmark pink building is located among tall trees and on a hillside with westward views offering stunning sunset viewing while enjoying a glass of wine.  In the mornings, visit the main lobby for continental breakfast and to pick up a map of the village before starting off to explore.

Where to taste…

If this is your first time wine tasting in the area you might consider purchasing the Carmel Wine Walk by-the-Sea Passport which provides visitors with a tasting at their choice of 9 of the 14 village tasting rooms. The concierge at Hofsas House can arrange to have your passport waiting for you when you check in, upon request at booking.  Two standouts on the self-paced tour include Caraccioli Cellars and Wrath Wines.

Caraccioli Cellars Caraccioli Cellars - Carmel, CaliforniaStart your special wine weekend off right with bubbles! Caraccioli Cellars produces a Brut Cuvée and a Brut Rosé that are just the thing to help you toast your getaway weekend, and to take home to share with friends as you toast the holidays and New Year. Winemaker Michel Salgues also produces lovely and elegant still wines with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from vineyards in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

Wrath Wines Wrath Wines - Carmel, California Wrath Wines -Sabrine RodemsWhen tasting wines produced in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, you’re going to hear a lot about clones. Clones are different strains of the same grape, notable for their specific characteristics. Winemakers grow and blend different clones to achieve the finished wine that they envision. Kind of like a spice rack to a chef. You’ll see lots of mention of clones in the names of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on the tasting list at Wrath Wines. But don’t let that deter or confuse you. Take advantage of all this variety to avail yourself of a comprehensive focus tasting of these two varietals and the many styles of wines they can produce under the guidance of a passionate, talented and creative winemaker, in this case, Sabrine Rodems. Besides all that very interesting and delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Wrath Wines also makes a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc under their Ex Anima label and in the Single Vineyard Series, I loved the San Saba Vineyard Syrah. Note: Need cheese for that wine? The Cheese Shop is right next door!

Where to dine…

While you can easily walk to many fine restaurants in the village, there are also many wonderful and unique restaurants just a short driving distance away.

Located in an 1840’s adobe in Monterey, Restaurant 1833 is an intrigue from the moment you approach its inviting front courtyard. Standing tall and stately over the various candlelit seating areas and fire pits are an odd threesome of old trees – an oak, a palm and a pine tree, the three trees of California, according to our maitre d’.  Once inside, the ambience is warm, dark and a bit mysterious with many different dining areas and bars located in the various rooms upstairs and down. Of course, this old building comes with some ghost stories, but the real story here is the food – while basically American comfort food, the inspired menu consists of dishes made special with unique ingredients and combinations, artistically presented. They get pretty creative with the drinks menu too and pride themselves on their award winning cocktails.

Duck at Tarpy's Roadhouse - Monterey, California

Tarpy’s Maple Leaf Farms Duck over Farro with Rye Glazed Heirloom Carrots, Cherry-Port Compote

Tarpy’s Roadhouse has been an area favorite since 1992, but the history of the name and site is storied and dates back to 1851. Today, however, it’s all about  the food. The menu is varied, but the meat dishes prevail and are combined with tastes and textures of additional ingredients that just tantalize your taste buds to the last bite. If you are a scotch, bourbon or rye fan, try one of their unique cocktails or choose from a good selection to drink “straight up”.

Tarpy's - Carmel, California

Cast Iron-Seared Sea Scallops with coffee-cocoa rubbed bacon, grits, cauliflower, bourbon syrup

So….here’s the takeaway….take some time out for yourself and head to beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea. It just might become your “special place”.

Note: I’d like to thank Hofsas House for having me as their guest, and for the gracious hospitality at both Restaurant 1833 and Tarpy’s Roadhouse. Special thanks to the folks at Caraccioli Cellars and Wrath Wines for taking the time to share their wines and their stories.

Putting in a Good Word for California Pinot Noir

Xochitl Maiman – November 10, 2015

If you ask me what wine intrigues me the most, that would have to be Pinot Noir.

I’m often asked what my favorite wine is.  My usual answer is, “depends on what I’m cooking”.  With that said, my “go to” wine is Syrah, simply because it goes well with many of the foods I like to cook. Hearty pastas, risotto, braised or roasted meats all compel me to reach for a syrah or syrah blend.

However…if you ask me what wine intrigues me the most, that would have to be Pinot Noir. My experience with these wines was rather limited until about 10 years ago when I attended my first Pinot Days event in Los Angeles. Spread out before me was an entire airplane hangar full of nothing but pinot noir from many of the best pinot producing regions of the world. After a couple of hours tasting there, and a pinot noir pairing dinner the night before, it became apparent to me that the stylistic differences from region to region, vineyard to vineyard and winemaker to winemaker,were vast. Nuanced expressions ranged from light, earthy and elegant, to lush, full and fruit forward, and much in between. There began my fascination with pinot noir and my quest to taste new pinots at every opportunity. At this point in my pinot “education”, the wines with the earthy, peppery qualities seem to be my favorite. But I also enjoy the brighter, fruitier styles – again, it depends on the way I will be drinking it and with what food, if any. Great acidity in these wines makes many of them a perfect pairing for myriad foods, including the eclectic collection of tastes and textures that is the Thanksgiving table.

While I have a long way to go in my quest to taste the Pinots of the world, what I have discovered for sure is that there is beautiful pinot noir for every palate being produced in  a number of American wine regions with tremendous success. So it was with some offense that I read David Lynch’s recent statement in Bon Appetit Magazine (Everybody Wants Some – November 2015), “Look to Oregon’s Willamette Valley for the best American Pinot terroir.” I admit, I’m not fully versed on the Pinots from the Willamette Valley and I know there is wonderful wine bring produced there. But I felt this statement was too exclusive. What about California??

So in all fairness, I’d like to give a shout out to three California wine regions that are turning out stellar pinot noir, and I hope you’ll consider exploring them a bit, experiencing the different terroir, pairing with your favorite foods, and coming to your own conclusions. (Tough challenge, right?)

Three California Pinot Noirs to Try

California Pinot Noir

Santa Lucia Highlands – The esteemed vineyards of this area are located on the hillsides of the Santa Lucia Mountain Range overlooking the Salinas Valley. They are cooled by the fog and breezes coming off the Monterey Bay, making this an ideal area for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

One to try: Lucienne 2013 – Hook Vineyard – $50.00 – During my initial tasting of this wine, I was intrigued by its complex tannins and look forward to tasting again on its own and paired with food.  Wine spent 14 months in French Oak, (40% new) (Hahn Family Wines)  -  221 cases produced

Sta. Rita Hills – Located on California’s Central Coast in Santa Barbara County between the Santa Rosa Hills and the Purisima Hills – the east-west coastal valley vineyards of this area are cooled by the breezes coming off the Pacific ocean. Poor marine-based soils limit vine vigor and crop yield, intensifying grape flavors.

One to try: Weatherborne 2012 – $35.00 – (grapes sourced from the John Sebastiano and Melville Vineyards) – 225 cases produced .  When I first tasted this wine, early summer 2015, owner/winemaker, Cris Carter, was also pouring his 2013 vintage. Among the tasters I was with, it was pretty much split down the middle on which vintage they preferred. I found the 2012 a bit lighter and earthier and the 2013 brighter and fruitier. Both were well made and quite delicious in their own way, and I look forward to future endeavors from this label.

Russian River Valley – Sonoma County  - Morning fog coming through the Petaluma Gap from the Pacific Ocean cools the vineyards, but burns off during the day creating a large diurnal temperature variation.

“There are very few common Pinot Noirs in the Russian River Valley. Certainly, given the number of producers (in the hundreds), the level of quality is extraordinarily high…” – Steve Heimoff

One to try: Fog Crest Vineyard – 2012 – Estate Bottled – $55.00 – This wine blends the elegance and earthiness qualities I enjoy with beautifully integrated dark fruit, cola and spice.                 600 cases produced.

I hope you’ll join me on my journey to taste the pinot noir of the United States and of the world, and with so many choices, this could take a while. A great place to start would be the upcoming Pinot Days event being held in Los Angeles November 21st. (other cities hosting event in 2016)


Sunday Dinner – Pasta with Butternut Squash, Sage and Mushroom Sauce

by Xochitl Maiman

With the weather turning cooler, my menu planning turns to the flavors and colors of fall, and that means butternut squash.

Butternut Squash takes a leading role in this pasta dish, boiled, pureed and made into a rich silky sauce with ground turkey and crimini mushrooms.

Holly's Hill Vineyards Petite Sirah El Dorado

The richness of this butternut sauce, with it’s earthy sage and mushroom flavors calls for a full bodied luscious red and petite sirah fills that bill beautifully. Try Holly’s Hill Petite Sirah – El Dorado County. When I made this dish the 2010 was the vintage I had in my cellar, but for all the years I have been drinking Holly’s Hill Wines, I’ve yet to open a bottle I didn’t love.

Holly’s Hill Vineyards produces only Rhone varietal wines and blends made from  Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, and Counoise. Co-winemakers, Josh and Carrie Bendick, carefully craft their wines in an elegant old world style, yet each wine clearly is a reflection of the lush fruit grown in their estate vineyards, located at 2700 feet in the Sierra Foothills of El Dorado wine country.

Besides many wonderful wineries to visit, El Dorado County also offers visitors the unique opportunity to re-live California’s Gold Rush history with visits to nearby Placerville and Gold Bug Park and Mine.

Rigatoni with Butternut Squash Pasta and Mushroom Sauce

Butternut puree

To make butternut squash puree:

2 lbs butternut squash, chunked

2 cups chicken stock mixed with 1/4 cup of sherry

Boil butternut squash in chicken stock and sherry until tender. Add salt and pepper, 1/4 tsp each of garlic powder and onion powder. Puree squash with immersion blender. Set aside.

Meat/mushroom sauce:

Butternut Squash and mushroom sauce

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 large shallot, minced

2 Tbsp butter

1 pound crimini mushrooms, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 cup sherry

2 cloves garlic, minced

1lb ground turkey

Pasta with Butternut Squash Sage and Mushroom Sauce

3-4 Tbsp minced fresh sage

1 Tbsp fresh minced rosemary

1 cup frozen peas/carrots blend

5-7 oz pkg roasted chestnuts, quartered.

4 Tbsp. butter

4 Tbsp. flour

2 cups chicken stock

1/4 cup sherry

1 cup whole milk

2 cups of shredded Gruyere cheese

1 lb. short cut rigatoni (or your favorite pasta)

In pan, sauté shallot in olive oil, just until softened. Add butter and mushrooms. When mushrooms have released their juices, add 2 minced cloves of garlic, S&P and 1/4 cup sherry. Cook until almost all juices have evaporated. Remove mushroom mixture from pan and set aside.

In same pan, brown ground turkey with  fresh sage and rosemary and S&P.  When cooked through, return mushroom mixture to pan and add peas and carrots and chestnuts. Set aside.

In large saucepan, melt 4 T. butter. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute over medium heat. Whisk in chicken stock, 1/4 cup sherry and milk. Cook, stirring, until starting to thicken. Add squash puree and took till thickened. Add shredded Gruyere and cook and stir until cheese melts and sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add meat/mushroom mixture to sauce.

Cook rigatoni. Drain. Return to pot. Add 2 cups of meat sauce to pasta and combine.

To serve: Spoon pasta into bowls and top with additional sauce. Serves 4

More on the Wineries of El Dorado Wine Country

El Dorado Visitors Authority

Skinner Vineyards of El Dorado Wine Country





The Garagiste Festival – Celebrating the Artisan Winemaker

Xochitl Maiman – August 2015

The Garagiste Festival offers wine enthusiasts endless adventures in wine discovery.

The Garagiste Festival

As their website describes it… “Garagiste, a place for the underground, the different, and the cutting edge of small production winemaking with no rules.” The Garagiste Festivals, now at three per year, embody this definition and showcase the artisan winemakers of California, all with production under 1500 cases of ultra-premium, hard-to-find wines. Indeed, many of the wineries have no tasting room and their production is so small you won’t find their wines on store shelves. So, the only way to explore and experience these wines and the artisans that create them, is at one of the 3 annual festivals.

The first Garagiste Festival was held in November of 2011 in Paso Robles as a way to showcase the garagiste movement which had clearly taken a hold in that wine producing region. The event also served to raise funds for the Cal Poly Wine & Viticulture Program, which provides future winemakers with an education in all aspects of the wine business from the vineyard to the table. The Festival continues to support this program and its young winemakers of the future. With the movement growing throughout the California wine producing regions, and interest and awareness growing on the part of the wine consumer, the annual event schedule has grown to accommodate 3 festivals – adding festivals held in the Santa Ynez wine growing region of Santa Barbara County and in Los Angeles.

Garagiste Festival Paso Robles 2015Traditionally, the Santa Ynez Garagiste Festival, named “Southern Exposure” is held in the spring, the Los Angeles Garagiste Festival, “Urban Exposure” in the summer, and the Paso Robles festival in the fall.  So with just one more event left for 2015, now’s the time to save the date for November 7th. Actually, the November Festival has been expanded to include events over a 3-day period, beginning with a “5th Anniversary Dinner” at the Carlton Hotel in nearby Atascadero on Thursday, November 5th.  A “winemaker mixer” follows on Friday, with a series of events scheduled for Saturday, November 7th, including seminars, the Grand Tasting and an after-party.

With all the wine tasting events held every year, the Garagiste Festivals are my favorite, providing a fun and unique opportunity to taste wine while meeting and chatting with the actual winemaker. Hearing from them personally, as opposed to distributors or reps, takes the tasting experience to a much higher, memorable and more meaningful level.

While I have made friends of many of these winemakers over the years and enjoy visiting with them and tasting their new releases, I also always look forward to meeting the “new guys” or first-timers to the festival. Dozens of varietals and blends means there is something for every palette. From Albarino to Viognier, this is one tasting event you won’t want to miss.

Garagiste Festival at Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles 2015Here are some of my favorites from this year’s Southern Exposure and Urban Exposure Garagiste Festivals:

Alta Colina Vineyards – Paso Robles – Consulting winemaker: Jeff Cohn  Cases per vintage: 1500

  • 2014 Grenache Blanc
  • 2011 GSM

Archium Cellars – Santa Barbara – Winemakers: Zack Jarosz & Ian Sergy  Cases per vintage: 300

  • 2013 “Haven” Grenache

Ascension Cellars at Garagiste Festival 2015Ascension Cellars – Paso Robles   Winemaker: Erick Allen   Cases per vintage:1000                         Fruit sourced from the CASS Vineyard.

  • 2013 Halo Viognier
  • 2013 Gossamer Wings White Rhone Blend

Artisan Uprising – Paso Robles – Winemakers: William & David Vondrasek   Cases per vintage:275

  • 2012 Merlot
  • 2012 Malbec

Diablo Paso – Paso Robles – Winemaker: Enrique Torres   Cases per vintage: 1000

  • 2014 Albarino – Edna Valley
  • 2013 Tempranillo

Larner Winery – Santa Barbara -  Winemaker: Michael Larner   Cases per vintage: 800

  • 2014 Malvasia Bianca
  • 2010 Elemental GSM

MCV Wines – Paso Robles – Winemaker: Matt Villard   Cases per vintage: 500

  • 2014 Viognier

Shai Cellars Garagiste Festival 2015Shai Cellars – Santa Barbara – Winemaker: Shawn Shai Halahmy  Cases per vintage: 350

  • 2009 Adome (65% Syrah/35% Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • 2009 Grenache

Stanger Vineyards – Paso Robles – Winemaker: JP French   Cases per vintage: 1000

  • 2008 Syrah, Library Reserve
  • 2010 Master (55% Cabernet Sauvignon/36% Syrah/9% Tempranillo)

Tercero Wines – Santa Barbara – Winemaker: Larry Schaffer  Cases per vintage: 1000

  • 2010 The Climb (Syrah/Petite Sirah)

The Farm Winery – Paso Robles  – Winemaker: Santiago Achaval   Cases per vintage: 650

  • 2011 Touchy-Felly (Grenache/Syrah)
  • 2011 The Big Game (Cab/Petit Verdot/Syrah)

Vines on the Marycrest – Paso Robles – Winemaker: Victor Abascal   Cases per vintage: 1500

  • 2014 Summertime Rosé

Weatherborne Pinot Noir Garagiste Festival 2015Weatherborne – Santa Barbara – Winemaker: Cris Carter   Cases per vintage: 400

  • 2012 Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills

The Garagiste Festival – Paso Robles, is scheduled for November 5-7, 2015. The fall is a beautiful, and popular, time to visit wine country. Plan your visit early by booking your lodging and ordering your Festival tickets as soon as possible.  For more information on The Garagiste Festival events, participating wineries, and to purchase tickets, visit The Garagiste Festival website.

Wine is an adventure, with every bottle offering a new experience. Thank you to the passionate and talented garagiste winemakers for your perseverance, dedication and for sharing your art. Thank you also to the outstanding team at The Garagiste Festival for bringing all these fine winemakers together under one roof where we can meet and celebrate them and their wines. Happy 5th Anniversary!


Wine Pairing Dinner in California’s Gold Country – The Independent Restaurant & Bar

by Xochitl Maiman – July 2015

The sun was setting in spectacular fashion over the Sierra Foothills of El Dorado County, which meant it would soon be time to head over to the evening’s scheduled wine-paired dinner at The Independent Restaurant & Bar in Placerville.

Sunset over El Dorado Wine Country, California

Day 1 of a recent trip to El Dorado’s Wine Country in the Sierra Foothills of California ended, also in spectacular fashion, with a wine-paired dinner that showcased half a dozen of the beautifully crafted Rhone wines of the area, from three different wineries.  The winery owners/winemakers were present at the dinner, which gave us, (a small group of wine writers), an opportunity to learn more about their stories as their wines were poured. The location was The Independent Restaurant and Bar in Placerville, expertly managed by Ben Carter, who was our gracious and doting host for the evening.  The food was “white tablecloth”, but the atmosphere of The Independent is comfortable in a chic, rustic, neighborhood favorite sort of way – a “go to” restaurant for any occasion.

Our winery hosts for the evening were Josh Bendick of Holly’s Hill Vineyards, Carey Skinner of Skinner Vineyards and Winery and David Girard and his wife Sandy Raney of David Girard Vineyards. I was especially happy to meet Josh as I had tasted his Rhone varietal wines a number of years ago and have been an ardent fan ever since. In fact, all the wines that evening were of Rhone varietals, which thrive in this area – all elegantly crafted with great varietal characteristics. After introductions all around, we sat down to our first course and wine pairing…..

Winemaker dinner menu at The Independent Restaurant and Bar - Placerville, CA

First Pairing: Holly’s Hill Vineyards 2013 Grenache Blanc

Holly's Hill Vineyards Grenache Blanc

Eggplant Bruschetta - The Independent Restaurant and Bar Eggplant Bruschetta: Chinese Eggplant, Cherry Tomato, Shallot, Basil

Notes: Holly’s Hill has 11 Rhone varieties planted and produces between 4000-5000 cases per year. The Grenache Blanc vineyard is 6 years old. 2013 Grenache Blanc has a full mouthfeel, opening up to good acidity with some baking spice in the finish.

Second Pairing: 2013 Skinner Vineyards & Winery – Seven Generations Walnut Prawn Salad - The Independent Restaurant and Bar

Walnut Prawn Salad: White Tiger Prawn, Mixed Greens, Avocado, Candied Walnuts, Orange Wedge, Walnut Vinaigrette

Notes: With vineyards as 1400 feet and 2200 feet elevation, each with different soil composition, Skinner’s Rhone varietal wines take on unique characteristics indicative of “place”. The “Seven Generations” is made from 52% Grenache Blanc, 21% Roussanne, 17% Marsanne, 9% Viognier, 2% Picpoul Blanc. Full, luscious mouthfeel, balanced with minerality and acidity.

Third Pairing – 2013 Holly’s Hill Viognier Steamers at The Independence Restaurant and Bar - Placerville, CA

Steamers – Manila Clams, Mussels, White Wine Garlic Shallot Broth

Notes: This ripe, crisp Viognier was just lovely with this dish – ‘nuf said.

Fourth Pairing: 2011 David Girard Coda Rouge – 46% Mourvedre/36% Syrah/15% Grenache/3% Counoise

Notes: Most of David Girard’s 36 acres of granite vineyards, planted in 1998, are dedicated to Rhone varieties.  This red blend was light on the palatte, but with great fruit and a bit of baking spice on the finish.

Salmon and Risotto at The Independence Restaurant and Bar - Placerville, CA

Honey Almond KIng Salmon – Grana Padano & Leek Risotto

Fifth Pairing – 2012 Skinner Mourvedre

Filet Mignon at The Independence Restaurant and Bar in Placerville, CA

Certified Hereford Filet MIgnon – Grilled Asparagus, Peppercorn Demi Glace

Sixth Pairing – 2010 David Girard Syrah

Chocolate Cheesecake with David Girard Syrah at The Independence Restaurant and Bar Placerville Ca

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake

Needless to say, the evening was enjoyed by all – each course a culinary delight, and another great opportunity to focus taste the wines from the El Dorado wine producing region – a region offering tremendous diversity, (50 grape varieties planted) and worthy of further exploration. With over 70 wineries in the region, this could take some time….

Special shout out to The Independent’s culinary team: Ryan Montgomery, George Fechter, Andrew Starr and Michael Moreno for an outstanding menu!


Wine Country Beef Stew is a Dusi of a Recipe!

by Xochitl Maiman – May 17, 2015

Paso Robles Wine Country Cooking for a Crowd – Dusi Family Beef Stew

Wine night happens pretty regularly around our house. And for those of you who know me and are saying, “Isn’t that every night?”, well, yes could be the answer. But, I’m referring this time to gatherings of thirsty wine-loving friends that happen every couple of months, ranging in size from 6 people to more than 40. But whatever the size, one of the challenges is figuring out what to feed my guests that is delicious, satisfying, wine friendly and can be prepared in a large quantity and ahead of time.

East this with Paso Robles wine - cookbook cover

In my quest this year to cook my way through my friend, Lisa Pretty’s cookbooks, “eat this with Paso Robles Wine”, volumes 1 and 2, I came across a recipe for Beef Stew… with a provenance.

Sylvester and Caterina Dusi immigrated to the United States from Northen Italy in the 1920′s, settling in Paso Robles. In 1945, along with their three sons, Guido, Dante, and Benito, they purchased land on the west side of Paso and planted Zinfandel. It is on this estate and in this esteemed vineyard that Janell Dusi was raised with the vines and today makes wine under the label of J. Dusi Wines. The highly sought after fruit from the the Dusi Vineyard is also used by other Paso Robles wineries such as Turley, Tobin James, Brochelle and Cypher.

Janell Dusi

Last year I had the opportunity to tour the Dusi Vineyard, meet Janell and taste a number of wines from different producers using Dusi Zinfandel. While nuances varied from wine to wine, the common denominator was rich, ripe, bold wines with layers of flavors. All would pair nicely with a hearty beef stew. (Visit my Dusi Vineyard Tour photo album)

Stew and polenta has been a Dusi family favorite for generations, and Janell shared her family’s recipe with Lisa for publication in Volume 2. Like most cooks, I couldn’t resist “tweaking” the recipe a bit, but the result was probably the best beef stew I ever made. Of course, Zinfandel is wonderful with this stew, but other red wines pair nicely too, making it the perfect dish to serve when many different wines are being tasted. While I didn’t have any of Janell’s wines on hand, I did have a bottle of Parrish Family Vineyards 2012 Zinfandel (not Dusi fruit) that I was anxious to try and turned out to be a delicious choice.

So gather some friends, open some bottles of zinfandel, get out your stock pot and give this recipe a try, The recipe below is my version for a crowd, but can easily be cut in half. Please, also check out the original recipe in Lisa’s book, along with all the other Paso Robles wine country recipes to share with family and friends at “wine night” at your house.


Dusi Beef Stew


4 lbs cubed lean stew meat

3/4 cup flour mixed with 2 tsp instant espresso powder, 1 tsp cinnamon, 3/4 tsp Tony Chachere’s Cajun Seasoning, salt and pepper

Olive Oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped

5 cloves of garlic, crushed

Parrish Family Vineyards Zinfandel Paso Robles

1 1/2 cups celery, sliced 1/2 inch thick on the diagonal

10 large carrots (rainbow if possible) sliced on the diagonal

2 large leeks, dark green parts removed, trimmed, halved lengthwise and thickly sliced

2 lbs of baby white fingerlings, scrubbed and sliced in half lenthwise

8 cups of beef broth

1 bottle of dry red wine (I used Primitivo)

2 Tablespoons anise flavored liquor ( I used Jagermeister)

1 Tbsp each dried oregano and basil

1/2 cup of coffee

1 sm can tomato paste

2 ozs dried wild mushrooms (re-hydrated in boiling water for 20 minutes – then drain, and coarsely chop. RESERVE LIQUID

1 cup sweet baby peas

For the Stew: Toss the cubed beef in the flour mixture. Heat 3 T. olive oil in large skillet – Working in batches, add meat to pan (do not overcrowd) and brown on all sides, adding more oil as needed.

In each of two dutch ovens, heat 3 T. olive oil. Add half the onions to each pot, cooking on med-low for a few minutes. To each pot add half the garlic, celery, carrots, leeks and potatoes. Stir and cook for 3 minutes over med high heat. Add the beef broth, wine, liquor, coffee and herbs, half to each pot. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer while preparing mushrooms.

In skillet, heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Add mushrooms and cook till beginning to soften. Add all but 1 T. of the can of tomato paste to the pan. Stir to cook paste. Add reserved mushroom soaking liquid, being careful to retain any sediment. Cook mushroom mixture a couple of minutes then stir into stew pots. Cover pots and simmer stew on low 2-3 hours till meat and vegetables are tender. If stew is too thin, remove cover and cook till desired consistency. Five minutes before serving, add the peas.


1 stick of unsalted butter

1/4 c olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

3 c. chicken stock

2 c half-and-half

2 c whole milk

2 c polenta

1 container mascarpone cheese

1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese

Fried onions (like Durkee)

Crumbled gorgonzola

For the Polenta: Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the chicken stock, half-and-half and milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and slowly sprinkle the polenta into the hot liquid, stirring constantly with a whisk. (Grandma Dusi said to always stir in one direction) Cook, stirring constantly until polenta thickens and bubbles. Stir in mascarpone and parmesan cheeses and continue to cook, gently, stirring, until polenta is tender ( 5-10 min). Season with salt and pepper and a dash of red pepper if desired.

To Serve:

Place 1/2-3/4 cup of polenta in pasta bowl. Ladle stew over polenta. Top with fried onions and crumbled gorgonzola.







Wine Regions – A Matter of “Place”

by Xochitl Maiman – May 2015

The more I learn about wine…the more I explore wine regions and varietals, the more I come to find out there is so much more to learn! And taste! And therein lies the intrigue, mystery and compelling nature…and fun, about wine.

One of the most interesting aspects of “wine”, in the broadest sense of the word, is the concept of “place”, and I don’t just mean terroir, but historical identity that connects people to a region and to that region’s culture, food and agriculture. Many “old world” wine regions are small, some nothing more than  large communities, that have existed for generations and, at some point in history, may have been remote or secluded. Their culture was driven by weather and soils and what those influences allowed them to grow and cultivate.

As far as wine production, these small regions often identify with and make wine from one grape varietal, sometimes with a couple of supporting varietals. Often, wine production is a tradition for a family that dates back many generations. They have made wine from the same grape(s), on the same land, sometimes employing traditional methods, sometimes modifying to accommodate changing times, palates, technologies and global influence. But no matter how big the world gets, the people of these regions value “place” and  what is historically and indigenously theirs.

Naoussa – Can you say “Xinomavro”?

With 330 grape varieties indigenous to Greece, it is Xinomavro, a robust red grape varietal, that is the star of Naoussa, a tiny wine region 75 kilometers from the ocean in the heart of Western Macedonia – Northern Greece. With the entire area running only 30 miles, end to end, the vineyards are located in the plains and south eastern slopes of Mount Vermion – and that is where this ancient area’s history begins. According to mythology, Mount Vermion was the home of Semele, mother of Dionysus, the god of vine and wine.

Though cultivated for hundreds of years in different areas, it is in Naoussa that Xinomavro is able to reach perfect maturation. Despite the destruction of Naoussa’s vineyards by phylloxera in the 1930′s, area producers remained dedicated to reviving the area. In the 1960′s the vineyards were replanted, and during the 1970′s, along with improvements made in farming, the modern age of wine production for the area began. There are now 20 wineries in Naoussa.

Aging in oak for 12 months helps to soften the considerable tannins that give Xinomavro great structure and ageability. The wines are deep red in color with red fruit characteristics and great acidity, (a comparison to Nebbiolo would be appropriate), making these wines fantastic with the meat and tomato dishes of the area.

Wines of Naoussa to try:

Chrisohoou (oldest winery in Naoussa) – Estate 2008             Estate Chrisohoou - Xinomavro - Naoussa -

Dalamara – Naoussa 2012 – (Kostis Dalamaras is 5th generation of his family to farm at the Dalamara Winery)

Uranos – Thymiopoulos Vineyard – 2011

Ktima Diamantakos – Naoussa 2008




Garganega and the wine region of Soave.


Soave, located just 12 miles east of Verona and whose picturesque castle and rock walls date back to the year 934, is also home to 16,000 acres of Italy’s total 27,200 acres of Garganega. Dating back to the thirteenth century, Garganega is the principal grape of Soave, an area that produces one of Italy’s leading wines – a white wine of place.

There are now almost 100 wineries in the Soave wine region, producing wines that are a far cry from the boring whites you may have seen in your local market.  These are wines of character and even ageability. Although the best wines of Soave are generally produced from 100% Garganega, (Italian wine law mandates a labeling minimum of 70%), Trebbiano di Soave (adds tropical notes) and Chardonnay are also used. Almost no oak barrels are used in production – flavor profiles rely heavily on “place”. Depending on the source site, characteristics of wines made from Garganega can include lemon, white peach, lemon thyme, minerality, and almonds. The wines are usually made dry and their crisp acidity allows them to pair beautifully with dishes that feature citrus flavors, seafood, poultry, risotto, paella and pastas with cream or butter sauces. Recioto di Soave is a sweet wine made from dried grapes and is the perfect accompaniment to desserts that include marmalade, figs, marzipan or toffee.

Soave wines to try:

Sandro De Bruno – 2011 Soave Superiore DOCG “Monte San Piero”

Gini – 2007 Soave Classico DOC

Monte Dondo – 2006 Soave Classico DOC “Casette Foscarin”

Franchetto – 2012 Recioto di Soave DOCG “Santin Dulco”

These are just two of the many wine producing regions in the world that are associated with a specific grape varietal. So much more to explore and taste. Meanwhile, I strongly recommend you check your local wine shop for wines from Naoussa and Soave, plan a menu and let your taste buds take you on a trip to a faraway….. “place”.

I’ll Drink to That!





The Wines of El Dorado County – Part 1 Skinner Vineyards

by Xochitl Maiman – April 13, 2015

Skinner Vineyards – Where the past is the driving force for the future.

On a recent visit to El Dorado Wine Country in the Sierra Foothills of Northern California, it became apparent that the new “treasure” of this historic “gold country” is wine. The choices of tasting experiences are abundant and diverse – the area has more than 2,000 acres planted, producing 50 grape varieties for more than 70 wineries. With so much to cover, this post will be the first in a series, each looking at the area from a slightly different perspective or focusing on a specific winery.

The “gold rush country” of  California is rich with history and so it makes sense that many of the wineries in the region have deep historic roots. Such is the case with Skinner Vineyards and Winery

After a series of serendipitous events led to the discovery of  family ties, dating back to winemaking in the Sierra Foothills in 1861, Mike and Carey Skinner began to acquire property near where they learned the original Skinner Winery site had been.  In 2006, compelled and inspired by the story of Mike’s great-great-great grandfather, James Skinner, Mike and Carey began to build their “state of the art” winery in Somerset, near the area’s hub city of Placerville, and reclaim their family legacy. The winery was built with respect for the environment and the land that connected the generations to one another, and the family plans on taking their sustainable farming practices to 100% organic by 2016.

In addition to Rhone varietals, the Skinners have planted some of the heirloom varietals known in James’ time, but long forgotten, in hopes of bringing their past into the present to carry forward into the future. Their wines are testament to the fact that the region is perfectly suited for growing Rhone varietals. With their vineyards at different elevations, winemaker, Chris Pittenger, has myriad choices of the same varietal to craft the wines, creating nuances in the palate that make them exciting to pair with different foods.

Skinner Vineyards

1861 – an homage to Skinner HIstory

Shortly after my return from El Dorado, I attended an LA Wine Writers luncheon at the West RestaurantHotel Angeleno, which featured Skinner Vineyards wines, wonderfully paired with dishes created by executive chef, Laura Scollan.

mussels and risotto

White Wine Steamed Mussels – Curried Risotto – Spring Peas – Paired with 2013 Seven Generations White Blend

Skinner Vineyards Grenache

Seared Ahi Tuna – Vegetable Sushi with Beurre Blanc – Tempura Asparagus – Paired with 2012 Grenache

Duck Breast

Crispy Duck Breast, Marinated in Allspice/Orange Sauce – Coconut Bamboo Rice – Ginger-Honey Glazed Baby Carrots with lemon,honey, rosemary and thyme – Paired with 2010 and 2012 Eighteen Sixty-One Red Blend

Teres Major with Skinner Vineyards Wine

Teres Major – Truffled Potato Gratin with garlic, cream,rosemary and parmesan – Roasted Romanesco – Paired with 2012 Mourvedre and 2010 Syrah

Learn more about Skinner Vineyards and their wine region of El Dorado by following their Facebook page.

Wineries of El Dorado video

Watch Wineries of El Dorado County – video






Archium Cellars

by Xochitl Maiman   March 27, 2015

Archium Cellars at Garagiste Festival-Solvang

One year ago, at the Garagiste Festival in Solvang, I met Ian Sergy and Zach Jarosz of Archium CellarsIan and Zach of Archium CellarsActually, it was the night before at a pizza party “sneak peak” at Cecco Italian Restaurant in Solvang. They were tucked away in a corner with really poor access as the crowd of tasters continued to pack the space. I think it was the label artwork that first drew my attention as I was trying to leave at the end of the night and almost out the door. So I decided, one more, why not? Good move on my part…

Archium Cellars Dissident




Zach was completely personable, (never ceases to amaze me how the winemakers stay personable after hours of pouring for the masses), and introduced me to his small, but impressive line up of wines. (They produce about 250 cases per year, at this point) Their first vintage was 2011, and that weekend we were tasting their ’12′s and a simply wonderful 2013 Rosé of 100% Grenache. Archium Cellars Rosé Inspired by the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, their wines are all made from Rhone varietals, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre, sourced from renown Santa Barbara County vineyards such as Stolpman, McGinley and Watch Hill. They do have a small “test vineyard” planted in the Thousand Oaks area where Zach and Ian hone their vineyard management skills, and which actually produces the fruit for their “Briar Bluff Vineyard” designate, Syrah.

Archium Cellars - Briar Bluff Vineyard

Archium Cellars Briar Cliff Syrah









Like so many other passionate winemakers, Zach and Ian both have careers in other industries, which adds time management to the myriad challenges a winemaker faces. Ultimately, like most passionate winemakers, they find making their own wine to be a truly rewarding endeavor. Their pride in what they do was evident as they showed me around their Ventura Briar Cliff Vineyard Archium CellarsCounty vineyard one afternoon last May. They view each vintage as an archive of their efforts in winemaking, thus their name, “Archium”, latin for archive. As a consumer, that really brings home the concept of taking in and appreciating all that goes into that glass of wine, even before tasting it.

Earlier this month Archium Cellars bottled their 2014 Rosé and I’m anxious to taste it and any other new releases they may have at this weekend’s Garagiste Festival. Like so many of the wineries pouring at the festival, they do not have a tasting room, so this is a rare opportunity to taste their wines and over 250 other wines being produced in small quantities in the Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles wine regions. Here is a complete listing of the wineries pouring each day at this year’s event, March 28-29, 2015. Who will stand out this year?




Live Long and Prosper, “Mr. Spock”

Is there someone who has touched your life – changed your life – inspired you – facilitated an epiphany, an “aha moment” that altered your course – your personal evolution? For some that person might be a parent, a friend, an activist, an author, a spiritual leader, a musician, a painter…. but a fictional character?


While you come to this blog to read about food and wine, today I ask for your indulgence as I devote this space on the world wide web…and indeed a space in my heart…and soul, to “Mr. Spock” and the actor that brought him to life – Mr. Leonard Nimoy. How ironic that a character so purposely void of emotions could evoke such a wide array of emotions in me today in learning of his passing and in the many years that I have spent remembering and putting to practice Mr. Spock’s logic and ideology.

Even at a young age, Mr. Spock’s logic and view of the world…or in his case, the universe, resonated with me. It just made sense. Objectivity, intelligence, focus and clarity. The emotions of love, respect, trust and fear were all there, just kept in check so the job at hand could be accomplished. Well, perhaps I was never going to be a “Number 1″ on an intergalactic airship, but I would have many opportunities in my life where those attributes would provide me with the foundation necessary for the situation at hand.

Juxtaposed against the logic, there seemed to be a spiritual component subtly implied in the character of Mr. Spock. Indeed, Mr. Nimoy explained that even the iconic split finger hand gesture, generally accompanied by the words, “Live Long and Prosper”, was derived from a gesture made by practitioners in a synagogue he witnessed as a youth. In later years, Mr. Nimoy would write many books of poetry, illustrated with his own photographs. As a poet and photographer in my teens, again, my connection with the passion, introspect and the emotion of his written word, ran deep.

Having lived in Hollywood my whole life, movie star sightings are pretty common place. But only once, have I actually wanted  to verbally connect with one of those stars. I had gone to see a musical performance at the Hollywood Bowl that was being narrated by Mr. Nimoy. When his portion of the show was finished, I darted to the backstage artists’ entrance to hopefully see him and let him know how deeply his artistic endeavors had touched me over the years. But as fate would have it, he had left quickly and I had missed him. Today, it saddens me that he shall never know.

So today, I will raise a glass to toast a mentor and thank him for sharing and for the many lessons well taught.

Is there someone who has touched your life – changed your life – inspired you – facilitated an epiphany, an “aha moment” that altered your course – your personal evolution?  If you can, why not thank them today?

And as always……