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 WITH POLENTA – Serves 16

Dusi Beef Stew

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.

Polenta: 

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.

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

 

 

 

 

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?

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

 

 

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?

Spock,_2267

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……

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

 

Artisan Uprising

by Xochitl Maiman – January 30, 2015

Before the popular Garagiste Festival brought about awareness of the artisan winemaker movement in the Central Coast, two brothers from Reseda, California were beginning their own “artisan uprising”.

The Vondrasek Brothers-Aritsan Uprising

David and William Vondrasek had been following a decades old family tradition started by their grandfather, of making wine for family enjoyment. Their first home vintage was in 2001, but it wasn’t long before they were producing more wine than they could drink, so….well, you know the story….one thing leads to another and in 2012 they celebrated the release of their officially licensed first vintage of Artisan Uprising.

Artisan Uprising wine Paso Robles

“Art is what you do with the science”

Having already developed a winemaking style that they felt was unique, David and William also wanted their branding to convey their message and their desire to build up the artisan winemaking movement. While their wine, made from fruit sourced from two premium Paso Robles vineyards, clearly reflects their artisan touches, the label on the bottle serves as the gateway to the concept. Created by one of the Vondrasek sisters, the label depicts an artist “leaving everything behind him except the tools he needs to create his art.”

These dedicated “artisans” shared their wines with a small group of wine writers yesterday, presented with the divine culinary stylings of Executive Chef Laura Scollan, of WEST Restaurant and Lounge at the top of the Hotel Angeleno. (Note: I’ve attended wine tastings in some very interesting and often historic venues in Los Angeles. Oddly enough, having lived in L.A. my entire life, I had never been inside the iconic round hotel located just off the infamous “405″ freeway at the Sunset Blvd. offramp. While previously owned by the Holiday Inn chain of hotels, it is  now privately owned and completely renovated, feeling very much like a boutique hotel)

Our wine pairing luncheon was served in a private suite one floor below the restaurant, (views were spectacular in every direction!) and closely supervised by the hotel’s food and beverage director, Steffen Mrowczynski. Each course was presented by the Chef and served by an excellent wait staff.

Course 1: 2014 Rosé of Merlot (24 Cases) – Gorgeous salmon color, dry, rich mouth feel, tiny bit of watermelon jolly rancher in finish – beautiful rosé.

Cider Glazed Scallop - Artisan Uprising Tasting

Cider Glazed Scallop – Tri-colore Cauliflower, Truffled Parsnip Purée

Course 2: 2012 Merlot (124 cases) – Unfiltered, earthy nose, rustic, yet “silky-smooth”, beautifully balanced and integrated. Touch of dark chocolate in long finish. Just loved this Merlot!

Chicken Roulade – Wild Mushroom Mousse, Prosciutto

Chicken Roulade - Artisan Uprising

Course 3: 2012 Malbec (37 cases) – This malbec with 5% merlot to “open it up”, reins in the alcohol at just 13.8%. Good fruit and acidity – long finish.

5-spice duck - Artisan Uprising

5-Spiced Duck Breast on Buckwheat Soba Noodles with Micro Greens – Duck Confit Spring Roll

Course 4: 2012 Petite Sirah (39 cases) – Thick and deep berry red. Bit of anise in the finish. Wonderful now, but has great potential for aging. 

Braised Short Rib on Sunchoke-Okinawan Purple Mash, Baby Spinach

Braised Short Rib - Artisan Uprising

Interestingly, I found that while the food pairings were spot on, I enjoyed these wines more on their own without food. Their complex flavor profiles would be enjoyed immensely served with great conversation, a good  movie, or …….. a spectacular view!

View from Hotel Angeleno - Artisan Uprising tasting

Whatever the occasion, check these guys out. The case production was small on their 2012′s, so try them soon while they last. Good news, though, the 2013′s, which we also tasted, show great promise and they are expecting their case production to grow to a whopping 375 cases with that vintage!

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

The Adelaida Road Wine Trail – Paso Robles

by Xochitl Maiman – December 2014

Wine tasting along Adelaida Road blends local history with modern day winemaking.

There are many options to choose from when deciding where to spend the day tasting in Paso Robles wine country. As a frequent visitor to the area, I find there is also a tendency to want to spend time at the familiar wineries that over the years have become  favorites where I like to “check-in” and say hi to friends. So on a recent trip, a rare rainy weekend, I focused my attention on Adelaida Road – a stretch of windy country road that runs along the northern side of the region between Highway 101 and Vineyard Drive, and located primarily within the boundaries of the newly designated sub AVA known as the Adelaida District.

View from Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, California

The road is a portal into a parallel universe of pastoral vistas and quiet tranquility. Old oaks line both sides of the narrow road meeting in a leafy canopy that dapples the sun on the windshield. Around each turn is a landscape of hillsides and fields corduroyed with perfect rows of vineyards, at this time of year turning myriad shades of gold. Deer gather in groups, seemingly plotting their covert entrance into a yard or vineyard and hawks hang motionless in the sky above. On this particular day the much needed rain quietly added its glistening touch to the scenic canvas.

Our first stop – the brand new (literally open just a few days) tasting room and winery facility of Alta Colina. Last time I had visited, on a 100+ degree day in late August, it was still very much a construction site so I was excited to see the finished product. Bob and Maggie Tillman were both there to greet us and Bob suggested we start with a vineyard tour. Never to be kept out of a vineyard by a little rain, we jumped into his truck and slowly made our way up the hillside of the 130 acre site – the vineyard elevation reaches almost 800 feet with stunning views in all directions.

Alta Colina Vineyard, Adelaida Road, Paso jRobles, California

Planting of the 32 acres now under vine began in 2005. The vineyard is dedicated to Rhone varietals including Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Petite Sirah, mostly Entav selections with one block dedicated to Alban grafts. The Tillman’s maintain an organic vineyard – no synthetic soil additives and cover crops are all naturally occurring grasses.

Once back at the winery, Bob gave us a tour of the new digs – his excitement with the new place and how it had turned out was a pleasure to experience.  Architect Rebecca McKay of Real Architects in San Luis Obispo, created a lofty, contemporary 8,600 square foot facility which includes a 650 square foot tasting room – a big jump from the 150 square foot tasting room they previously occupied up the street. With all the new winery space, the Tillman’s project an eventual case production increase to about 4000 cases from their current 1800 case production. The facility also includes the first Tesla charging station in Paso Robles.

Wines from Alta Colina, Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, California

Maggie and Bob Tillman, Alta Colina Vineyard, Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, California

Maggie and Bob Tillman, Alta Colina

Favorite wines tasted at Alta Colina:                                     Tasting at Alta Colina, Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, California

2011 GSM

2013 Grenache Blanc

2012 Claudia Cuvée (Marsanne)

2011 Toasted Slope Syrah

2011 Block 2 Bio Syrah

The Alta Colina tasting room is open Thursday through Monday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 2825 Adelaida Road.

Lone Madrone Wine, Paso Robles, California

Our next stop down Adelaida took us to Lone Madrone and an epic tasting with winemaker, Neil Collins. Indeed, the tasting notes sheet I was given had 20 wines on it! Clearly something for everyone here. It seems Neil has deep rooted relationships with many local, mostly “west-side” growers that afford him access to a large number of varietals from which he makes his single varietal and blended wines. (Important to note here that, while managing his own wine program at Lone Madrone, Neil is also the winemaker at the highly esteemed Tablas Creek down the road. He credits his ability to stay on top of things to the great teams he has working with him). The winery takes its name from the lone Madrone that stands in their original vineyard and the tasting room is warm and inviting in a refurbished horse barn. (Loved the old hot walker in one of the outdoor sitting areas.)

Neil Collins, winemaker, Paso Robles

While Neil and I chatted about all things Paso Robles, including the new AVA’s, the push to bring attention to Paso Cabernet Sauvignon, organic and biodynamic farming practices, and changes in the local farming landscape over the years, he poured for me some of the wines in his lengthy line-up. And even though Neil produces so many wines, I’d say there was no compromise on quality here. This description taken from their website says it best: “The wines of Lone Madrone are all unique and yet characteristically balanced with structure and finesse.” Of the 13 wines I tasted, here are some of my favorites:

2013 Chenin Blanc – dry farmed, 43 year old vines

2013 Picpoul Blanc

2012 Points West White – blend of viognier, marsanne, rousanne and picpoul blanc

Lone Madrone wine, Paso Robles, California

2011 Points West Red – blend of Mourvedre, grenache, syrah, cinsault and counoise

2012 Bailey Ranch Zinfandel

2010 Tannat

Lone Madrone vineyard, Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, California

The vineyard was beautiful in the rain, but I will definitely return to enjoy the view and a picnic on the patio on a sunny, dry day. The Lone Madrone tasting room is open daily from 10:30am-5pm at 5800 Adelaida Road.

Halter Ranch Winery, Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, California

Halter Ranch is a parallel universe unto itself, seamlessly juxtaposing historic Paso Robles with modern day winemaking. Located at the intersection of Adelaida Road and Vineyard Drive, the first thing you notice on arrival is the grand Victorian farmhouse built in 1885.  A drive across a long covered bridge takes you to the recently constructed winery facility, looking much like a mountain ski resort, but housing a large “member lounge” and the state of the art winery.

Covered bridge at Halter Ranch Winery, Paso Robles, California

Visible from the lounge through floor to ceiling windows is the multi-level winery which utilizes gravity flow to gently get fruit from de-stemmer to tank.

Halter Ranch winery

While a large facility, with case production at about 12,000 annually, Halter Ranch takes great pride in their sustainable practices across the board – They are SIP Certified and maintain a 3 mile wildlife corridor through the vineyard, which I found particularly interesting. Unique to Halter Ranch is the 22,000 square foot cave system accommodating 2500 barrels. Winery and cave tours are complimentary and given Saturdays and Sundays with reservation. Plan on about 45 minutes – well worth the time.

Halter Ranch, Paso Robles - caves

The vineyard is planted with 19 grape varieties – 60% Bordeaux, 40% Rhone, plus Tempranillo. Halter Ranch is a member of the Paso Robles CAB Collectiveand last April at one of their tasting events I was able to try a couple of vintages of their flagship wine, “Ancestor”, a Bordeaux-style reserve blend named after the large coast live oak located on the property. The current 2012 vintage is a blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot and would be lovely enjoyed with some hearty winter dishes.

The Halter Ranch tasting room, located at 8910 Adelaida Road, is open daily from 11am-5pm.

Tablas Creek Winery sign, Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, California

Almost to the end of Adelaida Road lies Tablas Creek, a winery for which I could devote an entire article. I have visited there many times and always learn, see or taste something new.Tablas Creek is about all things Rhone, and indeed they envision their vineyard with all thirteen Châteauneuf du Pape varietals. The project, started in 1985, is a partnership resulting from a long standing relationship between the Perrin family of  Château de Beaucastel and Robert Haas, longtime importer and founder of Vineyard Brands. The vineyard is certified organic and some blocks are farmed by even stricter biodynamic standards. The wines, born of vineyard soils similar to those of Châteauneuf du Pape, and crafted by winemaker, Neil Collins, are traditional Rhone blends, complex and elegant. The grounds reflect their philosophy of working with the land, and I was particularly impressed with the retaining wall created from the calcareous shale native of the area.

calcareous shale

Calcareous wall, Tablas Creek, Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, California

Tablas Creek vineyard, Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, California

Tablas Creek vineyard in summer

I am a huge fan of the Tablas Creek blog - always a great read full of wine info, vineyard updates and local area news. It is maintained by Jason Haas, Partner and General Manager at Tablas Creek, and supported by a team of contributing writers. The tasting room at Tablas Creek, featuring a large and thoughtfully curated  selection of gift items, is open at 9339 Adelaida Road, and is open daily from 10am-5pm. Don’t forget to check out the corral of working animals too!

 

Llamas at Tablas Creek, Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, California

Just a bit further west on Adelaida, history once again beckons you to stop and travel back to a Kiamie Wine Cellars Meritage Paso Roblessimpler time of country living. Located on a small portion of the land homesteaded by the Ramage family in the 1800′s, and occupying one of the original buildings, is Kiamie Wine Cellars. Partners Aram Deirmenjian and Greg Johnson realized their dream of developing a fine California winery with their first vintage, 2005. They moved from a downtown area tasting room to their current location, nearer to the westside vineyards where they source their fruit, in 2010, renovating an old tack room into a cozy, rustic tasting room. Arriving here is like visiting old friends – greeted by Aram or Greg accompanied by one or more of their dogs, you’re welcomed in, poured your first taste, then escorted outside to relax, breath and forget about whatever big city you’re visiting from.

Personal note: It was about 7 years ago that I first met Aram at a tasting event in the San Fernando Valley. During a brief conversation, he made a career suggestion for me involving social media and wineries – thanks Aram for encouraging me to pursue the work I have been very happy doing ever since.

Learn more about Kiamie’s Rhone and Bordeaux style blends.

Also, not to be missed while touring and tasting along Adelaida Road are the Re:Fined Alex Villicana - Re:find DistilleryDistillery hand crafted spirits being produced from wine grapes (really!) by Villicana Winery’s founders Alex and Monica Villicana. Their gin is my personal favorite – just lovely! Visit them and enjoy this unique tasting experience at 2725 Adelaida Road, daily, 11am-5pm.

As always, I’d like to thank all the winery owners and winemakers for their generous hospitality while taking time to show us around and share their stories. It is truly the people of Paso Robles that, along with the land’s beauty and bounty, make Paso Robles an ideal destination for wine tasting and touring.

View the complete photo album for this Paso Robles tasting adventure.

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

 

 

Eat this with…Paso Robles Wine

by Xochitl Maiman   October 16, 2014

Food and wine pairings from Paso Robles wine country.

Just a short 3 and a half hour drive north of Los Angeles lies the tranquil Paso Robles wine region. But don’t let the laid back feel of the area deceive you. Not only has Paso Robles solidly established its place as one of the premier wine grape growing regions of California, but it has developed a food scene to go along with all that wonderful wine. Exciting restaurants fill the downtown area with more opening on a regular basis. Farm to table dinners are now a mainstay at many of the local wineries, pairing locally grown and produced food with the area’s rhones, zins and cabs. Brigit Binns, renowned cookbook author has opened a cooking school and Lisa Pretty, winemaker, writer, foodie and author, has written two cookbooks focusing on the pairing of simple delicious recipes with the wines from the region.  ”eat this with …Paso Robles Wine “- volumes 1 and 2, feature recipes from local wineries, chefs, caterers and Lisa herself with a selection of wine pairing options. This is “no brainer” wine and food pairing for any home cook, that will make you the the star of your dinner parties and weeknight family meals.

East this with Paso Robles wine - cookbook cover

Since I usually have a fair amount of Paso Robles wines on hand, I’ve begun to work my way through LIsa’s recipes and wine pairings and I figured I’d share some of them with you here on my blog.

Nothing says weeknight comfort food like meatloaf and macaroni and cheese. Lisa’s recipe in Volume 2, p. 118 for Turkey Loaf was my choice for last night’s dinner, as I already had most of the ingredients on hand. (No marketing is always a good thing after a busy day at the computer). This recipe features plenty of veggies in the mix for extra flavor and moistness. As for sides – I made mac ‘n’ cheese with Boursin and asiago, and hericot vert, cooked crisp tender with just a sprinkling of salt, pepper and thyme. Lisa suggested 7 possible wine choices from rosé to cabernet franc, but as it is Merlot Month, I went with the J. Lohr Merlot – 2012.

The turkey loaf turned out to be easy to make and really good – I’d definitely make it again. The wine, which I’d never had before, was also a winner. A complex nose of cedar, black pepper, cinnamon and dried strawberries – hints of tobacco and blueberry on the palate – a medium bodied wine with a very satisfying well rounded finish. (As a side note, J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year!)

Paso Robles wine and food  pairing

I’m including the recipe below, but I think you might want to get your own copy of these books so you have all these great food and wine pairings on hand for any occasion. They’d make great gifts for the foodies on your holiday shopping list too.

TURKEY LOAF by Lisa Pretty

serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup grated carrots ( I used purple and orange- added great color)
  • 1 cup finely chopped celery ( I didn’t have celery, so I substituted orange bell peppers)
  • 1 cup vegetable stock ( I used chicken)
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 1 tsp ddried thyme
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (I substituted 1 T. dried basil)
  • 1 T. Worcestershire sauce]
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs (I used french bread crumbs)
  • 1/3 cup tomato based chili sauce ( I used 1/3 cup of catsup mixed with about 2 tsp Worcestershire Sauce)

Pre-heat oven to 350F

Heat olive oil in a medium frying pan. Add onions and garlic, sauté for 3 minutes. Add carrots and celery then sauté for an additional 3 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil. Stir in tomato paste, thyme, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large bowl mix ground turkey,eggs and bread crumbs. Stir in the vegetable mixture and a little salt and pack into a non-stick loaf pan.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and top with chili sauce. Return to oven and bake for an additional 30 minutes.

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

My Thoughts on Wine Blogging

Wine Blogging – What it Means to Me

- Xochitl Maiman    September 7, 2014

Xochitl Maiman wine blogging

Harvest at Cass Winery a few years ago.

In the 2 months since the Wine Bloggers Conference was held, there have been many posts about the conference experience , the wines, the winemakers, and much has been said about wine blogging and wine bloggers. Some wineries don’t see the “value” in wine bloggers – some wine bloggers don’t think other wine bloggers are “doing it right” or are credible enough. So here’s my take on the whole wine blogging thing – for what it’s worth and to whom ever cares. But, after all, isn’t that what a blog ultimately is – a place to voice an opinion, make a statement, share your thoughts?

I started this blog, however many years it was ago, so that I could share my love and admiration for the wines and winemakers of the Central Coast, primarily, and to bring awareness of the many small wineries and their wonderful wines to other wine enthusiasts. I love to write, and I thought this would be a good way to exercise the muscle. That’s it. I never claimed to be a journalist or sommelier. I’m not writing for a Pulitzer or to be offered a job by Wine Spectator or the Wall Street Journal. I write for fun. I love wine. I love wine people. I love vineyards. I love to share my wine/winery discoveries with others.

In my blog posts, you’re not going to find long, colorful descriptions of a wine or my “expert judgement” on a wine’s quality. Suffice it to say, that if I mention a wine in one of my posts, it means I enjoyed it in whatever time and setting it was, with whoever I was with at the time and with whatever food I was enjoying with it. That’s the way wine is. Most wines, (rarely do I come across a wine that is just plain bad, thank goodness), to some degree, are chameleons, and will change their color (not literally) slightly with the circumstances in which one is consuming it. So all I’m ever saying is, I enjoyed this wine, I suggest you try it too and decide for yourself if you like it. Everyone’s palate is different, but there is a lot of wine out there. All I’m doing is helping the reader narrow down the field a bit – offer a bit of direction to their own wine discovery.

As for the wineries that don’t see the value in wine bloggers, here’s what I say. Yes, I agree, that there are many different types of wine bloggers. As for me, if I’ve called a winery asking for a tour or tasting, they can be certain I’ve done my homework. Something about that winery has caught my eye and inspired me to learn more – see/taste for myself. I’m not necessarily going to pepper my posts with quotes, as one blogger suggests all good bloggers must do. Worse yet, I might not even find the time to actually write a blog post about a tasting or winery visit. (Often, there just isn’t enough time in a work day for me to write for myself). My work is in social media – I understand the value of social engaging and sharing. So while I may not blog as often as some, or as eloquently or professionally as others, I am making a conscious effort to continually support the efforts of the wineries I visit by participating on their social properties, posting images, proper tagging, sharing of events and providing opportunities for those in my wine sphere of influence to try the wines I find. And when I do post, I am careful to link to winery websites and include good imagery. Most importantly, my objective is to convey to the reader the “feeling” I had during my visit – how a winemaker looked when he was describing his first wine, the excitement and twinkle in the eye of a new winery owner, the awesome beauty to behold from a tasting room deck looking out onto a sea a vines, the majesty of a giant oak guarding a vineyard block, how a vineyard made me cry (yes it happens quite often), the first taste of a ripe viognier grape……. it goes on and on. Those are the experiences I want to share – that I want my readers to seek out for themselves. If this is the kind of wine blogging you’re interested in reading, I would be honored if you’d stop by from time to time.

I am so lucky to live in a state where wine country, lots of it, is just a couple hours away. I am blessed to have an ever growing circle of friends who appreciate wine and all that goes with it. I am grateful for the many opportunities I am given to learn more, taste more, and meet more of the very special people joining the wine industry every year. And in reference to the latter, I want to thank every winery, winemaker and organization that has offered my a seminar, a tour, a visit, an hour of their valuable time….a taste of their wine – each has contributed to and fostered my never ending love for…wine. Cheers!

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

Paso Robles CAB Collective Events – 2014

by Xochitl Maiman      May 20, 2014

Paso Robles CAB Collective hosts sommeliers, media and trade for 3 days of cabernet fun!

The Paso Robles CAB Collective has earned my vote for outstanding event hosting! And what a marathon of events it was.

Paso Robles CAB Collective - CABS of DistinctionThe Paso Robles CAB (Cabernet and Bordeaux) Collective, currently with 28 members, is positioning the Paso Robles AVA as a major player in the production of high quality, age worthy California Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux varietals. With only one major event under their belt, the CABS of Distinction – 2013, this year they upped their game with events spanning over 5 days for sommeliers, media, trade and consumers, April 22-26.

CABS of Distinction - tasting glassesTo get things started, the PRCC, in collaboration with The SOMM Journal, hosted 20 sommeliers for CAB camp -  instructional experiences with winemakers and vineyard managers, including tastings and vineyard tours. The next day they were joined by a large contingency of trade and media members who together attended the “en primeur” tasting in the afternoon at the iconic Paso Robles Inn Ballroom.

CABS of Distinction-Paso Robles Inn Ballroom 2014This was an excellent opportunity to taste the 2013 vintage, still in barrel for the most part, and get acquainted with the winery owners and winemakers. There clearly was an air of excitement in the room with this being the first event of many to be held in the upcoming days and many of the attendees greeting friends from all areas of the wine industry. Most of these wines, as expected, were not quite ready for bottling, but it became clear that many of them were destined to become wonderful wines to be enjoyed for years to come.

Some standouts to me from this tasting:

Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon – Margarita Vineyard

Calcareous Cabernet Sauvignon – York Mountain

Justin Vineyards & Winery Cabernet Sauvignon (which will likely be part of the Isosceles Reserve blend)

Vina Robles Suendero, a blend of 71% Cabernet Sauvignon/20% Petite Verdot/9% Malbec

Directly after this tasting the wineries shared their current vintages which gave us the opportunity to taste more mature wines from vintages ranging from 2007-2012.

Some standouts for me from this tasting: 

Halter Ranch Vineyard 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon

J. Lohr 2010 Cuvée St. E – a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec

Le Vigne Winery 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

Parrish Family Vineyard 2010 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

With all that tasting, we were glad to head off to our assigned winemaker dinners – some at local Downtown Paso Robles restaurants, others out at the wineries. I knew I would be dining with the folks from Bon Niche Cellars at Buona Tavola, but what I didn’t know was that our party would be an intimate one of just 4 people. Yes, just one other writer and myself would be dining with the incredibly gracious Wally and Joyce Murray! After a short walk from Emily’s House, the Bed and Breakfast where I was staying, I arrived at the restaurant and joined the Murrays at a table in the back of the packed dining room. My hosts shared with us some of their history in the wine industry while we dined on wonderful Italian food and tasted through the wines they brought to share. We had so much fun eating, drinking and chatting, the next thing I knew the restaurant was empty and we were the last ones to leave. Clearly the conversation and the tasting needed to continue and they invited me to come visit them at their winery when they returned from a summer trip to Europe. (I accepted and will feature them in a separate dedicated post – stay tuned)

Joyce and Wally Murray - Bon Niche Cellars

Joyce and Wally Murray – Bon Niche Cellars

Chicken at Buona Tavola

Asiago and prosciutto stuffed chicken – so good!

Bon Niche Cellars

The next morning we were back at the Paso Robles Inn for the panel discussion moderated by Wine Enthusiast contributing editor, Matt Kettmann, and featuring Michael Mooney, owner/winemaker, Chateau Margene, Daniel Daou, proprietor/winemaker DAOU Vineyards & Winery, Kevin Sass, winemaker, Halter Ranch Vineyard and David Parrish, owner/winemaker, Parrish Family Vineyard.

CABS of Distinction Panel Discussion 2014

David Parrish, Matt Kettmann, Michael Mooney, Daniel Daou

CABS of Distinction wines

The featured wines at the panel discussion

These panel discussions always appeal to the wine geek in me – I love to hear these talented artisans speak of clonal selection, soils, yeasts, barrels, trellising, vineyard cropping and canopy, appellations, micro-climates, and of course, their wines. Mooney spoke of his barrel program, Daou spoke of clonal selection, Parrish spoke of trellising and Sass spoke of the benefits of a gravity flow winery. But the take away was unanimous and clear. The many sub-areas of the Paso Robles AVA are prime for growing Bordeaux varietals. As more and more winemakers move towards careful clonal selection and selective vineyard management, more high quality, age-worth wines will be produced. It’s already being done by many wineries and the potential has just been tapped.

Lunch time meant a short walk across the street to Artisan Restaurant where David Parrish and his daughter, Cecily, would be hosting. Once again, gracious and generous hospitality was accentuated by easy conversation and wonderful food and wine. I was so happy to see that the Parrish’s had thought to bring some chardonnay and my palate was more than ready for some white wine. It may have been all about the cabs at this event, but the Chardonnay was lovely. The Parrish Family Vineyards 2009 Silken, a blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon/30% Petite Sirah/4% Petit Verdot was stellar! (I will also be dedicating a post to this winery after my upcoming visit with them at their new vineyard site this summer)

David Parrish and daughter Cecily Ray

David Parrish and daughter Cecily Ray

CABS of Distinction - Lunch at Artisan - Paso Robles

Parrish Family Vineyards - ChardonnayParrish Family Vineyards - 2009 SilkenThe last scheduled event was another tasting – this time the wineries would be pouring their “rare and reserve” wines, showcasing the ageability of these wines. Admittedly, I was suffering a bit from palate fatigue at this point, and managed only a few tastings. Petit Verdot seemed to shine here with wonderful offerings from Bon Niche (100% Petit Verdot – 2009) and Calcareous (2006 Petit Verdot 100% – Denner Vineyard)

After a respite on the porch with “The Goddess of Wine“, Denise Lowe, it was time to jump on the bus with many of the other event attendees and head out to Justin Winery & Vineyards for a BBQ social and…..more wine!

Goddess of Wine

Justin is located at the western end of the Paso Robles AVA and the drive out there was beautiful and relaxing. I hadn’t visited Justin since its renovation and I was to be pleasantly surprised. As we exited the bus and moved towards the tasting room door, we were greeted with a refreshing glass of rosé – always a good beginning! The tasting room was huge with a large 3-sided bar where all the PRCC wineries had placed their bottles to share, all lined up  like soldiers. I felt like a kid in a candy store! We meandered out the back door of the tasting room onto a very large patio with the sun dappled vineyard serving as the backdrop. Just gorgeous!

Justin Vineyard and Winery Tasting Room PatioOut on the grassy area were tables laden with the delectables we’d shortly be consuming, including two roasted pigs! Milling about were friends, old and new, winemakers, owners and other industry people all gathered to celebrate the fruit of the vine in this glorious setting.

CABS of Distinction - 2014 - Justin Vineyards BBQ

It had been a couple of busy days and this was a time to relax before the big consumer event to be held that weekend. After a couple of hours filling ourselves with food and drink, we headed back to town. I felt like a kid coming home from camp  with everyone dozing off as the darkness of the back country enveloped the bus.

On Friday, many of the PRCC wineries hosted in-house events providing consumers with behind the scenes access and engaging them in vineyard and cellar tours, special library tastings, food  and wine pairings, BBQ’s, music and more. Saturday, was the main consumer event, the CABS of Distinction Gala. I didn’t attend this event but a complete re-cap and pictorial are available on their website.

The Paso Robles CAB Collective had indeed been the consummate host – we learned, we tasted, we paired, we talked, we ate…..we will be back. Personally, I look forward to experiencing first hand over the upcoming years, the growth and direction that Paso’s Bordeaux varietal producers will achieve. Cheers to further discovery, the Paso Robles CAB Collective and to Paso Robles!