Tag Archives: food

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!


Paso Robles – Come for the Wine, “Stay” for the History

Paso Robles offers history along with its fine wine, cuisine, places to stay and scenic landscape.

In the many years I’ve been visiting Paso Robles, I have stayed in hotels, Bed & Breakfasts, guest houses and spare bedrooms. Paso Robles offers as much variety in accommodations as the wineries do in wines. All the more fun! Whether you’re looking for functional, rustic, country, a bit of Tuscany, secluded or in the thick of things, Paso Robles has the perfect place for you to “stay” while enjoying your wine country getaway.

For me, I always love a place to visit with some history and Paso’s history is embraced and evident everywhere you turn. During the late 1880’s, prominent local land owners Daniel D. Blackburn and Drury James (the uncle of the outlaw Jesse James), helped establish the beginnings of a town with first-class amenities. They saw to the city’s incorporation in 1889, designed the town’s City Park and, in 1891, built an extensive bathhouse over the sulfur spring as well as the three-story Hotel El Paso de Robles, which is today the Paso Robles Inn. 2014 marks the 125th anniversary of Paso Robles and will be the theme for the annual Pioneer Day Parade to be held October 11, 2014.

The Paso Robles Inn is one of the area’s iconic landmarks valued not only for its comfortable accommodations, rambling gardens, hot springs and downtown location, but for its storied history. It is also home to the Paso Robles Inn Ballroom, the only structure to survive the devastating fire of 1940 that destroyed the original inn. The Paso Robles Inn was re-built in 1942 and in 2000 the Grand Ballroom was restored to its original grandeur, boasting original hardwood floors and high beam ceilings with original light fixtures.

Paso Robles Inn-historicalPaso Robles Inn Grand BallroomJust a short 2 block walk from the Paso Robles Inn stands another charming piece of Paso’s history, Emily’s House Bed & Breakfast. The history of this farmhouse dates back to the late 1800’s when Otto Toevs Sr. emigrated from Russia just before World War I. He opened a general store and started a family.  In 2012, 82 members of the extended Toevs family from around the world gathered for a long-overdue family reunion at the original homestead, which by then had been purchased by Vicki and Kenny Combs and refurbished into the Bed & Breakfast it is today.

Toevs Emily's House Bed and Breakfast

mily's House Bed & Breakfast - Paso Robles, California

Vicki Combs - owner, Emily's House Bed & Breakfast, Paso Robles

Vicki Combs – owner, Emily’s House Bed & Breakfast, Paso Robles

I was invited by Vicki to come for a stay and did so during the recent Paso Robles CAB Collective media events for the CABS of Distinction. Our events were held in the Paso Robles Inn Grand Ballroom so the location was perfect!

Vicki greeted me with the warmth of an old friend, and as I was traveling alone, that was greatly appreciated. As she gave me a tour of her home, I was at once taken with the warm feel and comfort of this old home that has been meticulously given new life with modern updates creating the perfect combination of old and new.  Original wood flooring meets pristine tile floors in the new en suite bathrooms of two of the three guest bedrooms.  The room I stayed in overlooks the expansive farmhouse kitchen with all the modern amenities to serve guests as they gather around the long kitchen table that was built from one of the homes original walls.

Farmhouse kitchen at Emily's Hous Bed and Breakfast Paso Robles

Emily's Room at Emily's House Bed & Breakfast, Paso Robles

Emily’s Room

After a wonderful dinner in town at the popular Buona Tavola, I walked the two blocks back to Emily’s House, and was delighted to find a glass of port in antique crystal and some cookies waiting for me on the bedside table. The bed had been turned down, and the bedside lamp cast a warm glow on the room. A cozy feather bed would provide a good night’s sleep and the smell of brewing coffee would be my awakening.

Port and cookies at Emily's House Bed and Breakfast

After a long hot shower, I dressed quickly, looking forward to the events of the day. But first, some breakfast and a few cups of that great smelling coffee. Vicki clearly has a passion for taking care of her guests and it’s evident in the care she puts into every detail, especially breakfast. The table was set with  silver, crystal and linen, but felt very casual in her big kitchen. We chatted extensively about food and wine and our favorite places to visit it the area while she prepared breakfast.  She loves to get out and about with her guests taking them to all her favorite wineries in the area and was excited to learn of my favorites to add to the list.  Breakfast of Bananas Foster French Toast and Canadian Bacon was a delicious way to start a day that would involve a whole lot of Cabernet. (more on that in a separate post)

Emily's House breakfast Paso RoblesLater that day, Vicki told me about the wonderful weddings they have held in the large back yard which she gardens herself and claims is a “work in progress”. Indeed, they have just re-furbished the pond, added a vegetable garden, a chicken coop with chickens, and are making plans for building a BBQ area. Whimsical items placed throughout the garden and among the exuberant roses, make a stroll through the grounds even more enticing.   A covered patio with plush cushion filled furniture provides the perfect setting for enjoying breakfast or an afternoon glass of wine.

Roses at Emily's House Bed & BreakfastEmily's House Bed and Breakfast Garden Paso RoblesEmily's House Bed and Breakfast Patio Paso RoblesGreat conversation once again accompanied my delicious breakfast the next morning as we chatted about Paso, wine, restaurants, tomatoes, and myriad other subjects. This time the table was set more “country” style and featured a frittata made with fresh kale and mushrooms and sausage – so good! And because Vicki believes, as do I, that all meals deserve a sweet ending, there was her version of apple pie, with bite size pieces of flaky crust mixed in with the apples instead of just on the bottom!

Breakfast at Emily's House Bed and Breakfast Paso Robles

Frittata with rosemary roasted potatoes

Once again, I had experienced the munificent hospitality that is so Paso Robles, leaving feeling as though I had made a new friend for life. With each visit I learn a little bit more about the history of this place and how it influences the Paso Robles of today –the blending of old and new that is the charm of Paso Robles…..I’ll be back…


Local Wine Tasting Events Focus on Wines from Around the World

It’s the season for wine tasting festivals, events and private tastings and I’m trying to squeeze in as many as I can.

Friday, April 12 –

Alta Colina Wine

Private Tasting at Liquid Assets Cellars in North Hollywood, CA of Alta Colina Wines from Paso Robles. This Tillman family owned and operated winery has come to be known as one of the Central Coast’s most acclaimed Rhone producers and Maggie Tillman brought along an impressive line-up to share. She started the tasting off with their 2012 Grenache Blanc, as yet un-released, which was luscious and crisp, then we moved into a variety of Syrahs and Syrah blends.

-2012 Grenache Blanc.  86% Grenache Blanc, 14% Marsanne.

-2010 GSM.  45% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 25% Syrah.

-2010 Toasted Slope Syrah.  100% Syrah.

-2010 Block 2 Bio Syrah.  100% Syrah.

-2010 Old 900 Syrah.  95% Syrah, 4% Mourvedre, 1% Viognier.

Saturday, April 13 –

Wine tasting group over for tapas, Paella and Spanish Wines (of course a few non-Spanish wines made their way into the line-up). Always a good time, good food and good wine when this group gets together! Guests this evening included wine writer/educator, Denise Lowe, the “Goddess of Wine“, Shawn Burgert, The Wandering Wino, Shawn Shai Halahmy of Shai Cellars, Rico Mandel, photographer extraordinaire and many more of my favorite “wineaux”.



Spanish Wines

Thursday April 18 –

Valley Cultural Center Food, Wine and Micro-Brew Festival – Large event in Woodland Hills, CA featured many fine wines and tasty bites from local restaurants and caterers. I was pouring at this event so didn’t get to do as must tasting as I would have liked, but from where I was standing it sure looked like a great time was had by all. What was I pouring, you ask? Rabbit Ridge 2010 Grenache Blanc Paso Robles. Wonderfully crisp, floral and refreshing. Great summer wine! Check it out here.

Saturday, April 20 –

1st Annual Sierra Pelona Valley Wine Festival – Aqua Dulce, CA – Yes, there is wine in them hills, in fact Sierra Pelona is one of California’s newest AVA’s and is located just 45 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.  The festival was held at the beautiful Reyes Winery and featured the wines of  over a dozen wineries, a couple of  tequila’s and gourmet bites from some of the local restaurants. Highlights for me were the wines of Pulchella Winery and Harris Wine Biz, along with the Tequila Anejo from Tres Sietes.

Harris Wine Biz

Tres Sietes Anejo Tequila

Sierra Pelona Valley Wine Festival at Reyes Winery

Monday,  April 22 –

32 chateaux from the Right Bank of the Gironde estuary of Bordeaux were featured at this grand tasting from Le Cercle Rive Droite de Grands Vins de Bordeaux held at The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

The Peninsula Hotel - Beverly Hills, California

18 appellations were represented pouring their Merlot driven wines and introducing the 2012 vintage, which seemed generally to get a “thumbs up”. The other vintage widely represented was 2010, “Wines To Dream Of”, thanks to the year’s exceptional weather. Most of the wineries pouring are family-run and under 40 acres in size. It was great to listen to the family representatives, many of them also the winemaker, speak so passionately about their wines. It’s times like these that I really wish I could speak French! Paying close attention, I received a wonderful explanation/history of Malbec and Grand Cru classifications from the gentleman from Chateau de Pressac.  While many of the wines were young and could use bottle aging and/or decanting, I found most of them to be elegant, well balanced with interesting notes of various fruits and spice, making each wine unique yet truly indicative of the region. I very much enjoyed this tasting and look forward to my next opportunity to try these wines.

Le Cercle Rive Droite Grands Vins de Bordeaux

Chateau de Pressac - Bordeaux

Chateau Gaby

Chateau Jean de Gué

Next up:

Chianti Grand Tasting LA – Thursday, April 25

Cabs of Distinction – April 26-27 – Paso Robles, Calif.


Which tasting events are your favorites? Cheers!


Tolosa Winemaker Dinner

Last night about 50 lucky diners were treated to a gourmet feast at the Tolosa Winemaker Dinner at Fab’s in Sherman Oaks, created by guest chef Rico Mandel. Fab’s is the neighborhood restaurant frequented by my “wineaux” friends  for dinner and our monthly wine tastings. And while there were many more guests at this event, it still felt comfortable and intimate as friends and family of Chef Rico gathered to begin the feast.


After a glass of perfectly chilled Proseco at the bar, we took our seats, and our gracious hostess, Amelia Yokel, promptly poured us a glass of Tolosa 2009 Oaked Chardonnay. The “oohs” and “aahs” were immediately audible as the amuse bouche was set before us as well. The roasted peach slices with fresh fig, pancetta lardons and treviso was a work of art and a fantastic combination of textures and flavors.


The next course reflected the bounty of the summer season combining lobster, heirloom tomato and watermelon slices with dill, hazelnuts and a drizzle of truffle oil. This course was paired with Tolosa 2010 No Oak Chardonnay, and each served to elevate the other.


After Amelia poured our first red of the evening, the Tolosa  2009 Pinot Noir, our first entreé arrived. Prosciutto wrapped chicken roulade stuffed with sundried tomatoes and greens, with asparagus and sage cream sauce. Have you ever seen a table full of adults pick up their plates and lick them clean? Well somehow we managed to maintain some level of decorum, but that sauce was “crazy delicious”!


As we recovered from this buttery indulgence, Amelia came by with the first of two Syrahs we would be enjoying with the meat course, Tolosa 2009 Syrah. Winemaker, Larry Brooks, explained to us that the fruit for this wine and the second Syrah, 2007 “1772” Reserve Syrah, are from the same vineyard, but some vintages produce fruit that is so special it winds up in the “1772”. Indeed I did prefer the raisin-y, earthier flavors of the “1772” with the venison chop with baby artichoke hearts, chanterelles, summer squash and Hibiscus sauce, but both syrahs were lovely.


Dessert, poached apricots, ricotta mousse and chocolate dipped almond florentine topped with blackberry syrah sauce (yum) was paired with an equally (yum) dessert wine, Tolosa’s 2009 Legacy Sweet Viognier.


Ahhhhhh……delicious wine…..savory food…..laughter…..good friends…..and all on a Wednesday! I’ll Drink to That!