Tag Archives: Rhone

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!


LAW Estate Wines – Paso Robles

LAW is coming to Paso Robles!

At this year’s Rhone Ranger tasting, Los Angeles in June,  I was quite impressed by my first tasting of the wines of LAW Estate Wines, opening in Paso Robles later this year. So I made arrangements to delve further into this new wine estate with a tour of the winery/tasting room construction site and vineyard in late July.

LAW Estate Wines is the dream of proprietors, Don and Susie Law. They have brought on one of Paso Robles’ top winemakers, Scott Hawley to head up the wine program, and have acquired a 45 acre site for the winery, (up to 10,000 case production capability), and 260 acres for vineyard plantings on the west side of Paso Robles off of Peachy Canyon Road. Their inaugural vintage, (2010 with a 1500 case production), of  big, lush red wines, is set to be released to their allocation list in the Fall.

Our guide for the day was Oliver Esparham, the General Manager of the estate, and he gave us a pretty extensive tour of the properties along with a tasting of some of their wines. We started by walking the site for the winery and tasting room. This is big, folks! State of the art gravity flow winery, 22 concrete tanks with built in jackets for temperature control, lab on site, indoor and outdoor tasting areas and an “Owner’s Library” for private tastings.

LAW Estate Wines winery and tasting room under construction - Paso Robles, Calif.

LAW Estate Wines winery and tasting room under construction - Paso Robles, Calif.

22 4-ton concrete tanks (concrete eggs for whites)

22 4-ton concrete tanks

Tasting Room

Looking through main building at "Owner's Library"

After touring the facility, we drove over to the nearby owner’s residence and tasted a bit of the “Audacious”, a blend of  44% Grenache, 26% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Syrah and 10% Petit Sirah. Lots of bright fruit, weight and complexity from the Syrah, acidity and a bit of chalkiness from the layers and layers of rock that make up the hillside vineyard.

LAW Estate Wine's 2010 "Audacious"

LAW Estate Wine's 2010 "Audacious"

After enjoying the air conditioning and the wine, we hopped into a mule and headed out to the vineyard. The vineyard at 1800 feet of elevation is one of the highest vineyards in the area. 32 acres were planted to Rhone varietals in 2008 with 80% planted to multiple clones of Grenache and Syrah. Small blocks are also planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. The layers of  limestone make for a wonderful vineyard, but one dusty ride in an open mule. No worries though, the vineyard is beautiful and the views spectacular!

View from the winery of the hillside vineyards of LAW Estate Wines

View from the winery of the hillside vineyards of LAW Estate Wines

Modified goblet trained vines - LAW Family Vineyards

Modified goblet trained vines - LAW Family Vineyards

Oliver in the Law Family Vineyard

Oliver in the Law Family Vineyard

The hour got late and we needed to leave, so Oliver gave us a bottle of “Sagacious” to take with us to taste at a later date. We tasted this wine, 44% Grenache, 42% Syrah, 14% Mourvedre, with some Paso wine loving friends. Here are their comments: “full mouthfeel”, “yummy”, “big but not overpowering – smooth”, “minerals in nose”, “dark cherry, little tobacco, dried plums”. The winery website describes the wine this way, “…fantastic acidity that allows this really big wine to feel almost light on its feet”. “And that is a perfect description. At the Rhone Ranger event I also tasted the “Intrepid”, a 100% Syrah, (dried figs in the nose), and “Beguiling”, (94% Grenache/6% Syrah), smooth, soft tannins, full with big cherry finish. At the tasting I gave all four wines highest marks. Jeb Dunnuck of “The Rhone Report” gave all four wines very high scores. Read his reviews here.

I’d like to thank Don Law and Oliver Esparham for allowing me access to the “behind the scenes” of this new winery that I’m sure we are going to hear lots of great things about in the future. Look for their opening and make this a “must visit” on your 2014 visit to Paso Robles!



People often ask me about Viognier. When I try to explain it to them, I am reminded of all the many styles in which it can be made. It can be perfumey or redolent of tropical fruits. It’s mouthfeel can be thick and rich or light with crisp acidity. But whichever style you prefer, there is a viognier for every palate, and finding the style that’s right for you is half the fun. Although this grape is the star of Condrieu in France, California is making some shining examples, many from the Central Coast. Many wineries blend their Viognier with Rousanne and Marsanne, creating a white Rhone blend that I find absolutely delicious!

I first started drinking Viognier when I began to see them popping up more and more on my winery visits to the Santa Ynez Valley. The nose on most of those wines was very floral and perfumy. Not my favorite attributes and they carried over into the flavor profile as well. But because the wine itself was so clean and crisp with a lovely full mouthfeel, I persisted,  tasting as many examples as I could find. Eventually, over not too many years, I noticed a trend. More and more of the Viogniers I was tasting had lost that perfumy component while maintaining a wonderful honeysuckle nose. Ahhh, now I was obsessed. Viognier, and Rhone white varietal blends became a passion, and I was thrilled whenever I found one in a winery’s tasting line-up.

One of my “go to” Viogniers comes from Bridlewood Estate Winery, whose gorgeous tasting room is located on the Eastern edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. No visit to this wine region would be complete without visiting this beautiful property, and no visit complete without tasting their Viogniers. Using fruit sourced from the Central Coast, Bridlewood’s Viognier expresses  an viognieraromatic bouquet of honeysuckle and nectarines, with a flavor profile featuring guava and nectarines. The wine is well balanced with a rich creamy mouthfeel. This versatile wine drinks great before a meal, and pairs beautifully with fish with a cream sauce, scallops, chicken and pasta with a brie cheese sauce and chives.

Also in the same area Tolosa Winery, along with their wonderful pinots, is making some nice Viognier. Their 2009 is 100% Viognier made with fruit  sourced from the Edna Valley AVA. It is fermented in stainless steel and then bottled to preserve freshness. This wine exemplifies the varietal with orange blossom and peach in the nose, medium acidity with a full mouthfeel, and finishing with a bit of lemon.

One of my very favorite Viogniers is from Cass Winery in Paso Robles. I have been a fan of their wines for a number of years and last year I had the opportunity to help bring in their 09 Viognier harvest. What fun that was! dscn1650csIt was a warm August morning as I entered their vineyard on the East side of Paso, where I met up with Steve and Ted, owners, Ted’s wife Lisa, the winemaker Lood Kotze and the rest of the Cass harvest team.aug-sept-09-234s As I spent the next couple of aug-sept-09-222chours sorting through bins of sweet viognier grapes, I became acutely aware of the event’s significance. This is the moment when a year’s worth of tending, nurturing, worrying, watching, waiting, hoping and praying comes together.  When that tenuous partnership between mother nature and farmer survives another year of negotiations and deal making, the fruit of that relationship is harvested, with a sigh of relief and a heavy dose of gratitude, not forgetting for one moment that this is the wine we’ll be drinking next year. Oh how much more wonderful that Viognier tastes this year! Must try this one with the famous crab cakes served every day at the Winery.

So give up the Chardonnay just for a while and venture into the world of Rhone white varietals. You won’t be disappointed. Cheers!

Chef Jacob’s Crab Cake Recipe

1 lb. Crabmeat (Phillips Crab)
½ cup Cooked Corn (frozen petite white corn)
¼ cup finely diced onion
½ cup finely diced green, yellow, red, or orange bell pepper
½ cup finely diced celery
½ cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup smooth Dijon mustard
Dash of Sirachi hot sauce
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups Panko bread crumbs (1 cup in mix, 1 cup for coating)

*Preheat oven to 425

Combine all ingredients and mix until ingredients are evenly incorporated without over mixing. Form crab mixture into eight balls/patties. Carefully coat the patties with the remaining 1 cup panko bread crumbs and chill covered for at least 30 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium-size skillet. Cook patties over medium heat until golden on one side (about 3 minutes) then flip to other side and place entire pan in oven for about 4 minutes.

Makes 4 lunch sized portions. Serve with side of remoulade and enjoy!

Chef Jacob’s Remoulade Recipe

1 cup Mayonnaise
¼ cup smooth Dijon mustard
1 minced shallot
2 Tbsp non-pariel capers, chopped
1 Tbsp Meyer lemon juice
½ tsp siracha hot sauce
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp smoked paprika

Mix all together!