Tag Archives: Syrah

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!


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!


Rhone Rangers – Los Angeles Tasting Event – 2011

Last Sunday I attended the Rhone Rangers tasting at Pier 59 Studios West in Santa Monica. Year after year, this continues to be one of my favorite events. Not too big, nice open venue, and lots of my favorite Rhone style wines, many from Paso Robles.

So, in case you’re wondering what is Rhone Rangers….it is an association devoted to promoting producers in California, Washington, New York and Oregon who specialize in the varietals originally from the Rhone region of France. While there are 22 recognized Rhone varietals, only a few stand out as the principal players.  The whites include Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. Reds are headed up by Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre and supported by others like Cinsault, Petite Sirah and Carignan. Many of these show up in blends, adding even more interest, intensity, color and flavor to these already luscious, complex wines.

The  Central Coast is well suited for these varietals and more and more winemakers are producing these wines, experimenting with all matter of blends and styles. Lucky us – so much to taste!

Some of my favorite producers are:

Cypher – Templeton, CA

Ecluse – Paso Robles, CA

Edward Sellers – Paso Robles, CA

Frick – Geyserville, CA

Villa Creek – Paso Robles, CA

Holly’s Hill – Placerville, CA

Ridge Vineyards – Cupertino, CA

Kiamie Wine Cellars – Paso Robles, CA

Cass – Paso Robles

….just to name a few! One new one to add to the list is Jada Vineyard & Winery. I tasted their wines for the first time at this event  and was intrigued by their unique 09 White Blend and their rich 08 Syrah, Jersey Girl.

Besides tasting new wines, these events are also a great time to make new friends and catch up with old ones.

Denise Lowe and Xochitl Maiman

Denise Lowe and Xochitl Maiman