A true Sonoma County classic wine pairing

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2011 Sonoma-Cutrer Les Pierres Chardonnay,  Gravenstein Apple Pie ala mode with Clover Stornetta Vanilla Bean ice cream.

The very best of Sonoma County!

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Tom Simoneau, “The Wine Guy” – A Make-a-Wish Charity Auction Lot

A few months back I attended the annual Make-a-Wish event at the Sonoma-Cutrer vineyards and was lucky enough to win one of the live auction lots, the Wine Experience with Tom Simoneau “The Wine Guy.”

Make-A-Wish May 2010
Make-A-Wish May 2010

The stars aligned and we were finally able to schedule this event and get together to taste some great wine, eat some great food, and have some amazing conversations about the juice we all love.

Here’s a little background on Tom, I snagged this clip from his website, http://www.tomsimoneau.com/ (I’ll add some personal color from our experience).

Tom Simoneau, the KSRO Wine Guy for the past thirteen years, knows the wine business. A grape grower, a winemaker, a wine marketer, wine educator, wine judge and wine critic, Tom Simoneau is the walking definition of “Wine Guy”.

Born in Maine and educated in Boston, Tom shunned graduate school at Boston University to form a country rock and roll band. It was his musical career that eventually placed Simoneau in wine country. “We based our California operation in Healdsburg because it reminded us of Maine and it was close enough to San Francisco, so we could pursue our dream of a record deal.”

Since Tom is “The Wine Guy” here is a his syndicated wine minute from our Make-A-Wish Event:  Click Here to play audio – Make-A-Wish072910.

Tom Simoneau - The Wine GuyNorcal Wingman on-air Live this Thursday!

I will be on the radio with Tom Simoneau this Thursday, July 29th around 4:30 PM, on KSRO’s The Drive with Steve Jaxon.  You can listen live by visiting KSRO.com and clicking on “Listen Live” or tuning into 1350 AM, if you live in the greater Sonoma County area.  The Drive is on daily, from 3:00PM to 6:00PM (Pacific Time of course) and usually features local Sonoma County luminaries, of a much higher caliber than myself.  Check it out HERE.

Tom and his wife Brenda really put out the red carpet for us. We decided upon a Cabernet Sauvignon tasting and Tom said he had something creative he’d put together for our group.

Our group, was not an ordinary tasting group, I can’t remember what Tom said exactly, but he said he was going to really have to put something special together.  Included in our tasting crew were Sonoma-Cutrer’s new winemaker, Mick Shroeter (formerly of Geyser Peak & Penfold’s) his lovely wife Linda, my wife’s Aunt and Uncle who are also wine grape growers and home winemakers, and me and “the wife.”

TastingCrew
The Tasting Crew - Pictured (from left to right): Brian & Michelle Wing, Mick & Linda Schroeter, Sharon & Bob Duste, Brenda & Tom Simoneau

Upon our arrival we were greeted with glasses of Chandon bubbly and we began getting acquainted over some fantastic hors d’oeuvres, prepared by Tom’s wife Brenda.

Chicken Salad on Fresh Cucumber
Chicken Salad on Fresh Cucumber

Now, just to be clear, Tom and Brenda’s house, “Simoneau Ranch,” has one of the most spectacular views of the Alexander Valley that I’ve ever seen.  They’re located just east of Hwy 101 in Healdsburg and the view from their back porch looks across the Simoneau vineyards, and up toward the Geysers and off to the right in the distance you see Mt. St. Helena, a truly stunning spectacle!  Anyhow, I digress.  We chatted about wine and toured the property.  Tom showed us his vineyards and gave us a nice look at his cellar where he has cases upon cases of wines stacked to the ceiling, ribbons and awards for his wines, and some empty bottles, “trophies” of past experiences, each with a story.

After the tour it was back up to the house where we enjoyed some more snacks and tasted Tom’s two wines, a Chardonnay, “Brenda Lee’s,” a lovely, lightly oaked Chard, with about 10% malolactic fermentation, and his Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Oh, I forgot to mention, Tom used to sell his grapes to Silver Oak up until recently when the economy tanked so now he just makes his own Cab (it’s great by the way).  Well after some tasty snacks, a goat cheese flan (see recipes below) and some bacon wrapped figs stuffed with blanched almonds, we got on with the main event.

Tom and Brenda had set up a double-blind, Sonoma versus Napa, no-holds-barred Cabernet Sauvignon battle royale!

Double Blind
Six Cabernet Competitors

The Cabernet Contenders:

From the West (Sonoma County):

2005, Jordan, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvigon, $52
2005, Chateau St. Jean, Cinq Cepages, Sonoma County, $75
2004, Robert Young, Scion, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, $58

From the East (Napa County):

2006, Oakville Ranch, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, $60
2006, Swanson Vineyards, Alexis, Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
, $75
2005, Revana Family Vineyards, St. Helena, Cabernet Sauvignon, $149

All Set for a great Tasting
Table for 8 with 48 Glasses

We each tasted though the wines together and discussed the characteristics and qualities we saw, smelled and tasted.  It was quite an educational experience for me.  Having both Tom Simoneau (who also teaches wine tasting/judging at the local community college) and Mick Schroeter discussing and dissecting the wines and then sharing what they experienced and comparing that to what I was getting out of them was really cool.

A Great Tasting
Blind Tasting Crew at Simoneau Ranch

It gave me insight into what a world-class wine maker looks for when tasting and judging wines.  It also made me feel pretty good about my own palate and overall sensory capacity for wine, I’m making some incremental improvements (if I do say so myself).

So when it was all said and done, we had a clear winner and two wines that were so close that second and third place could have been combined into a tie for second.  Here are some of the scoring details:

First Place: 2006, Swanson Vineyards, Alexis, Oakville, Cabernet Sauvignon. Big and Juicy with grainy tannins, hints of licorice.

Second Place: 2004, Robert Young, Scion, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Coffee and Cocoa cover this Alexander Valley beauty, great tannic structure that is well representative of the AVA.

Third Place:  2005, Chateau St. Jean, Cinq Cepages, Sonoma County Red Wine.  Soft and supple, ripe red fruit and easy drinking tannins make this Sonoma Valley Red shine.

And the Winner is...
The Favorite Cabernet Is...

A great time was had by all and I can’t wait for next year’s Make-A-Wish event so I can try and win again.  Not only did we have some great wine and great conversation but the money made from Tom’s donation and my winning bid goes to help out a great cause.  The Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation® grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy.  Please support them if you can, it’s an amazing organization.

Again, I want to extend a heart felt thank you to Tom and his wife Brenda for being such gracious hosts.  This was truly an exceptional experience and it could not have been possible without their generosity to both the Make-A-Wish foundation, and to us.

Cheers!
Brian
norcalwingman

Below are the recipes of a few of the outstanding treats Brenda Simoneau prepared for us, Enjoy!  Be on the lookout for a cookbook by Brenda in the not to distant future.

Savory Goat Cheese Flan

Recipe by Brenda Simoneau

1 cup half-and-half
8 oz. sour cream
3 eggs
1 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz. Bucheron goat cheese
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp. of unsalted butter at room temperature

Depending on the size of your ramekins (custard cups) generously butter 6 – 8.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

While the goat cheese is cold remove the rind, place goat cheese in your mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it come to room temperature. Once at room temperature, mash with a fork. Add one egg at a time mixing well. Add the sour cream and mix well. Finally, add the salt, thyme, and half-and-half. Mix well.

Divide the custard among the ramekins, place them in a baking dish, and add very hot water to the pan so it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake until the custards are set, about 25 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. Place the ramekins on a cooling rack and let sit for about 5 minutes.

Serve warm in the ramekins or run a knife around the edge of each ramekin, turn them out, and serve with a simple green salad.

Kalamata Olive Breadsticks

Recipe by Brenda Simoneau

1 tsp. active dry yeast
5 oz. warm water
1 tbs. olive oil
2 cups of flour
1 tsp. salt
30 pitted kalamata olives roughly chopped

This recipe makes about 76 skinny breadsticks. You’ll want to set up more than one baking sheet, so you can quickly rotate them in and out of your oven.

Stir the yeast into the warm water in a large mixing bowl. Let it stand for about 10 minutes. Stir in the olive oil.  Add the salt, chopped olives, and 1 cup of flour. Stir until everything comes together. Add half cup flour and stir until the dough comes together. Add a ¼ cup of flour and stir until the dough comes together. Lightly sprinkle some of the remaining flour on your work surface and knead the dough. Sprinkle and incorporate more flour as needed until the dough is smooth and soft.

Pat the dough into a rectangle (roughly 6” x 14”) on a surface that you can use a knife on. Lightly brush with olive oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 30 minutes.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees.

The dough should be very elastic now making it very easy to shape your breadsticks. Cut off a piece of dough about as thick as a finger. Lay it on your work surface, roll back and forth as your hands work out to the ends. This stretches out the dough to the desired length. Remember they will puff up in the oven to about twice the thickness that you rolled them out to. Lay them about an inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the pan and bake for 10 more minutes. Continue baking and checking every 3 minutes or so until they’re crisp and golden.

Chicken Salad

Recipe by Brenda Simoneau

1 poached boneless, skinless chicken breast
¼ cup diced celery
¼ cup chopped pecans
2 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
½ tsp. salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ sour cream

Slice the chicken against the grain, and then chop into small pieces. You want about one cup. Place the chopped chicken and all other ingredients in a bowl. Mix together. Taste and then adjust the salt and pepper.

Serve on cucumber slices, crackers, or toast.

Not Bad for a Thursday Night – Saturday Summer School Edition #2

Another week of summer school is down, thank god!  I’m tired.  I volunteered to help out “the wife” this weekend at her winery’s wine club pick-up party.  Let me tell you, I have the best of both worlds, that of a wine consumer and living on the fringe of being “in the industry.”  I was recruited to do some pouring, help with set-up, and general support of the party.  Here’s where it gets cool.  The party included a cooking demonstration with Chef Mateo Granados;

Chef Mateo

and wine tasting seminar with Sonoma-Cutrer’s new winemaker Mick Shroeter.

Sonoma-Cutrer Winemaker Mick Schroeter

The wine seminar was a side-by-side tasting of three of Sonoma-Cutrer’s 1999 Vintage Chardonnays, The Founder’s Reserve, The Cutrer, and Russian River Ranches.

A Great Lineup

So this won’t be a post with anything I’ve cooked (Yet!)  It will be a gratuitous plug for the Sonoma-Cutrer winery and wine club, as well as for Chef Mateo and his catering business.

Chef Mateo’s focus is on Yucatan cuisine utilizing fresh, local, sustainably and organic or bio-dynamically farmed produce and meat.  Let me just tell you, It is amazing!  In addition to catering, Chef Mateo has a mobile restaurant that sets up in random spots around Sonoma County (mostly in the Healdsburg area).  Here’s a great post from Heather Irwin (Bite Club Eats) on some of the latest gossip on Chef Mateo’s Mobile restaurant. (http://www.biteclubeats.com/2010/06/mateo-on-the-move-again.html)

Chef Mateo and "the wife" (Michelle)

So Today’s menu included four great dishes, each paired with one of Sonoma-Cutrer’s awesome wines.

1.  Tacones, Olive oil Guacamole with Carne Asada – Paired with “The Cutrer”
2. Papadzules, an Egg Stuffed Tortillas with Pumpkin seed and epazote sauce – Paired with “Founder’s Reserve”
3. Ceviche curado with chicharone – Paired with “Russian River Ranches”
4. Empenadas stuffed with fingerling potato and fava – Paired with “Les Pierres”

The cooking demonstration covered the Ceviche Curado and Papadzules.  Chef Mateo is really into cooking with what’s in season.  He said he would normally use some tomato with the ceviche but they are not currently in season so he used rhubarb to add some tartness instead.

Here’s the recipe courtesy of Chef Mateo Granados.

Cured Bolinas halibut, chicarrones, & market greens—severs 4 people

Ingredients:

1 lb. halibut or your favorite white fish

5 Meyer lemons

¼ lb. pork back fat

1 bunch radishes

½ lb. curly cress or watercress

Good quality olive oil

Sea salt

Cure halibut:

-on a sheet pan place a layer of plastic to coat the bottom of the pan

-thinly slice fish

-add the juice of the 5 Meyer lemons

-cure 45 min. at room temperature

Chicarrones:

-dice pork fat into 2 inch dice

-generously salt the diced pork and let stand for 10 min.

-slowly render pork until crispy

-remove to cool

Market Salad:

-shave radishes

-pick cress

-mix together in a small bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt to taste.

Plate:

-arrange 4-5 slices of cured fish (do not dry) on a 10” plate

-garnish with market salad

-sprinkle chicarrone for texture

Ceviche Curado

The food and wine pairings were all fantastic and it was fun to hang out with some wine club members, drink some great wines and play some croquette.

Norcal Croquette

I’m kind of partial, but I have to say that being a wine club member over at Sonoma-Cutrer actually has some pretty serious benefits. This event was no cost to the wine club members!  I highly recommend checking out this club, they do events across the US to accommodate their non-norcal members, so even if you don’t live in wine country you can enjoy the benefits of membership.

Well, I’m sorry I didn’t provide you a “Norcal Wingman” prepared Not Bad, hopefully this will be a viable substitute.   The ceviche is an awesome warm summer day dish, it’s cool and refreshing especially when paired with a great Chardonnay.

Cheers
Brian

The new Thursday…and a quickie

Hello everyone.  I wanted to give you an update since my next four weeks will be exceptionally hectic.  Thursday Night Dinner is going to have to take the proverbial “Back Burner” position as I slog through a summer inter-session course at school.  I’m hoping that this move will allow me to continue to provide all eight of you who actually post comments something while I’m buried in condensed coursework!

developingMgmtSkills
Developing Managment Skills

I will also endeavor to review a wine or two (and a Soiree Wine Decanter) at least once a week but we’ll see how intense school gets.

By the way, I wanted to extend a huge thank you to Shana Ray and Dani Stranghellini for getting me involved with the Russian River Valley Single Night.  I had a great time and met some cool people.  Keep up the great work!

leadership
Leadership w/new RRV Glass 😉

Until then, Cheers!

Okay, just one quickie.  In the glass is some 1990 Les Pierres, Sonoma-Cutrer brought home as a treat from a grower’s relations dinner.

The Nose: If you have had Les Pierres you know that it has a really subtle oak character, but this one is big oak on the nose, with melon and floral aromas (honeysuckle?).
The Taste: Crisp green apples with a backup of fresh Bartlett pear, followed by toast
The Mouth Feel: Great tart acidity kicks off the show and gives way to a silk covered palate this sultry twenty year old has it going on.  Great legs and all.  She leaves you a reminder on the way out that she’s been there and she left without any bitter feelings!
The Color: Solid Chardonnay Yellow, through and through
The Nitty Gritty:
Sorry I don’t have much on this 80% from Les Pierres Vineyard and 20% The Cutrer Vinyard.
The Verdict: yum, you can’t have any it’s all mine and there wasn’t much to go around!  89 Pts,  B+

Alright, I really must be going.  I have two chapters to read and a self-assessment to start (stay tuned for that, I’m guessing quite an expose blog post to be generated from that).

Cheers,
Brian
norcalwingman

2000 Sonoma-Cutrer, Les Pierres, Chardonnay

Today was a good #winewednesday, the wife had a 12 year vertical tasting of Les Pierres and was nice enough to think of me and bring home the 2000 vintage.  Apparently it got a 2.7 average score on a 1-5 scale where 1 is the best, which is pretty good apparently, there were 11 tasters.  Anyhow, who cares what the pros think, I’m here to tell you what I think, and that’s why you’re here right?  No, I didn’t think so…  Anyhow, without further ado.

Vintage 2000 Les Pierres, Appellation Sonoma Valley, Sonoma-Cutrer, Chardonnay.  (quick side note, in 2000 The Russian River AVA didn’t exist, cool huh?) <–Corrected by my wife… I just did a quick check.  The appellation was granted AVA status in 1983 and enlarged in 2005.[1] (wikipedia.com)

2000 Les Pierres
2000 Sonoma-Cutrer Les Pierres

The Nose: Buttery oak and popcorn balls are followed by caramel apples, there is just the faintest hint of heat on this nose.

The Taste: Tart apples predominate this wine with a suggestion of citrus zest.  I think there is some spice in there something in the neighborhood of nutmeg.

The Mouth Feel: This wine is super sexy, I’m reminded of the quote from “The Matrix Reloaded” when the Merilvingian is talking about cursing in French.  If you don’t remember, he said something along the lines of “it’s like wiping your ass with silk…I love it” or something like that.  Perhaps that isn’t the best visual for this mouth feel but it’s awesome, definitely the best character of this wine.  Great viscosity and front to back, and side to side.  The finish is long and keeps a reminder going for days, nice minerality.

The Color: I would imagine that most 10 year old whites would look something like apple cider, brownish and cloudy, this is bright and clean, beautiful solid yellow from core to edge.

The Nitty Gritty: Unfortunately I don’t have much besides ABV,

ABV 14.2% (seems high to me for a Chard)
Completed Malolactic in 1-year old French Oak
Sur-Lie Aged 14 Months in 3-year old Barrels

2005 Vintage Retails for $41 on Sonoma-Cutrer.com
Quick Google search you might find a magnum of the 2000 for around $70, not bad!

The Verdict: The great thing about this wine is that even though it has big oak on the nose, the taste is light on the oak.  I have had quite a few vintages of Les Pierres now and this one, like the rest is really great.  If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up…  (Bueller… Bueller..)

91 Pts, A-

2000 Sonoma-Cutrer Les Pierres
2000 Sonoma-Cutrer Les Pierres

Make-A-Wish @ Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards – Croquet Invitational

5/21/2010 Just a quick update, I received a thank you letter today from Make-A-Wish, they raised over $760,000 in cash and “in-kind” donations.  Wow!

Once in a while a convergence of powers come together and amazing things happen.

Last weekend was one of these occasions.  Wine and Wishes, the Make A Wish Foundation holds an annual event at Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, this coincides with the ” US Open”of Croquet, it is an invitational event where the best Croquet players get together and compete on the amazing courts of Sonoma-Cutrer.

In conjunction with this event Make-A-Wish holds one of their fundraisers.  An auction based on wine and wishes, they gather donations from local Sonoma and Napa County wineries and business and the attendees bid on these great items which benefit the children of Make-A-Wish.  These children are all afflicted with some fashion of terminal disease or condition and they are granted one amazing wish.  The proceeds of events like this allow them myriad possibilities.  We were graced by one such individual who’s wish was to visit Egypt and see the Great Pyramids of Giza.  His story was told and it’s nearly impossible to not hear this and have a dry eye.

This year Make-A-Wish raised over $200,000 at this event alone!  (I’ll see if I can get the final number but the executive director Patricia Wilson said it would be well over that number)

Wine has some amazing pull.  The folks attending this event paid $200 per seat with about 600 attendees, this was just the beginning.  There were 31 live auction lots and many more silent auction lots.  The auctions ranged from collections of wines to a Safari in Africa and a seven night adventure in a Scottish castle.

waiting to bid

I was fortunate to win lot 21, wine education seminar with Tom Simoneau (local wine radio host, and winemaker) with dinner at Girl & the Fig in Sonoma, CA.  (watch for a post on that one!)

Tom Simoneau, Michelle, Me

I got to do some pouring of my own.  My wife put me to work!  Oh well, work like this ain’t bad.  I was pouring some 2003 Sonoma-Cutrer, Founders Reserve Pinot and some just released 2007 Russian River Pinot (Big Bottle 3L Jeroboams).

My Boss, my Wife!

By the way, opening up these big bottles is really challenging 😉

Pouring is hard work!

Along with all of the charity at this event there were some great wines to be had.  I was lucky enough to get a couple of tastes of the oldest white wines I will likely ever have!  Retiring Sonoma-Cutrer winemaker Terry Adams showed us how to properly open a few Jeroboams.

A master at work
Me with Terry Adams

Some 1986 and 1988 Chardonnays…  Yeah, that’s a 24 year old white wine!  These were awesome.  I could hardly believe, not only how well these wines stood up to time, but how amazing they tasted.  The finish on the ’86 was longer than any wine in recent memory.

1986!

There were some great people at this event.  The winemaking crew up at Sonoma-Cutrer are awesome!  Michelle McLendon and Cara Morrison, the Pinot and Chardonnay Assistant winemakers.

Cara and Michelle

The latest addition to the Sonoma-Cutrer is winemaker Michael (Mick) Schroeter and his lovely wife Linda.

Mick and Linda Schroeter

This was a truly amazing event supporting a truly amazing cause.  I can’t wait until next year, I need to practice my Croquet so I can get an invite to the “Open.”

I need more practice.

If you enjoy wine and have the wherewithal, please take a moment and hop over to Make-A-Wish and donate to their cause.  They provide an outstanding service to children who are in need of a break from the pain and suffering of terminal illness, every little bit helps.

Cheers
Brian Wing