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Tasting Event

Delicious Bites and Sips from the ZAP Epicuria Food and Wine Pairing Evening

When sommeliers talk about wines that pair well with food, Zinfandel doesn’t usually make the top ten list. Nonetheless, there are many foods for which it’s a great match.

Each year at the ZAP! festival, there is an evening devoted to showcasing how Zinfandel goes with food. Scores of wineries pour one wine each. Each winery is teamed up with a restaurant whose chef prepares a dish to go with that wine. Attendees wander from table to table, trying the combinations.

This year’s pairing event, dubbed Epicuria, was the best I’ve attended. The quality of the wines was very high. The food was consistently good. There were also some truly excellent dishes — not an easy feat to pull off for hundreds of people in an exhibition hall. And there were a few revelatory pairings.

Fried foods are often served with sauce that adds a counterpoint of tangy sweetness: ketchup with french fries, remoulade with crab cakes or honey-mustard with chicken fingers. Paul’s Paella of Alameda served up deep fried balls of paella, sans sauce. Very similar to arancini, they were crisp on the outside but soft and almost creamy on the inside. With R & B Cellars 2009 Zydeco Napa Valley Zinfandel to sip on, the sauce wasn’t missed.

paella-balls

When matching wine with food, people usually dwell on the main protein. Often the sauce is more important though. Swan Oyster Depot [no relation] used that principle to make a dish which was simple, yet a brilliant pairing. It is also something you might easily make at home: shrimp cocktail. Small, pink bay shrimp were served in a cup with a generous dollop of cocktail sauce dosed with plenty of horseradish. The sauce was an excellent foil for the briny shrimp. The slightly jammy 2010 Peach Canyon Especial Estate Zinfandel from Paso Robles soothed my mouth after the horseradish and readied me for another bite. [For something in a similar vein, consider Zinfandel with cioppino.]

My favorite plate of the evening was from Rose Pistola. It won a James Beard award for best new restaurant upon opening in 1996. The cuisine is inspired by the food of Liguria, a region on the northwestern coast of Italy. [Trivia: Rose Pistola is located on Columbus Avenue. The street is named for Christopher Columbus who was born in Genoa, which is within Liguria.]

Rose Pistola’s dish was black truffle and ricotta ravioli with golden raisins, orange zest and delicately-browned butter. Never before have I been tempted to lick a paper plate. It was paired with the 2009 Storybook Mountain Eastern Exposure Estate Zinfandel from Napa Valley.

truffled-ravioli

This Storybook Mountain wine tells an interesting tale, but doesn’t shout. Complex and textured, it offers delectable berry fruit adorned by a range of spice, mineral and oak derived notes. A splash of Viognier, unusual for Zinfandel blends, contributes white floral notes and expands the spice box. In the pairing, black truffle and warm butter played off the earth in the wine, the orange zest danced on the berries and picked up the Viognier spice and flowers. Meanwhile, the fruit were a natural pairing for the ricotta cheese and provided a clean finish.

One of the best pairings for Zinfandel is braised meat. Tender, slow cooked beef or pork have a softness of texture that matches up well with the softness of some Zins. So do the deep flavors instilled by braising liquid which often includes a red wine reduction.

One of my favorite bites was from Componere Fine Catering. They braised and finely shredded pork cheek, made it into small patties and then pan-fried them until crispy. Resting on a pillow of smoked mashed potatoes, they were garnished with spicy pickled fennel. Mauritson’s 2009 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel added a punch of ripe dark fruit, making a complete dish: savory, sour, salty and fruity.

pork-cheek

Pican, an Oakland restaurant offering cuisine with a Southern accent, took braised pork in a different direction. They smoked a Berkshire pig before braising it in an intricately-flavored molé sauce of peanuts, chiles, Coca-Cola and chocolate. It was served hot in cup on creamy grits elevated with black pepper. The dish echoed the attributes of Carol Shelton’s Old Vine Zinfandels, rich in texture and flavor with both sweetness and a spicy kick.

pork-mole

Blue cheese is a tough food to pair. It’s intense, tangy flavors and saltiness overwhelm most wines, be they red or white. A boldly fruity wine with noticeable sweetness and only moderate oak is called for. Many people surrender and grab a bottle of Port. Zinfandel can work though and allows you to move from a meat course into cheeses without changing wines and swapping glasses.

Cuvee Napa prepared tasty truffles with a core of Shaft Creamery’s Elies Vintage Blue Cheese rolled in crushed black walnuts from Mendocino. It was a powerful bite: mouth-coating and strongly flavorful. The 2008 Saddelback Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel harmonized and cleansed the palate.

cheese-balls

Good Zinfandel is an excellent match for food. It can provide a fruity contrast or spicy accent. It will cut through oily and creamy dishes or act in place of a zesty sauce. The right Zinfandel can take you all the way through a meal, from fried hors d’oeuvres on to a seafood course, a meaty main and then the cheese. Just save some for dessert.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photos by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.

Favorite Wines from the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting

The 12th Annual Rhone Rangers San Francisco event ended yesterday with a Grand Tasting held at the Fort Mason Center in the San Francisco Marina. It was an excellent tasting with more than 120 wineries from up and down the west coast pouring their creations based upon Rhone-varietal grapes

'Tis the Season to be Zinful

During this season, with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, my thoughts often segue to Zinfandel. The soft and jammy berry fruit, welcoming spice and touch of sweetness goes wonderfully with holiday smorgasbords. Zinfandel gets the party started and is perfect for mulling.

It’s hard to satiate my tastebuds once they’ve gotten into that Zinfandel mood, so I take them to the Zinfandel Experience in late January. Over the course of four days, I can taste horizontally, vertically and regionally, paired with food, paired with friends and paired with engaging winemakers. What better way to cheer oneself from the post-holiday blahs?

The 2015 Zinfandel Experience will once again include five separate, equally enjoyable events. For tickets and/or more information, check out the Zinfandel Experience website.

ZAP-Epicuria

Media & Trade Tasting — Wednesday, January 28 from 1pm to 5pm at Rock Wall in Alameda
The annual sneak preview for wine pros begins with a one-hour invitation-only seminar. That’s followed by a three-hour sippy stroll through Rock Wall’s Zinfandel hangar with some of California’s best juice makers and a stunning view of San Francisco across the bay. This event is an excellent way to get a great overview of where Zinfandel is today.

Epicuria — Thursday, January 29 from 6pm to 8:30pm at the Golden Gate Club in SF’s Presidio
Great small bite. Great Zinfandel. Together! So get your tickets here. This is always a wonderful event. The range of foods with which Zinfandel pairs well is very long. And, with more than 30 winery/restaurant combos on hand, you’ll taste plenty. This evening will offer everything from wild boar chili to chocolate pepper cupcakes with Zinfandel-infused bacon, shrimp cocktail to duck tacos with molé sauce. There goes my diet…

Flights! Forums of Flavor — Friday, January 30 from 10:30am to 1pm at the Four Seasons Hotel in SF
Flights is a seated tasting seminar featuring 15 wines and their makers. This year’s theme is historic regions. Three flights of five wines will explore Contra Costa County, Amador County and Dry Creek Valley through single-vineyard bottlings. This event always sells out early, so get your tickets soon.

Winemakers’ Dinner, Reception and Auction — Friday, January 30 from 5:30pm to 10pm at the Four Seasons Hotel
The reception will feature 28 magnums and reserve wines with hors d’oeuvres. At dinner, you’ll be seated with a winemaker and will enjoy Colorado Lamb Rack and Baked Alaska. And more Zinfandel. This is another event that sells out quickly, so don’t hesitate.

The Tasting — Saturday, January 31 from 11am to 5pm at The Presidio
Nearly 120 wineries will pour. Somms and winemakers will lead seminars on terroir. Holders of VIP and All-Day tickets will also get to try barrel samples and reserve wines.

Get your tickets at the Zinfandel Experience website

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2015. Photos courtesy of ZAP. All rights reserved.

6 More California Rhone Wines to Try at Rhone Rangers

rhone rangers logo

It’s time for one more brief list of wines for you to seek out at the Rhone Rangers tasting this Sunday. Get your Grand Tasting tickets here and don’t forget to use the discount code: GT–20

2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc Saarloos Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
This wine has a little more body than some of William Allen’s past Grenache Blanc, but didn’t give up any acidity or minerality in the process. The nose is refined with a core of briny pear, pear blossom and peppery spice. The crisp, juicy palate has medium+ body, long flavors of just-ripe pear and salty mineral. Serve warmer than usual for a white, around 60 degrees. 13.4% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2011 Bonny Doon Cigare Blanc Reserve
A unfined, unfiltered blend of Grenache Blanc (62%) and Roussanne (38%) is partly cloudy with a 98% chance of raining deliciousness on you. The nose opens waxy and leesy with building aromas of marzipan, pear, under-ripe stone fruit and limestone. Despite having just 12.5% alcohol, the palate is nearly full-bodied with an engaging slippery, graphite-like texture. Flavors match the nose, adding a strong peach pit note, and go on forever. Randall Grahm recommends decanting this wine and serving it at cellar temperature. Very Highly Recommended

2012 McCay Cellars Rosé, Lodi
This pale pink rosé was made from Carignane, picked at low brix for the purpose from 105-year old vines in Lodi. It’s gently aromatic with scents of tart strawberry, herb, spice and stone fruit pit minerality. Medium-bodied and silky in the mouth it tastes of mineral, strawberry water, under-ripe stone fruit and herb. This will add a Provencal note to your summer lunches by the pool. 12.49% alcohol. Highly Recommended

2011 McCay Cellars Carignane, Lodi
A full-on Carignane from vines even older than those of the rosé, this wine is all about earthy spice, game meat and garrigue on the nose with black fruit staying in the background. Tangy black cherry is prominent on the palate though, as are earthy/leathery spice. Medium+ body with light, very fine tannins. Alcohol 13.5%. Highly Recommended

2011 McCay Cellars Grenache, Lodi
Comforting aromas and flavors of red cherry, brown spice, earth and dry herb. Medium+ body with moderate, fine-grained tannins and juiciness. A versatile food wine but yummy on its own. Highly Recommended

2011 Tablas Creek “Esprit de Tablas” Paso Robles
Tablas Creek’s flagship red is an estate blend of Mourvedre (40%), Grenache (30%), Syrah (20%) and Counoise (10%) fermented in stainless steel with native yeast and then aged in 1,200 gallon French oak tanks. The nose engrosses with complexity: spicy tea, meaty cherry, cranberry, orange pith, five-spice, dark mineral and more. The palate is creamy and medium+ in body with moderate tannins of fine grain and chalk. Its flavors are long and evolve in the glass. Drinking very well now but can age for 20+ years. 14.5% alcohol. Very Highly Recommended

I listed more wines to try in 16 North Coast Rhones to Try and Rhone Rangers Tastings and Rhone-Variety Wines Tasted.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

Rhone Rangers Tastings and Rhone-Variety Wines Tasted

Spring is my favorite season. The weather is lovely, neither too cool nor too warm. And baseball brings the crack of the bat, aromas of grass, leather and petrichor, along with World Series hopes for my beloved Oakland A’s.

MourvedreSpeaking of Petrichor, they and sixteen other wineries will be pouring fine Rhone variety wines this Sunday in Yountville from 2pm to 4pm](http://www.eventbrite.com/e/rhone-rangers-of-the-north-coast-chapter-grand-tasting-tickets–10229367313). I wrote about last year’s tasting, which was excellent. With wineries such as Ridge Vineyards, Donelan Wines, Two Shepherds, Stark Wine, La Sirena, Cornerstone Cellars and—the list goes on—I’m sure Sunday will delightful too. For $20, the price of a single glass of wine at many restaurants, you can’t beat this Rhone Rangers North Coast Chapter Grand Tasting.

On February 8, there was another North Coast Chapter tasting at Campovida in Jack London Square. It was a fun event, set at the cool little tasting room in Oakland’s revitalizing waterfront warehouse district. The set of wineries was a little different than those that will be in Yountville, but there is a little overlap.

Some of my favorites from the Oakland tasting that you may also find this Sunday include the Highly Recommended:
2011 Stark Wine Viognier Damiano Vineyard Sierra Foothills
A very pretty Viognier, lightly floral with delicate stonefruit and a fine, powdery texture. It’s so good, I bought some bottles to use in my classes on the Sierra Foothills.

2012 Two Shepherds Pastoral Blanc Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley
Floral with saline minerality and a yummy hint of of banana cream.

2011 Miner Family La Dilgence Marsanne Stagecoach Vineyards, Napa Valley
Full-bodied and finely-grained on the palate with aromas and flavors of marzipan, under-ripe nectarine and vanilla

2011 Arrowood Viognier Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley
White flowers, barely ripe peach and delicate spice with a full-bodied and fine-grained palate.

2009, 2010 & 2011 Cornerstone Cellars (Stepping Stone) Syrah, Napa Valley
An engaging trio that conveys the beauty and complexity of Syrah while also showing that vintage does make a difference in Napa Valley.

craneway 3
The new Craneway Pavillion is modern, spacious and offers killer views of San Francisco.

Sunday’s Yountville tasting is not the lone Rhone event this Spring though. Range over to Richmond—there are complimentary BART shuttles AND private ferry service—for the 17th Annual Rhone Rangers SF Bay Area Celebration of American Rhones on April 6.

The day starts at 10am with two consecutive seminars, both led by Luke Sykora of Wine & Spirits. A very fine wine writer, Luke is also eloquent in person and quite knowledgeable on California Rhone wines. I look forward to sitting in on both “The Rise of the Rhone Garagiste” and “Grenache, the Most Widely Planted Rhone Wine Grape in the World.”

The Grand Tasting begins at 3pm for General Admission, 1pm if you purchase a Sunday PassUse passcode PW-GT for $5 off the general admission price or PW-SUNPASS for $10 off on the Sunday Pass.

There will be nearly 100 wineries pouring at the Grand Tasting. The list includes some of the pioneers of California Rhone variety wines, such as Qupé, Tablas Creek Vineyard, Zaca Mesa and Ridge Vineyards. All of California’s important Rhone variety growing regions are represented. So is Southern Oregon which is of emerging importance. I hope to see you there!

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.