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Wine & Dine

Tommy Toy's and Two Very Good Wines

Located just across the street from San Francisco’s Transamerica Building, Tommy Toy’s Cuisine Chinoise has been the setting for power lunches and a top choice for special occasions among the well-heeled since 1985. More than twenty years later, its elegant setting and service coupled with a classy, French-inspired touch to the food and its presentation still set this restaurant apart. Despite being long-time Bay Area residents we’d never been to Tommy Toy’s, so we were quick to say “yes” when friends asked us to meet them there for dinner.

The 2011 Cochon Heritage Fire Festival in Photos

Cochon Heritage Fire took place on August 13, 2011 at Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena. It was the final Cochon 555 event of the year and was national in scope, drawing chefs and butchers from throughout the country. It was a fun event, well-attended but not crowded (perhaps because of the $100 ticket price). The afternoon was very warm, but the big lawn at Charles Krug Winery with it's huge, shady trees kept people comfortable.

You can't have a "Heritage Fire" event without a fire.

25 chefs and 10 butchers participated. They served a staggering array of creative dishes made from heritage meats. Among the participants were the proud owners of this trophy (below), the Queen and King of Porc, Duskie Estes and John Stewart from Zazu and Bovolo restaurants and Black Pig Meats in Sonoma County. Estes and Stewart came out on top at the Grand Cochon 555 snout-to-tail competition in Aspen on June 20. This followed their Spring victory at Cochon 555 Napa.

A very cool trophy and better than having to wear a crown of pork ribs.

Previous Cochon 555 events have been all about heritage breed pigs and delicious bites from every last bit. For example, one offering from Estes and Stewart at Cochon 555 Napa was Pig Heart Pork Buns.

This little piggy never made it to market.

Cochon Heritage Fire was different. More than just a porkapalooza, it celebrated other heritage breeds animals as well.

These rabbits were on the fence about their participation at Cochon Heritage Fire

And it was not just four-footed animals that found flame and glory. There were chicken, quail, duck and fish too.

There was something fishy at Cochon Heritage Fire.

Some dishes combined multiple animals in a single dish. There were sandwiches, stews, tacos, sausages, rillettes and many other presentations of meat.

This pig was stuffed with beef, chicken, duck, sausage and more.

Eva Swan enjoys a hot dog. Was it the one made from duck and foie gras, or the one topped with pork belly?

There was more than just food at the event. There were a variety of demonstrations and active cooking to watch. A couple of tables featured butchery- and pig-themed antiques.

Sausages rotate over the flame after the sausage stuffing demonstration.

Duskie Estes of Zazu happily hacks into a fire roasted pig.

Cochon Heritage Fire was a wine country event and there were plenty of wines to try. Event host Charles Krug Winery was joined by roughly 15 other wineries. Appellation St. Helena offered a broad selection from its wineries too.

Phillipe Melka was among the celebrated winemakers pouring at Cochon Heritage Fire

Winemaker/proprietor Duncan Arnot Meyers and his wife Erin got into the spirt of the event and poured some excellent wine too.

Because it was a hot day, light-bodied wines fared best. Among my favorites were a Failla Pinot Noir and the super-refreshing but not-to-be-released méthode ancestrale sparkling Chardonnay made by Duncan Arnot Meyers. (The latter wasn't made for commercial purposes.)

All-in-all, it was a very enjoyable afternoon. I would happily attend another. (And I paid for my ticket...)


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 All photos by Fred Swan. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

The Six Wines I’m Bringing to Thanksgiving Dinner

There’s a lot of hoohaw every year over which wines pair well with Thanksgiving dinner. Personally, I don’t worry about it too much. With the extreme range of foods served, five  conversations going onsimultaneously, football broadcasts in the background and packs of wild children running about, nobody is going to be magically transported by the way some Grand Cru Burgundy echoes the pancetta in Auntie’s Brussels sprouts.

Instead, here’s what I look for in wines for Thanksgiving:

Wines that are good, but not too fussy. Precise control over serving temperature, gentle pours and counseling guests about what not to eat with a wine are not in the cards for Thanksgiving.

Wines that are moderately bold. They need to stand up to the crazy buffet, but not knock grandma off her chair.

Wines that have a touch of sweetness. This will complement many of the foods, including the turkey itself. And it offers some hope of standing up to cranberry sauce.

Wines that are fun, not complicated. Thanksgiving diners won't (and shouldn't) be focused on identifying which purple flowers are represented in the wine’s aroma. An unusual wine can be fun, but make sure it’s fruity and not overly subtle.


Here’s what I’m bringing this year and why:

NV Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut Rosé - Sparkling wine is the right way to start any dinner party. The color of a brut rosé is beautifully festive and reminiscent of the rust-colored leaves of Fall. There’s a range of red and white fruit flavors in this wine and it will stand up well to savory appetizers.

2008 Rubicon Estate Blancaneaux Rutherford Napa Valley - I think that white Rhone blends, given sufficient acidity, are really versatile food wines. This one is 43% Roussanne, 38% Marsanne, and 19% Viognier. It will have the body and intensity to hold up to a turkey leg or ham and will be great with the white meat, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Plus, it will give people something to talk about other than politics. “What’s a Rhone blend? I thought Rubicon was just red wine? Why is a Bordeaux-influenced winery owned by an Italian-American guy making something like this? Hey, this is good!”

2007 Picket Fence Pinot Noir Russian River Valley - Okay, you’ve got to have some Pinot Noir. You just do. This Picket Fence (now a brand of Bronco Wine Co.) was an excellent value and easy to like with great fruit and palate weight. It has interesting earthy notes for the folks who are paying attention. And if someone decides they need to drink the wine with gooey sweet potatoes, I won’t be crying over how much I paid for the wine they just annihilated.

NV Domaine Chandon California Sparkling Red - Now the party’s starting! This bubbly is 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Zinfandel. It’s dark red with deep red and blue fruit wrapped in leather. It’s got a lot of body for a sparkling wine, though not as much as sparkling Shiraz (which I would also recommend). There's also fair amount of residual sugar. Personally, I think you should “forget to buy” the cranberry sauce and just serve this wine instead. (Apologies to those who love cranberry sauce. I can’t stand it.)

2007 Sausal Private Reserve Zinfandel Alexander Valley - Along with Pinot Noir, Zinfandel is the other “gotta have it” varietal for Thanksgiving. All of that berry fruit really complements ham, turkey, stuffing, etc. And the stupid cranberry sauce. Sausal is ideal because the wines have great fruit and body but are not high in residual sugar or alcohol. And they are never over-oaked. While there’s no point obsessing over “pairing” for Thanksgiving, you don’t want an oak monster to devour your turkey either.

2006 Damian Rae Whitehawk Vineyard Syrah - This is for enjoying after dinner while watching the second half of the 49ers - Ravens game. I’m looking for something celebratory — rich, satisfying and flavorful — and not a wine with so much acidity or tannin that it needs food. This Syrah was very good upon release, but needed aeration to show it’s full complexity. It should still have youthful richness, but will perhaps be more eager to share all of its secrets.

R. L. Buller Premium Fine Tokay Victoria (Australia) - This is a bonus wine for those who will be indulging in pumpkin pie, possibly ala mode. The palate is thick with raisin, rhubarb and holiday spices. And the wine is luscious — a word that is not just synonymous to delicious but also the technical term referring to wines of extreme sweetness. It fears no pie.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving. And Go Niners!


Disclosures: All of the wines above are from my cellar and purchased by me. One of the owners of Sausal Vineyards is a close friend.

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 Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

It Might Pay to be a Good Host

Do you love to host parties? Do the glitterati crash your bashes while Martha Stewart weeps jealous tears? OK, are they really fun anyway? If so, you might win national fame and $40,000. That’ll buy a lot of clam dip, or bouncers.

sterling-glassesSterling Vineyards and Padma Lakshmi are looking for the “Ultimate Host.” There will be four successive challenges in the contest. Respond to them online with pictures, text and/or videos. If you win any one of the challenges, you’ll be invited to New York City in December to compete for the title, the cash and an all-expense paid trip for four to Napa Valley.

The current challenge is “Entertaining on a Dime.” Six guests are coming over. You need to “wow” them with just $75 and a bottle of Sterling Vintner’s Collection Cabernet or Chardonnay. The deadline for submitting your entry is September 29. Subsequent contests will be “Wine and Foodie Movie,” “Date Night” and “Evening with Friends - Host’s Choice.” Entries are judged on originality, creativity, adherence to the them and technical merit.

To find out more or enter the contest, go to the Ultimate Host tab on Sterling Vineyards’ Facebook page.

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 Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. Photo: Sterling Vineyards. All rights reserved.

Californian Seeking Same in Manhattan

As West Coasties, it is easy to take broad availability of California wines for granted. To gain a more balanced perspective, we decided to take our act on the road and check out one of the biggest towns for wine in the country. So, even as Jason Giambi is fixing to leave the Yankees for a return to the Oakland Athletics, we have gone the opposite direction to spend a week haunting the wine bars, wine shops and restaurants of Manhattan in search of Californian wine.