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June 2016

Tablas Creek. One of California’s “First Growth” Giants.

cal poly honored alumni

Hello Folks.

A bunch of people have been egging me on to brag about the Secrets to Food & Wine Pairing – Volume 1, I recently held w/ Executive Chef Amy Murray.

I tend to be a modest fellow, but honestly the event was off the hook. So, here’s what you missed:   Amy and I made an elegant but cozy impression, from the laid back atmosphere to the diverse menu.  It was a perfect learning environment;  relaxed, yet full of hands-on experience and useful information.

We wanted to make sure that everybody, from beginners to advanced wine connoisseurs, would feel welcome and learn something new.  We started the afternoon off with two courses out on the deck.  The first, grilled shrimp paired with the 2015 La Marea Albarino from Monterey;  oceanic saltiness in the shrimp paired beautifully with the minerality of the Albarino, a classic pairing technique.  For the second course we had ricotta and goat cheese stuffed squash blossoms paired with the 2015 Cochon Rosé from California.  Goat cheese and rosé are a classic pairing that always delivers.  

In between each course we took questions, and I showed folks how to key in on bridge ingredients with each wine.  It really helped step up people’s pairing knowledge.  One person even said:  “this was the best use of my Sunday”, and “I feel like I’m more confident making food & wine pairing choices”.  Another couple, from Stomping Girl winery, despite their experienced background in the wine world, were so happy they came because they learned a lot.  Food & wine pairing is not an exact science.  The more we experience it, the more comfortable we get talking about it and applying it to our own lifestyle.

You’ll definitely want to reserve your spot for next time in the fall, as I had to turn folks away!  This is wonderful opportunity to refine your palette, and learn the Secrets of Food & Wine Pairing in an intimate environment.   

In the meantime – you can make sure you get this on your calendar. I’m hosting a wine dinner Wednesday June 29 at 7PM, at the Vestry on Valencia St. in San Francisco . I’ll be featuring one of my favorite wineries in California, Tablas Creek.  I’ve selected my favorites of their current releases, and am delighted to pair them with chef Elaine Osuna’s creations.  Go HERE to get tickets and more info.  

Tablas Creek winery is considered by many in the wine world as one of California’s great Rhone-style wine producers.  I’d go so far as to put them up there with some of the best producers in the French Rhone.  That’s how good the wines of Tablas Creek are.  The Perrin family from Chateau Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape collaborated with importer Robert Haas in 1985 to pick the Rhone-like Paso Robles AVA (American Viticulture Area – like Russian River Valley or Napa Valley) as the place to break ground.  The limestone soils, hot sunny days, and cool, ocean-influenced nights reminded the Perrin’s of the French Mediterranean, where Rhone varietals flourish.

There are very few limestone deposits in California, and the bulk of them are in the Central Coast, where Paso Robles resides.  It is limestone that holds the key to greatness in places like the French Loire, Champagne, Bordeaux, and Rhone.   How do limestone soils influence the quality of the wine?   The answer is 4-fold:   1.) these soils retain water and need less irrigation.  2.) they are more “basic” in their PH so vines can retain maximum nutrients, and help to maintain acidity late in the season.  3.)  it allows for a deep root system, encouraging vines to find their own water table.  4.) the vines are more disease resistant in limestone soils.

Specifically, in Southern Rhone, white varietals, like Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, and red varietals like Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Counoise, and Cinsault flourish in conditions similar to west Paso Robles.  Combined with organic farming, the close proximity to the ocean, and ideal terrior, Tablas Creek uses their rich history of producing Rhone varietals to make such fabulous wines.  Check out their entry level “Patelin de Tablas” line at $20 retail.  Their white and red blends all have lovely minerality, with undeniable California fruit, vibrant acid, and a restrained, food-friendly finish.  If you’re feeling like you want to get something special, go for their “Esprit de Tablas” line.  These wines are most similar to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, with actual vineyard cuttings transported from the Chateau Beaucastel estate. They have serious richness and depth.  What I love most about the “Esprit…” is that Tablas Creek doesn’t sacrifice acidity in the wine to add more depth of flavor.  They are age-worthy, if you want to lay them down for a few years, and delicious to drink right now.  

My favorites of Tablas Creek:

  • Patelin de Tablas Grenache / Counoise / Mourvedre / Syrah Rosé 2015 – $20
  • Patelin de Tablas Grenache Blanc / Viognier / Roussanne / Marsanne 2014 – $20
  • Esprit de Tablas Roussanne / Grenache Blanc / Picpoul 2013 – $36
  • Patelin de Tablas Syrah / Grenache / Mourvedre / Counoise Rouge 2014 $20
  • Esprit de Tablas Mourvedre / Syrah / Grenache / Counoise 2013  – $44


Are you a fan of French Rhone wines?  Are you a fan of California Rhone-style wines?  Have you tried Tablas Creek?  I’d love to hear from you.  Your feedback is important and may help someone else in this process.

We can never know everything about wine.  Let’s keep learning.



Often Overlooked, Gamay is the Perfect Red for Summer

Morgon VineyardsGamay is often overlooked because it gets lumped in with Beaujolais nouveau – equivalent to that of a bad mullet hair cut.  But don’t make the mistake of ignoring this little gem, because you assume that it’s a sugary, sweet, soda pop-style quaffer.  You can always find something just right in the “Cru” Beaujolais style.

Gamay has roots that go back to the Romans, is related to Pinot Noir, and has the finesse and femininity we all love about Pinot.  Yet unlike Pinot Noir, Gamay is a vigorous and hearty vine that can often overproduce.  Viticulturists have to crop the canopy (leaves, cordon, stems) more than once in a growing season to insure the energy of the plant is used to produce quality fruit.  Even then, fruit will have to be “dropped” (trimmed from the plant and left for Dionysus to consume) to help develop the character of the wine.

So, what’s the difference between Beaujolais nouveau and Cru Beaujolais?  Beaujolais nouveau is traditionally the first wine to emerge in any given vintage.  Before Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are released, Beaujolais nouveau is fermented for just a few short days in stainless steel or cement, then bottled immediately.  Contrasted by Cru Beaujolais, which can see extended fermentation time, go through malolactic fermentation (converting the naturally high acid in Gamay to a softer lactic acid), Sur lie aging (aging the wine on yeast left over from fermentation to add texture), and oak aging.  All of these winemaking techniques give Cru Beaujolais a sophistication on the level of Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect, while Beaujolais nouveau has the monotony of Kim Kardashian.

Even though the French get the credit for developing the varietal, my favorite Gamay right now is actually not from France.  It’s from the Division Wine Company in Willamette Valley, Oregon.  You can try it at my “secrets to food & wine pairing” workshop this Sunday June 12th.  It is one of my favorite red varietals for summer;  sophisticated, dry, crisp, and pining for food.  Gamay is one of the lightest of the red varietals, and when made well, has vibrant acidity and enough structure to go perfectly with foods like duck, chicken, salmon & halibut, mushrooms, lamb, and beef stew.  I love how the Division-Villages Gamay is slightly more fruit forward than those of Cru Beaujolais, but the structure, tannins, and food-loving acidity are very similar to its originating region.

Here are my delicious Gamay picks:

As a bonus treat, look for the Chateau Lavernette “Granit” NV Brut Nature, Blancs de Noirs, France made from Gamay.   It’s sparkling so think of it more like a Champagne when pairing food with it.  

Enjoy, and let me know which one of these pairings knocked your socks off.  Do you have a favorite Gamay appellation?  What do you love to pair with Gamay?

It’s impossible to know everything about wine.  Let’s keep learning.