Category Archives: Food

Starting September’s California Wine Month with the glorious big bang explosion in Sonoma County

In all of our lives, there are those special turning points. Moments that you realize it’s time to move ahead and take advantage of the opportunities that are within your grasp. On a large scale, one of those momentous points happened last Sunday in Sonoma County when a mixture of 700 great personalities from the wine industry, star chefs, sommeliers and eager consumers, came together to raise $4 million dollars for charity at the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction at Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood.

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Selfie of the Week: Me and Winemaker Margo Van Staaveren of Chateau St. Jean at the#SWCW 2014 pre-auction festivities.

From the start of this year’s “Sonoma to Serengeti”-themed auction, Sonoma County vintners like Joe Anderson of Benovia Winery, Barbara Banke of Jackson Family Wines, the Gallo Family, the Zanin Family of Bennett Valley Cellars, the Hamel Family and the Klein Family of Rodney Strong Vineyards, played key roles by contributing and inspiring others to bid generously. But when the day’s total was still short of $4 Million after the last lot was sold, Anderson pledged an additional $50,000 and challenged others to dig a little deeper to hit the $4 Million mark. Vintners Matt Gallo and Tony LeBlanc of Silver Oak immediately accepted the challenge. The last $20,000 pledge came from Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance Board Member Gary Buffo, and the goal was achieved. That’s vintner and community participation at its finest.

The annual event was the culmination of the action-packed Sonoma Wine Country Weekend (#SWCW), August 29-31. Under the focused leadership of SWCW Co-Executive Directors Honore Comfort (Sonoma County Vintners) and Maureen Cottingham (Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance) and their Boards of Directors, gross proceeds are expected to be in excess of $5 Million for the entire Sonoma Wine Country Weekend once final tallies are calculated, which creates another new record for the event as earnings more than doubled over last year.

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Post-Taste of Sonoma cocktails at #Zigtown with @ZiggyTheWineGal and Sara Schneider of Sunset Magazine.
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Post -Taste of Sonoma fun at #Zigtown with fellow wine entertainer Leslie Sbracco (@lesliesbrocco) and Judy Davis of Davis Family Winery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond the important money earned for the charities and great opportunities to taste magnificent food and wine pairings; another highlight of this year’s events was the participation of the SWCW Honorary Chairs: The Ferrer Family, of Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, and the Klein Family, of Rodney Strong Vineyards, who were honored for their achievements in the wine industry and their contributions to the Sonoma County community as a whole.

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On Friday Night, Rocking out at Coppola Winery.

In hindsight, the road to success starts from the ground up. With winegrowers understanding that sustainable farming techniques and the maturity of vines really does make a difference. Talented winemakers honing their skills to work with grapes that are picked at the optimum point to preserve the natural acidity and not over-ripen the fruit. Young sommeliers finding tasty gems made with the pristine fruit from the diverse subregions of Sonoma County. And ultimately, the growing number of consumers and charitable contributors who have fallen in love with the fine wines, delicious cuisine, lovely landscape, unique outdoor adventures, and the true sense of place that Sonoma County offers on a yearly basis.

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#ClassicSonoma: Vintage bottle of the Laurel Glen 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon poured at Coppola at #SWCW on Friday Night.

As a veteran wine writer, sommelier, public speaker, and a person who was born, raised and matured in Sonoma County, it was a joy to see this all happen. For that reason, I was also honored to do my part to help the cause: From educating fellow writers from outside the area who visited Paradise Ridge and enjoyed the Media Dinner on the lovely new Terrace Patio at Rodney Strong Winery on Thursday night; mingle and enlighten curious consumers who attended the marvelous luncheon at Lynmar Estate in Russian River and the elegant gala event at Francis Ford Coppola Winery; introduce the guests who attended the Taste of Sonoma event at MacMurray Estate Vineyards on Saturday to the virtues of using fine stemware by Stolzle, one of the main sponsors and contributors to this SWCW festivities; and fulfilling my annual role as the head sommelier at the auction by serving magnificent wines to the Irwin-Allred group from Tulsa, who purchased the Head Table at last year’s event, as well as my great friends from TricorBraun Wine Pak (the main sponsor of the 2014 auction), Duckhorn Vineyards, Jean Arnold Sessions and other special guests who attended the memorable event on Sunday afternoon.

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Small, intimate #SWCW Thursday night dinner on the stunning new Terrace at Rodney Strong Winery to celebrate the 25 year anniversary of the Klein Family ownership winery and vineyards.
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Pinot anyone? Fantastic #SWCW luncheon at Lymar Estate in Russian River Valley. @Lynmar Estate @SonomaWCW.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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At the exciting #SWCW Taste of Sonoma Bubble Lounge with tasty treats from Gloria Ferrer. #bubbles @GloriaFerrer @FreixenetUSA #eatdrinkrock.

Like the big bang theory, a small explosion can have a huge impact on the future of life as we know it. For that reason, last weekend was just a glimpse at the potential of the SWCW for many years to come; an explosive launch to the 10th Annual California Wine Month in September; and a powerful reminder of the open-ended invitation for more people to explore the wine, food, and sense of community that makes Sonoma County so special.

For more information visit: Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, We Are Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley Wine, Sonoma Wine.

And for upcoming events happening during California Wine Month, visit Discover California Wines.

 

The debut of the Artisan Series at Food Network in Concert

As some of you may know, I embarked on an exciting new journey earlier this year when I co-created the wine-savvy Artisan Series which will debut at the Food Network in Concert event in Highland Park, 20 minutes from Chicago, on September 20th. The show will be held at the legendary Ravinia Festival venue, the oldest outdoor music grounds in the United States. Headliners will include John Maher, Phillip Phillips, Twin Forks, Raul Midon, and many other hot acts.

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Of course, it wouldn’t be a Food Network Magazine event without some celebrity chefs there, too. For starters, we’re talking about television and magazine stars like Mark Murphy, Anne Burrell, Sunny Anderson, Alex Guarnaschelli, Jose Garces, Jeff Mauro and Geoffrey Zakarian. On top of that add 70 of the top chefs in the Chicago area, and you have a serious day of #eatdrinkrock festivities in the making.

As the exclusive Artisan Series Sommelier at FNIC, my job will be to provide delectable and educational wine experiences for guests visiting the Chefs Lounge and VIP Lounge, as well as at the wine seminars led by Master Sommelier Alpana Singh and myself, and other special activities happening at the event. This will all be done with the stunning Artisan Series wines provided by Freixenet USA, Foley Family Wines and Charles Krug Winery.

Yesterday, the inaugural copy of the exciting Food Network in Concert newsletter was launched. In it you’ll find my notes on the delicious bubbles from the Freixenet portfolio paired with five summer songs by musicians featured at this year’s event: Songs & Bubbles of Summer as well as their special Summertime Sparklers.

Rest assured, I’ll be using the newsletter and other marvelous tools of social media to promote this stunning wine program, tasty bites and recipes, interviews with star chefs, fellow sommeliers, winemakers and musicians on the SawyerSomm site leading up to event.

In the meantime, don’t forget to check out “The Music Issue” inside the July-August copy of Food Network Magazine, which features fun pairings of chefs like Ina Garten, Michael Symon, Mauro and Zackarian, talking food with musicians Taylor Swift, Billy Corgan, Ja Rule and Sammy Hagar. In short, it’s a summer of fun, and a summer to #eatdrinkrock!

For tickets, visit www.foodnetwork.com/inconcert

Pairing sparkling wine with the ultimate Ice Cream Flag Cake

Cake 4th July photo 1The minute I first saw it, I knew it was only a matter of time until someone I knew would make it happen over #4thofJuly Weekend. Of course, I’m talking about making the ultimate Ice Cream Flag Cake featured in the July/August issue of Food Network Magazine. Imagine a dazzling red, white and blue cake made with raspberry sorbet, vanilla ice cream, 28 drops of blue gel food coloring, unsweetened cocoa powder, confectioner’s sugar, and plenty of other goodies. It’s a recipe for a holiday cake that makes you want to cut it out and eat it.

So it wasn’t a surprise that my great friend Ilene Rapkin, President of I Openers in NYC, and her family completed the honorable task of making this magnificent culinary gem during their 4th of July Weekend activities in upstate New York.

So when Ilene sent me photos of the cake, she asked me what I would recommend for a wine pairing. My first instinct was to break open a bottle of the Gloria Ferrer NV Va de Vi Sparkling Wine, Sonoma County.

SawyerSomm notes: As a departure from the magnificently dry styles of elegant sparkling wines made at Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards near Sonoma, California since 1982; the Va de Vi is young, perky style of bubbly with a hint of sweetness on the finish. Composed of 89% Pinot Noir, 8% Chardonnay and 3% Muscat, the wine features lively flavors of Bing cherries, fresh berries, Meyer lemon, vanilla and creamy texture. In essence, it’s a melting pot of deliciousness.

July 4th photo 2BIn addition to pairing extremely well with the ingredients used in the Ice Cream Flag Cake and more semi-sweet desserts; this sparkling gem can also easy be served as a fresh aperitif or as a compliment to spicy Indian or Thai cuisine.

Later this month, Va di Vi will be one of the featured sparkling wines paired with flavorful domestic interpretations of Spanish tapas at the 22nd Annual Catalan Festival at Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards, July 19-20. For more information, visit www.GloriaFerrer.com

This fall, the Va de Vi and other sensational sparklers and still wines from Gloria Ferrer will also be featured at the Food Network in Concert at the Ravinia theater in Highland Park near Chicago on September 20th, including at the spicy “Hot, Hot, Hot” luncheon hosted by star chefs and wine seminars hosted by yours truly before the headliner John Maher takes the stage in the evening. In short, the Va de Vi is a fun and stimulating sparkling wine that’s definitely worth getting to know in 2014!

Cheers, Christopher

American Tradition Part 4: Barbeque and wine four ways for the Fourth

SawyerSomm Savory Suggestion: Lamb Sliders with Syrah

As an alternative to hamburgers, one of my favorite options is to make Lamb Sliders topped with melted Vermont white cheddar, spicy aioli, arugula and grilled peppers served on a sweet baguette. But if you don’t have enough time to gather all these ingredients, I love the tasty style that Chef Giada de Laurentiis, star of Food Network’s Giada at Home, made on the episode Backyard Campout.

As a rule, lamb works extremely well with Syrah. Granted, there are plenty of young, vibrant styles of wine out in the marketplace. But for a celebration holiday like July 4th, it’s a good excuse to break open one of the a more limited release, reserve-style bottles of Syrah modeled after the famous wines made in the northern Rhone Valley region of France. A magnificent domestic version is the Chalk Hill 2009 Syrah, Estate Grown, Chalk Hill ($60). Made with fruit grown on the cooler-climate western side of the Estate Vineyard east of Windsor, the wine features inviting aromas of dark fruit, black olives, smoked meats, layers of spice and cedar. The flavors are deep and rich, with notes of ripe blackberry, red currant, roasted fig, black pepper, sea salt, dark chocolate, and a long, rewarding finish. Rich, focused, and oh so rewarding!

American tradition Part 3: Barbeque and wine four ways for the Fourth

SawyerSomm Savory Suggestion: BBQ Pork Spareribs with Zinfandel

Let’s face it, all barbeque sauces are not created equal. Some are sweet and tangy, while others can be much more bold and spicy. To celebrate July 4th, a classic American tradition to follow is Patrick and Gina Neely’s recipe for Pork Ribs, which melds together the sweet and tangy flavors of brown sugar, molasses and apple cider vinegar with spicy notes of cayenne pepper and smoked paprika to create a tasty sensation with a lingering finish. Typically, these ribs are easy to serve with baked beans and coleslaw.

To match up with this wide range of flavors, I tend to lean towards serving a balanced Zinfandel with ripe fruity flavors, layers of spice, balance, and a restrained level of alcohol. Among the flavorful new releases to meet my criteria is the DeLoach Vineyards 2012 Zinfandel, Russian River Valley ($20).

Known as California’s “sweetheart grape,” Zinfandel has been grown in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley since the early 1880s. While many of the older vineyards are “field blends” interplanted with Petite Sirah, Carignane, Mourvedre (Mataro) other red grape varieties, the new DeLoach wine is more focused on purity and the fresh fruit flavors from younger vines planted at the Becnel and Slusser vineyards in northern Russian River Valley and a smaller portion of more concentrated fruit from old vine Zinfandel planted closer to the Deloach Estate Vineyards western of Santa Rosa. As a result, the wine features lively aromas of ripe blue fruits, violets, cinnamon and clove; concentrated flavors of boysenberry, blueberry, black raspberry, dark plum, fresh cracked pepper, layers of savory spice; a sexy rustic texture; and a long, lingering finish without too much heat or alcohol.

As an extra July 4th tip, I would recommend pairing the BBQ Pork Spareribs and DeLoach Zinfandel with the movie Top Gun starring Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Tim Robbins and Val Kilmer. Ironically, several scenes from the movie were filmed at the Kansas City Barbeque, a bar and restaurant located in the harbor district of San Diego, which opened to the public in 1983, the same year Russian River Valley became recognized as an American Viticultural Area. On its own merits, that patriotic fact of American wine history takes my breath away!

American tradition Pt 2: Barbeque and wine four ways for the Fourth

SawyerSomm Savory Suggestion: Grilled Prawns with Dry Pink Wines

Beyond the American flag, if you add red plus white, the outcome isn’t blue. Instead it’s usually a distinctive pink hue. But for many wine consumers the thought of pink wine immediately sparks childhood memories of grandma’s passion for the sweet Portuguese brands like Mateus and Lancers in the 1970s or the white zinfandels and other styles of domestic blush wines that were served in households across America in the 1980s and 1990s. Thus, when you add all these factors together, it is easy to see why pink wines are often pooh-poohed, ridiculed, and vastly misunderstood through the years.

But over the past decade a quiet rosé revolution has been taking place as a growing number of well-respected wineries have started producing sexy European-style pink wines featuring complex aromas, rich fruity mouthfeel, zippy acidity and a lingering bone-dry finishes.

I bring this subject up because the Fourth of July is an all-day affair highlighted by picnics, barbeques, tailgate parties, parades, and other culinary events leading up to the fireworks finale at night. For that reason, eating a lot but eating lite is a great option. So instead of relying solely on meats and poultry, another healthy and refreshing option is to serve grilled prawns with a nice dry style of pink wine.

One of my favorite starters is Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten’s Roasted Shrimp Cocktail. a dazzling appetizer with smoky flavors and a tangy dipping sauce made with ketchup, chili spice, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce and a squeeze of lemon. As an alternative to roasting on the Fourth, the prawns can easily be done on the barbeque by wiping the grill with an oiled paper towel to create a nonstick surface.

As a classy compliment to the dish, try the Etude 2013 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Estate Grown, Grace Benoit Ranch, Carneros ($26-$28). Served chilled, this perky young wine features a lovely salmon-colored hue and fragrant aromas of red berries, rose petals, nectarine fuzz and citrus peels. On the palate, the flavors explode with notes of Bing cherry, raspberry, tart cranberry, and hints of the small Watmaugh strawberries grown down the road from the Grace Benoit Ranch near Sonoma. With vibrant acidity and a crisp, dry and thirst quenching finish, it’s a lip smackin’ wine that stimulates the senses and works wonders with the tangy, zesty and charred flavors of Ina’s appetizer.

P.S. Don’t forget to check out the fun musical intervention of Taylor Swift cooking with Ina in the new July/August issue of Food Network Magazine and the upcoming Food Network in Concert at Ravinia in Highland Park near Chicago on September 20, 2014.

American tradition: Barbeque and wine four ways for the Fourth

Pairing wines with food is a noble duty. This is particularly true on the Fourth of July, a classic American holiday when fireworks and barbequed foods reign supreme and the choice of tasty wine can enhance the meal that much more.

To many, it’s as simple as serving hamburgers and hot dogs with their favorite bottles of Chardonnay or Merlot. But for those of you looking for a little more adventure, there are plenty of new ways of matching tasty comfort foods with bright, playful and expressive wines. For that reason, I thought it would be fun to update the holiday article I wrote a few years ago for Rebel Mom .  So here is the first of my four picks leading up to Independence Day 2014…

Grilled Chicken and Vegetables with Edna Valley Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc

july4Known for its fresh aromatics, fruity flavors, zippy acidity and crisp finish, white wines made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes can offer a refreshing alternative to the buttery styles of Chardonnay in the summertime. A great example of this style is the Edna Valley Vineyard 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Central Coast ($15). This bright new release features fragrant aromas of citrus blossom, grapefruit and fresh cut grass; bright flavors of ripe melon, papaya, lime and gooseberry; and a crisp, refreshing finish.

Besides pairing nicely with grilled chicken marinated in white wine, herbs and citrus, the vibrant acidity of the wine also works great with grilled asparagus, squash, onions and other veggies that are often difficult to pair with, as well as handling the heat in spicy dishes as well. For a fun July 4th pairing with the Edna Valley Vineyards 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, check out Chef Mark Murphy’s fantastic recipe for Grilled Corn on the Cob with Chili-Lime Butter and Cojita Cheese.  Yummy, easy to make, and a perfect pairing with a fresh wine poured from a screwcap bottle. Oh, behave!

 

 

US vs. Belgium: It’s time for a frothy perspective

As much as I talk about wines, I must say that today’s World Cup game matching the United States vs. Belgium makes it impossible for me to resist my love for fine Belgium brew. Of course this includes the fine beers made by the Trappist monks at Notre-Dame de Scourmont Abbey in Chimay and other top producers in country like Duvel, Affligem and Leffe, as well as talented brewers who are making their stylized versions here in the United States like Ommegang Brewery in Cooperston, N.Y. and New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado.

CHIMAYWith that being said, here’s a link to the tasty article I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle Food & Wine section in May 2003:  “U.S. acquiring a taste for Belgian ales / Fruity, spicy, rich and brewed by monks“.

It’s also worth mentioning that I was quite honored to find out there is a reference to this article on the Wikipedia page for the Chimay Brewery. Pretty cool!

In short: No simple beers. No simple game. Long live fine Belgian beer, but today go Team USA!

Cheers, Christopher

P.S. For more information on the Chimay Brewery, their specialty beers and the fine cheese made by the Trappist monks, visit www.chimay.com.

2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Wine Picks of the Day: Monday, June 16

Today’s game to watch is United States vs. Ghana / ESPN 2:30 PST

United States: Before playing its first game in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the US soccer team is already going through a small identity crisis. For starters, German-born coach (Juergen Klinsmann) has already cut seasoned veteran Landon Donovan from the roster and candidly said that his team will not win the 2014 World Cup championship. For that reason, more pressure has been placed on star forward Clint Dempsey and the other younger players to score and goalie Tim Howard to hold his own against the strong and speedy team from Ghana. Of course, there’s also the fact that they are playing their first game in Natal, Brazil (a.k.a. “City of the Sun”) which has had heavy rainstorms over the last few days. Then, when you considering the fact that the next two opponents after Ghana are Germany and Portugal, there’s a reason why Group G is loosely referred to as the division from hell. So realistically, today’s game is a do-or-die situation for the US team to advance to the next round.

Although we can’t all be there to help the team, an easy good luck charm would be to bust open a bottle of the Carol Shelton 2012 “Wild Thing” Old Vine Zinfandel, Mendocino County ($19) made with fruit from old and mature vineyards, wild yeast, and aged in fine oak barrels.

Often referred to as California’s “sweetheart” grape, the first cuttings of zinfandel were brought to the West Coast during the Gold Rush boom in the 1850s. Before Prohibition, plantings were spread throughout the state, and thanks to the natural vigor of the thick-skinned red grape and its resilient character to avoid diseases, many of these original vineyards can still be seen dotting the landscape in Mendocino County and other prestigious winegrowing regions throughout California.

For these reasons, the new release of the 2012 Wild Thing packs a serious punch with lush, jammy flavors of black raspberry, bright cherry, plum, blood orange peel, clove, pepper and a hit of vanilla. In Carol’s words: “Remember—you are what you drink…” Like the US soccer team, it’s a very youthful wine with plenty to prove. Go team, go! www.CarolShelton.com.

Ghana: From the coast of West Africa, Ghana is a very serious soccer team who has beaten the US in the last two World Cup matches the teams have played. So it makes sense that the name of the country literally means “Warrior King.” For cuisine, Ghana is best known for seafood, soups and stews. One of the popular entrees is grilled Tilapia filet served with tomatoes, spicy sauce made with chilies and peppers, and Banku (a starch made with corn maize). With historic connections to German merchant marines and a portion of the country once known as the German Gold Coast, a fantastic pairing with the flaky texture of the fish and layers of spice would be a German or Alsace-style white blend. One of my favorites is the Brooks 2012 “Amycas” White Table Wine, Willamette Valley ($18), a combination of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Muscat and Gewurztraminer. This lovely domestic version of Edelzwicker (German for “noble blend”) features enchanting aromas of fresh citrus, honey and exotic fruits. On the palate, the wine is highlighted by notes of fresh lime, peach, mango and papaya, vibrant acidity, and a clean, crisp finish. Scary good. www.BrooksWine.com.