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I had the pleasure of tasting through 12 Livermore Valley Cabernets tonight. An amazing line up! Thank you to the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association and the Tri Valley Conservancy for organizing tonight’s event.
When I started thinking about how I could celebrate #CabernetDay…as everyone should celebrate such a day…I knew that I wanted to revisit the Mello Cielo tour at Ruby Hill Winery. One of my all time favorite images was taken there, coincidentally, on Cabernet Day 2012.
This great tour takes you up into the vineyards, so that you can taste the finished product among the vines, hanging heavy with the 2013 grapes. Our driver, Eric, took the time to have us taste several different varieties of grapes, freshly plucked from the vines.
After a quick detour to the new Rubino winery, where we sampled the Muscato sparkling wine (too sweet for me, but a nice offering) and 2010 Zinfandel, we moved on to the Ruby Hill production area. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting a winery during the harvest season, there is an amazing energy in the cellars this time of year. The assistant winemaker, Pete, and the team were busy getting all of the equipment cleaned and ready for the arrival of some Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc, expected later this week.
After tasting 2 fabulous barrel samples (the 2012 Sangiovese and 2012 Zinfandel), we made our way to the “water tower” for the food and wine pairing part of the tour.
The wines were served with a platter of cheeses, melon with prosciutto, dried blueberries, almonds, and salami. Of course, what goes better with wine that good company? We had a great group of people, including local hoteliers and members of the Visit Tri Valley tourism bureau team. Thank you Paul, Anna Maria, Liz, Geoff, Eric, Barbara, Mario and Rhiannon for exploring our local wine region with me!
For some people, this two hour tour would be enough of a celebration – but not for those of us in Livermore Valley Wine Country! Jay Bhatia, with 4GQ Limousine, picked the group up and we headed to Concannon Vineyard, for a very special Cabernet Day tasting.
All of us Cabernet Sauvignon lovers owe a lot to the Concannon family – a considerable amount of California Cabernet vines can trace their roots (literally) back to the “Mother Vine” at Concannon Vineyards. This year marks the 130th consecutive grape harvest at their Livermore Valley vineyards. As such, Concannon Vineyards used #CabernetDay as the perfect excuse to open some older vintages for a special vertical tasting. The 2002 Limited Cabernet was easily my favorite Concannon wine (of the 6 that we tried) This Cabernet was smooth, with flavors of black current and cassis. The smoked Gouda that they paired it with was a perfect match.
The other delicious Concannon pairings were:
- 2003 Reserve Cabernet paired with Irish Cheddar
- 2007 Heritage Cabernet paired with Point Reyes Blue (yummy!)
- 2010 Reserve Cabernet paired with Cambozola
- 2010 Reserve 130th Anniversary Cabernet paired with Traditional Brie
- 2012 Cabernet barrel sample – young, but showing great structure already
Any Livermore Valley Cabernet discussion must include the Steven Kent Winery. They have been making Cabernet in Livermore since 1996, but Steven Mirassou (yes, those Mirassous) has a passion for wine that goes back much further. Steven Kent Winery offered a special Cabernet Day tasting of their 2010 Home Ranch, Smith Ranch, and Folkendt Vineyard Cabernets. All were stellar, but the Folkendt was easily my favorite. I know that a few more years in the bottle will only help this wine, but I don’t know if I have that kind of will power.
While our intention had been to continue on to another one of the outstanding Livermore Valley Cabernet producers (McGrail Vineyards or Nottingham Cellars were both on our list), we opted to end the evening sitting out in the orchard at the Purple Orchid Wine Country Resort. Their “Music in the Orchard” series offers the perfect setting for a warm summer evening in Livermore. Crawdad Republic was the band that night, and they were offering wines from Nottingham Cellars and beer from Altamond Beer Works. But best of all…pizza from Ken’s Wood Fired Pizza. I don’t mind telling you that I needed more pizza than wine or beer by the time we wrapped up our CabernetDay celebration. Cheers!
There are few things in life that I enjoy as much as a well prepared meal, perfectly paired with award winning wines. My children’s laughter or a smile and kiss from my husband are certainly contenders…but that’s for a different blog.
I had the pleasure of attending (yet another) Livermore valley winemaker dinner this past Friday evening. Set among the olive orchards at the Purple Orchid Resort, I can’t think of a more picturesque location for such an event. It was an intimate gathering of about 50 guests, all looking to learn more about Concannon wines, and how they pair with each of the 5 courses served.
Appetizers – Pacific Scallop with Toasted Shallot-Pickled Ginger Jam on house made potato chips, Organic Heirloom Caprese Skewers with “Foot Prints” Olive Oil Finish, and Wild Mushroom Puff Pastry with Sherry and Fresh Herbs - with 2011 Reserve Viognier or 2010 Reserve Stampmaker’s Red
My personal favorite appetizer was the scallop. The shallot and pickled ginger jam had such vibrant flavors that brought out the melon and citrus notes in the 2011 Reserve Viognier.
First Course – Roasted Corn Chowder with Sweet Dungeness Crab – with 2011 Reserve Chardonnay
This rich chowder had great flavor and texture, with chunks of crab and crunch from whole corn kernels that kept me going back for more. The 2011 Reserve Chardonnay had crisp apple and citrus notes that balanced the richness from the chowder nicely.
2nd Course – Spring Salad with Fresh Organic Strawberries and Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette – with 2011 Reserve Assemblage Blanc
This course took me a bit by surprise, as it offered one of my favorite pairings of the night. The combination of the sweet strawberries, meyer lemon dressing, and the fruit forward blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon was truly delicious. While I’m a big salad lover, these courses are usually not my favorites at winemaker gatherings, so kudos to the chef and winemaker for this one!
Third Course – Salmon Roulade with Fresh Herbs and Calamat Relish, Spring Peas and Brentwood Corn Succotash – with 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir
Isn’t this plate beautiful! The salmon was a roulade, with bright herbs and calamata olives adding just enough fresh flavors to balance nicely with the reserve Pinot Noir. While there weren’t any Spring Peas, as mentioned on the menu, the crunch from the bell pepper added a nice spice element that accentuated the raspberry and earthy notes in the wine.
Fourth Course – Cumin-Coriander Crusted California Rack of Lamb, Manchego Polenta, Balsamic-Red Pepper Gastrique – with 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
As Concannon Vineyards can claim that approximately 80% of California Cabernets can be traced to one of the Concannon clones, I had high expectations from this wine. It was released a mere week before the dinner at Purple Orchid, but certainly did not disappoint. The lamb was perfectly cooked, and was accented by the gastrique, which was actually made from more berry (perhaps boysenberry…) than the claimed red bell pepper. This fruit helped heighten the red cherry, plum, and cocoa notes in the wine, so I was pleased with the chef’s decision to deviate from the menu.
Fifth Course – Homemade Tiramisu – with 2010 Petite Sirah Port
When my husband and I first started drinking ports, we were certainly not drinking Concannon’s Petit Sirah, but we should have been. Overall, I am not one to sit around a fireplace and enjoy a glass of port – more likely a big Petit Sirah or Cab, but this port may change my mind.
The deconstructed tiramisu, comprised of a rich zabaglione cream, lady fingers dipped in coffee syrup, dusted with cocoa powder was delicious on it’s own – but with the Petit Sirah port, was truly fabulous. To be fair, I had consumed a fair amount of wine by this point, but let’s assume that my taste buds were still functioning the way they are meant to.
As I have discovered over the years, one of the best parts of a great winemaker dinner are the conversations one enjoys during and after the meal. The Concannon Vineyard dinner was absolutely no exception. I am lucky to count many attendees as friends now, and I look forward to seeing them, and you, at a future Livermore winemaker dinner.
En Garde Winery is quite literally the “hidden gem” located on the Tenuta Vineyards property. As you step through the door into the back production area, you are welcomed into a small tasting room, showcasing wines made from some of the best grapes from throughout California.
4th generation winemaker, Csaba Szakal, has been surrounded by wine his entire life, and believes that the best wines come from the best fruit. His most notable vineyard sources include Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon and Russian River Pinot Noir.
The 2007 Diamond Mountain Cab and 2009 Russian River Pinot Noir Reserve were my favorite bottled wines of the day, but I also tasted through several wines still in barrel or tank. While most of the 2012 wines that I tasted (in late March 2013) had only been in barrel for a short time, they were showing amazing depth and structure already. The 2012 Petit Sirah from Livermore has me convinced that the 2012 vintage will be one to keep an eye out for.
When you’re ready for the perfect wine dessert, grab a bowl of vanilla bean ice cream, and top it with En Garde’s Magdalena, a berry port style wine…my mouth is watering!
Check out En Garde Winery for yourself!