Food, Wine & Friends Page 278
San Francisco International Wine Competitions Judges' Dinner June 2015
At the 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition
judging, I invited the overseas contingent to dinner a couple of nights prior to
the wine tasting.
"We would have to do this earlier in the week," I explained,
"since it's a bit of a wine and food marathon and you'll need a day to
So, we kept in touch via e-mail and the folks all flew in to San Francisco a day
earlier than normal. They all booked a hotel near the San Francisco
International Airport and, amazingly, everyone arrived simultaneously.
My plan was ambitious and I cautioned them all to be hungry and thirsty, since
we would "have work to do."
I'd been contemplating the various dishes and trying to figure out the logistics
regarding the stove and oven.
What wines should be served?
And so we created a menu, though the one posted below is an edited version,
since we opened more bottles than were on the original.
I was racing around the kitchen in order to get everything
prepared by the appointed hour.
And at the appointed hour, the crew was knocking on the door!
The table was set and ready.
Earlier in the day, I baked a couple of different kinds of
In the afternoon, I assembled the Prawns in Parchment
These packages had a fine dice of zucchini and onions, briefly sautéed and then
anointed with a bit of homemade pesto.
The parchment packages are then sealed, resembling a scallop shell.
Everyone arrived safely and so we pulled a bottle of bubbly
out of the 'fridge and Rowald Hepp took care of pouring.
We then had a little toast.
Wendy, Jim, Jim, Rowald and The Great Kate.
In addition to the Marcona Almonds and assorted olives and Dolmas, we places a
tray of stuffed mussels under the broiler.
And so a second bottle of bubbly was required.
It was finally time to take a seat at the table.
I was wearing a special apron, created for this evening's dinner. Everyone
commented, upon seeing this apron, that they wanted one.
Well...I was ahead of them on this.
I was getting busy in the kitchen.
Rowald, a week before our dinner, had complained about various wining &
dining events where guests are served "micro-portions" on large
You can guess which plate was for Rowald!
We had a 2012 Zocker Riesling from the Edna Valley. This is a delicious
wine and close to dry (maybe 6 or 7 grams of sugar), but nicely acidic to
The 1994 Stony Hill Riesling from Napa was looking good in the bottle, clear and
light in color. Once the bottle was opened and the wine poured, it quickly
showed its age and had a lightly brassy color. But the fragrances and
bouquet were quite good. The wine was bone dry and still lively and
tasting in good condition, amazingly.
The Rieslings paired handsomely with the salad and smoked trout.
The salad dressing was, of course, homemade. I used a
special vinegar for this dressing, one that was made by one of the fantastic SF
International Wine Competition volunteers, Mahala Bundy.
And so we toasted Mahala and the SF International for bringing us all together.
The next course was the Pesto Prawns in Parchment Paper...
We paired this with two distinctive Sauvignon Blanc wines.
One is the Salinia Wine Company bottling of a fizzy Sauvignon called Twenty Five
Reasons (25 ounces in the bottle). It is a blend of several vintages of
Sauvignon Blanc that have been fermented on the grape skins. The youngest
vintage is not fully fermented, so it acts as the tirage liqueur and
allows the wine to ferment in the bottle, creating some carbon dioxide.
When the wine was first released, we found it to be more herbal and showing a
more youthful character of Sauvignon.
Now that it's been in the bottle a few years, it's acquired an odd funky
character and it's a UC Davis enology professor's nightmare-of-a-wine.
We found elements in it which reminded us of some curious Belgian beers.
Jim McMahon noted that, on its own, this is a bit of a disaster. However,
paired with the pesto and prawns, it actually makes a good account of itself.
Jim was right...it's an odd-duck-of-a-wine tasted by itself. But with a
strong flavor, in this case the sweetness of the prawns combined with a strongly
garlicky pesto, the wine fared well.
The Agnitio 2013 Napa Valley Sauvignon is a favorite and it was showing
The wine displayed its marvelously herbal, "green" sort of fragrances
and flavors, so it easily dove-tailed into the pesto.
Next on the menu were the crab cakes...crab mixed with
diced onions, parsley, some spices, three beaten eggs and some bread crumbs
(just enough to hold these 'burgers' together). They are lightly floured
and then put into a pan with a small amount of butter.
That's one pound of fresh crab meat.
Red pepper diamonds and a fancy half of a lemon...I used the sediment from the
Twenty Five Reasons bottle to deglaze the pan and create a tiny bit of a
Ridge 2012 Estate Chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains was nicely toasty
and crisp. You can even say it had a steely 'edge' to it.
Kistler's 2013, meanwhile, was mildly toasty and creamier, showing a faintly
Both wines were quite good, but I believe the group was leaning more towards the
Kistler as the better accompaniment to the crab cakes.
Kate was delighted with the chance to "acidify," something she's unaccustomed
to doing back home in New Zealand!
Jim McMahon was at the head of the table nearest the town of Hillsborough,
while I was seated closer to the Bay.
And this little 'crab cake' is nearly entirely crab.
At this stage of the evening, a little palate cleanser was
I made a Granité of Grenache.
I adorned each serving with a bit of fresh Cilantro.
This "ice" is simple to make and has terrific flavor of the fruity,
berryish Grenache. It can also be made of a good, fruity Beaujolais if you
Meanwhile, back in the kitchen I'd heated a new grill pan and placed some Lamb
"T-Bones" on it. These had been marinated overnight in fresh
garlic, rosemary, thyme and a bit of salt and pepper.
The lamb is from nearby Dixon, California (I did not want to serve them
Australian or New Zealand lamb).
Jim Harre was snooping around the kitchen to see what was going on.
Kate offered to lend a hand, so we had her open the Cabernets to pair with the
I was uncertain about her abilities to handle this task, since New Zealanders
are (these days) more familiar with screw-capped bottles of wine.
As you can see, she was a bit annoyed by this, thinking I was a sammy short
of a picnic!
But, lo and behold: Success!
1970 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon from the Santa Cruz Mountains.
The lamb, fresh off the grill.
...mostly fresh artichokes from a farmer out in the environs of Half Moon Bay,
some okra, mushrooms, red peppers and eggplant. These are braised on
California olive oil.
Potatoes roasted in the oven with duck fat and seasoned with some Herbes de
Provence and Garlic.
I'd seen some Brentwood Corn at our little Burlingame Fresh Market and decided
to serve that in some fresh tomato halves. I sauteed an onion and a fine
dice of red pepper, a touch of Jalapeño and a soupçon of green onion.
These plates then circulated around the table...
...and soon everyone raised a glass.
We opened two bottles to start:
1964 Beaulieu Vineyard "Georges de Latour" Napa Valley Cabernet
This was showing handsomely...mildly woodsy and purely Cabernet. It was a
wonderful bottle...medium-bodied and with some wood spice notes.
The 1970 Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon had a different sort of 'feel' to it. Of
course, coming from the cooler Santa Cruz Mountains, this would be
different. I detected a slightly musty note and others agreed it was
showing itself to be corked to a small degree.
Our "back-up" bottle was a 1994 Forman Napa Valley Cabernet.
This was very elegant and showing reasonably well.
1970 Ridge "California" Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Cruz Mountains)
1964 BV Private Reserve Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
Forman 1994 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon
The next course put a spotlight on locally-made cheeses.
We enjoyed two good Pinot Noirs from California.
Dehlinger 2001 comes from the Russian River Valley appellation of Sonoma
County. The winery is a smallish, family-operated estate founded in the
1970s. The wine had the nicely cherryish, red fruits-sort of Pinot
character. Medium-bodied. Medium intensity and good length.
The other wine was the Mount Eden Vineyards 1994 from the
Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. This is a vineyard cultivated from vines
said to trace its origins back to France's Burgundy in the 1880s.
California winemaker Paul Masson was a friend of Burgundy's Louis Latour and
it's thought Latour's top sites would have provided the original cuttings.
A prominent vintner named Martin Ray planted the Mount Eden site in 1945 from
budwood he acquired from Paul Masson.
The 1994 vintage was exceptional...a cool harvest season allowed the fruit to
ripen slowly and evenly, producing exceptional Pinot Noir. This wine still
showed nice red fruit tones, strawberry and underbrush...
My homemade bread to accompany the cheeses.
We had cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery, Laura Chenel and Cypress Grove, amongst
For dessert we opened a bottle of Schramsberg's Cremant, a California Sparkling
wine made predominantly of a grape called Flora.
This is a variety created by Harold Olmo at UC Davis in the 1930s.
It's a crossing of Gewurztraminer and Semillon.
For dessert, we had a homemade Apple Crumble accompanied by
some freshly-churned, homemade Cinnamon Ice Cream.
Rowald brought a nice bottle of a Schloss Vollrads 1995 Riesling:
Nice! Still alive and moderately sweet with a mildly acidic background.
I can't quite recall the conversation being held at this stage in the evening
(it was, actually the wee hours of the morning).
And with all the hand-waving, gestures and "high-fives," I finally
looked at my watch, thinking it was close to midnight.
I was wrong!
It was well into the wee hours of the morning!!!
We summoned a taxi for the revelers, who departed in a very happy state of
Many thanks to all for coming!
And a big thanks to Jim McMahon whose efforts at cleaning the kitchen were
greatly appreciated, especially when I started my day at 5:30 am.
This was a wonderful wine & food marathon.
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