Pigs and Pinot is one of my favorite events of the year—not only because it showcases the best Pinot Noir from around the world, paired alongside exquisite cuisine from top-tier chefs and restaurants, but because this premier Sonoma County wine country event raises funds for dozens of great causes.
At the top of the list is Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, alongside a host of other charities and organizations set to receive proceeds, such as the Culinary Institute of America, Sonoma State University, Healdsburg Education Foundation and Down Syndrome Association North Bay—just to name a few. Ticket sales from this year’s events combined with proceeds from silent auction bids raised over $150,000 for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign and local Sonoma County charities.
Time and time again, I am in awe of the chefs, winemakers, sponsors, local community members and visitors from afar who come together for these multi-event weekends to raise money for good causes. Pigs and Pinot is certainly an event that people come for from all over to attend. Hosted at Hotel Healdsburg with their onsite restaurant Dry Creek Kitchen, lead by Chef Charlie Palmer, the atmosphere of the events is both luxurious and comfortable. For those visiting from out of town, it couldn’t be in a more convenient location—just a few miles away from the iconic Dry Creek Valley appellation and nestled in the heart of Healdsburg, just off its historic square. For locals, this familiar setting makes for a great staycation.
This year, I attended Friday’s night’s Taste of Pigs and Pinot—always one of the best wine and food events of the year—and Saturday’s Ultimate Sommelier Smackdown Seminar, which was an entertaining, March madness-themed tasting of sixteen top-quality Pinot Noir handselected by four Master Sommeliers: Fred Dame, Michael Jordan, Keith Goldstein and Drew Hendricks.
Taste of Pigs and Pinot
On Friday, March 18th, Taste of Pigs and Pinot kicked off with a bang. Upon entering, Dry Creek Kitchen Wine Director Rolando Maldonado cheerfully handed glasses of Rosé to each guest. I first met Rolando during a Winemaker Dinner with Lambert Bridge Winery at Dry Creek Kitchen a couple months ago; he is a charismatic, friendly and knowledgeable Sommelier—it was great to see him in action during the event!
The Rosé was the 2015 vintage from Trione Vineyards & Winery—a caramel, rose petal and strawberry-scented wine that is fresh and zesty on the palate. Lime, dried cherry and strawberry flavors dance across the tongue in a refreshing, crisp and gently-round style.
Grabbing bite-sized culinary dishes and matching them up with excellent Pinot Noir never gets old. Every year, I relish in the new flavors, new wines and fun pairings. One of my favorite dishes this year was prepared by Chef Dave Holman of Charlie Palmer Steak in Reno; it was an applewood smoked pork belly rhubarb and bacon tartlet, served with pickled green-strawberry and mustard vinaigrette. The pork was succulent with deliciously crispy edges, well-dressed in the tangy vinaigrette and nicely contrasted by the flaky, buttery tartlet crust. This delicious sweet and savory combination was very balanced, and of course, perfectly matched for Pinot Noir.
When I enjoyed this delectable tartlet, I was sipping on the 2013 Charlie Clay, which is a passion project from Clay Mauritson of Mauritson Wines and Chef Charlie Palmer. This Pinot Noir is lovely (and just so happened to be the runner-up in this year’s Pinot Cup!) and full of fruit, spice and earthy flavors. The light-bodied palate brings strawberry and cranberry fruit, backed by subtle baking spice, forest floor and a touch of orange peel, all wrapped up in its smooth, gently-weighted texture. This was definitely a favorite of the night.
Another favorite Pinot and one that was full of spice-driven fruit, was the 2014 Russian River Valley from Bacigalupi Vineyards. Light and spicy, with a ton of plum spice cake flavors, this Pinot Noir is packed with flavor. The dried fruit characteristics and the way they linger on the palate through the long finish is seductive. The mouthfeel is soft and elegant, and very well balanced.
As for the cuisine, the other dish I couldn’t get enough of was the brined, smoked and roasted pork shoulder served with a cheddar grits cake, red eye gravy and apple cabbage slaw. This decadent dish was prepared by Chef William Oliver of Vintage Valley Catering. The rich, deep flavor of the pork shoulder was definitely a highlight of the night; the creamy, cheesy grits and crisp, fresh apple cabbage slaw both contrasted the succulent, smoky flavors of the pork—making a dish of great balance and intensity.
Ultimate Sommelier Smackdown Seminar
This was my first year attending the Ultimate Sommelier Smackdown Seminar. On Saturday, March 19th, Master Sommeliers Fred Dame, Michael Jordan, Keith Goldstein and Drew Hendricks were all in attendance, ready to support their wine picks and convince the crown of the ultimate smackdown winner.
The premise is this: four Master Sommeliers each choose four top-tier Pinot Noirs from around the world. In this year’s March madness-themed tasting, guests tasted through the 16 “team” bracket, choosing their favorite Pinot Noir in each round. By the time the crowd narrowed it down to four wines, the producers were as follows: Lando Wines from the local Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, Lucia Vineyards (by Pisoni) from Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County, Chapter 24 Vineyards from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and Soter Vineyards from Yamhill-Carlton in Oregon.
Each of these four wines is exquisite, and what a pleasure to taste them while listening to each of the Master Sommeliers talk about their experiences with the wines. Of course, the event would not have been a smackdown without some jockeying for the top position.
During the tasting of Lando Wines’ 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Michael Jordan discussed his first time tasting the wine at the World of Pinot Noir: “When I first tasted this wine, I said to myself… ‘I want to fight for this next year at Pigs and Pinot.’” And fight he did, as this was the winning Pinot Noir of all sixteen presented at this year’s smackdown.
With a sultry nose, the Lando 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir draws you in immediately with its aromatics. The texture and body are both incredible, with deep spice and layers of complexity that unfold gracefully on the palate, with fresh raspberry and red cherry fruit flavors. “We try to make intense, but fresh and elegant wines,” Winemaker Sam Lando states. He has certainly achieved that trio of intensity, freshness and elegance in this stunning 2013 Russian River Valley expression.
The very close runner-up at the smackdown was the Soter Vineyards 2012 Mineral Springs Pinot Noir. Fred Dame states, “When I think about Pinot Noir and the place outside of California that matters most, it’s Oregon.” Coming from Oregon’s Yamhill-Carlton appellation, this gorgeously balanced Pinot shows flavors of black raspberry and vanilla, backed by earthy nuances in its structured profile, soft-tannin approach and seductive body. “I’ve got a love affair with Soter wines,” Dame states, and after tasting this expression, it is easy to see why.
The decision between the top two wines was certainly not an easy one to make, but ultimately, the “local boy,” as Jordan put it, won on home court.
Interested in the other fourteen wines presented at the smackdown?
Check out the full lineup below:
Kistler: 2012 Cuvee Natalie Silver Belt Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, California
WesMar: 2012 Sonoma Coast, California
Kosta Browne: 2013 Kanzler Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, California
Diora: 2014 La Petite Grace, Monterey, California
Copain: 2013 Wendling, Anderson Valley, California
Lucia by Pisoni: 2013 Gary’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands, California
Native 9: 2012 Rancho Ontiveros Vineyards, Santa Maria Valley, California
Penner Ash: 2013 Estate, Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon
Chapter 24: 2014 VGR “Very Good Red,” Willamette Valley, Oregon
Angela Estate: 2012 Abbott Claim, Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon
Bergstrom: 2011 Homage, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Spy Valley Envoy: 2012 Johnson Vineyard, Waihopai Valley Marlborough, New Zealand
Escarpment: 2013 Martinborough, New Zealand
Hartford Court: 2012 Marin County, California
What to Expect When You FEAST
When I hear the word feast, the first things that come to mind are large plates of delicious food, an abundance of wine, friends and laughter… and this is exactly what you can expect from Harvest Table's FEAST gatherings.
Launched at the beginning of the year, FEAST features the deliciously fresh cuisine of Chef Charlie Palmer and Chef Levi Mezick at Harvest Table in Saint Helena, alongside a lineup of wine pairings. For each dinner, a new winery joins the team to showcase their wines in conjunction with the decadent, creative dishes that continue to grace the restaurant's fresh menu.
When to FEAST
The first FEAST was hosted on January 15th and featured St. Supery Estate Vineyards & Winery. Consecutive dates are currently scheduled. Coming up next month, don't miss feasting with Silver Oak Cellars on April 15th at 6pm.
During each FEAST, family-style dishes are brought to the table on large plates and passed around in cooperative, friendly fashion. The simple act of passing plates brings about conversation and smiles among the guests. Each of the dishes is artfully paired with the featured wines of the evening, and like any feast, warmhearted conversation, plentiful laughter and new friendships abound.
The Inaugural FEAST with St. Supery Estate Vineyards & Winery
In the case of the first FEAST, the selection of three St. Supery wines and a cocktail made from their own spirits matched the dishes beautifully, and certainly stimulated amiable conversation.
Sauvignon Blanc & Beets
As the night kicked off, introductions were made as guests sipped on St. Supery's 2014 Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc during the reception—which also featured passed hors d'oeuvres of Golden Beet, Apple and Goat Cheese Crostini, and Mussels Veloutè with Herb Oil. These savory dishes prepped the taste buds perfectly and poised palates for the sumptuous Sauvignon Blanc. Full of tropical fruit on the nose, the 2014 Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc boasts excellent acidity balanced by roundness on the palate; flavors of grapefruit, lime and peach mingle in pitch-perfect harmony. Underlying notes of caramel and smokiness lead to a juicy, lengthy finish.
Malbec & Pork Belly
Already rather familiar after the reception, guests dine together at the family-style tables on the comfortable patio. To start, plates of Crispy Pork Belly with Molé, Smoked-Salt Almonds and Shishito Peppers were passed around. Tender, juicy and full of rich flavor, this pork belly dish found its match with the St. Supery 2012 Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Malbec, which is very round and full with tons of concentrated plum and dried fruit, spices and layers of complexity that unfold gracefully on the palate. The Malbec does wonders with the molé, enhancing its sweet and tangy flavors, which simultaneously bring out the more peppery nuances and notes of dark chocolate in the wine. Together, they have wonderful synergy on the palate.
By this time in the night, guests are incredibly friendly with each other and a pleasant buzz of chatter fills the air. This convivial atmosphere is only pleasantly interrupted by the arrival of more wonderful cuisine. Of course, as the dishes arrive and even in between dishes, the wine is flowing—as Sommelier Lauren Helm and Food & Beverage Director Michael Kowalski make sure to the keep glasses full.
Cabernet & Steak
A beautifully plated main dish of Hanger Steak "Wellington," Roasted Root Vegetables, Hen-of-the-Woods Mushrooms and Sauce Pèrigourdinei was served alongside St. Supery's 2012 Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Elevation Cabernet Sauvignon. This Cabernet boasts gorgeous aromatics of currants, blackberry, earth, mint and cocoa. On the palate, the wine is teeming with blackberry, cocoa and dark chocolate, followed by softer notes of mint and baking spices; the texture is round, the tannins are soft, and the finish is long and dry. With the steak, a dish full of flavor and contrasting textures, the Cabernet was of course gorgeously suited. The pairing certainly played with textures, given the wine's dryness and soft tannins, while the umami-rich sauce pèrigourdinei brought out the baking spices in the wine. Together, the two create a mouthful of deep, rich flavors with a lot of depth and roundness on the palate.
Moscato Cocktail & Panna Cotta
To finish, a nutty Macadamia Panna Cotta with Vanilla Bean-Poached Tatsuma and a Lace Cookie was creatively paired with a Moscato cocktail of St. Supery's house-made Andrew Jackson Dollarhide spirit, whipped up with lime juice, pear shrub, ginger beer and bay leaf. A zesty, tangy, earthy and fruity cocktail, this was quite tasty with the panna cotta. The nuttiness of the panna cotta enhanced the ginger, and the panna cotta's creaminess contrasted the zesty nature of the beverage. This was delicious, creative and a lot of fun to experience—as was the entire FEAST gathering, which left many of us exchanging phone numbers and hugging goodbye.
Join Harvest Table for the next FEAST and delight in the experience of delicious food, an abundance of wine, new friends and plenty of laughter.
Rombauer Vineyards has long been a staple for classic California-style Chardonnay from Napa Valley. This year though, Director of Viticulture and Winemaking Richie Allen decided to bring a bit of diversity to their collection, with the addition of their inaugural nationally released Sauvignon Blanc. Released in early February, the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc is the first varietal Rombauer has added to their collection since their Zinfandel's debut back in 1990. My interests were piqued, to say the least, as I have always known Rombauer as a Chardonnay house.
When I dived into the Sauvignon Blanc, I learned that the grapes were sourced from four Napa Valley vineyards with alluvial soils; the climate of these vineyards is moderate and full of sunshine—well suited for Sauvignon Blanc. Once picked and whole-cluster pressed, the grapes underwent fermentation in a unique combination of 90% stainless steel tanks and 10% neutral French oak barrels. I have to say that I like the addition of the 10% neutral barrel fermentation, as it gives the wine a bit of roundness at mid-palate that I find quite pleasurable.
As only the second white wine that Rombauer Vineyards has to offer and a nice contrast to their richer Chardonnay, this Sauvignon Blanc is poised to draw more guests into the tasting room with its decidedly fresh and zesty style. To be honest, I expected a riper expression of Sauvignon Blanc, given its Napa Valley heritage. However, Rombauer Vineyards' 2015 Sauvignon Blanc is quite refreshing and full of lively fruit flavors that do not taste overripe at all.
The wine initially gives up tropical aromas on the nose, but then gently airs out into more honeydew melon, green pineapple, lime, grapefruit and lime blossom notes. On first sip, the palate is graced with a refreshing wave of freshness, acidity and a crisp mouthfeel. The fruit is much more citrus-driven than the nose, with lemon and lime zest leading the way, followed by green melons and white stone fruits lingering in the background. With more air and as it warms in the glass, the lemon and lime become stronger, coupled with bright grapefruit characteristics. The mid-palate has brief but nice creaminess, which I really enjoy from a textural standpoint, and the length finishes with good acid.
This is definitely a Sauvignon Blanc for lovers of crisp, refreshing white wines. The release of this wine is right on track as we just begin spring. We've already seen 70-degree days full of sunshine and blooming mustard flowers. With a setting like this, who doesn't want a refreshing splash of Sauvignon Blanc in their glass?