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