Monday, March 10, 2014

2014 Taste of California - Oscar/Wine Pairing Party

This year's participants.  The last wine is the label-less Que Ser√° Syrah that Jimmy and I made.  Because 8 was NOT enough.
So every year for the past six years we've had a wine tasting party.  They started out very casual and slapdash and evolved into something with a little more structure.  You can read more about the evolution of it "here" if you wish.

About six months ago or so Leslie and I decided the theme for this year's party would be the Academy Awards.  She and I figured it would dovetail nicely with the region (California).  We fine-tuned how it would all work and then kept the theme secret until we sent the official invitations out (about four or five weeks before the event).  Prior to that she'd done some ground work with determining schedules, so it's not like we just said, "Hey, you're invited," and hoped everyone could make it.  But it was "formalized" a few weeks in advance.

The general guidelines for the party are as follows:
1)  Wines are assigned randomly to the participants.
2)  Participants research their wines and create some sort of presentation, educational/entertaining.
3)  Participants research a dish that pairs well with their wine.
4)  Leslie sets up the menu once all the wines and dishes are announced.
5)  Commence to partyin'.
She puts one of these at each place setting, sort of like a program.

This year, with the theme being the Academy Awards, Leslie's invitation read "Black tie optional".  I donned my black suit and purchased a bow tie, for example.  More on that painful process "here."

We rolled out a red carpet, festooned the walls with stars, cordoned off the front door with a velvet rope, got swag bags for the visiting VIPs, purchased "trophies", and decked a couple of the participants daughters in fancy evening gowns to act as presenters.

The idea was the girls would read an envelope of nominees and then award, for example, the best Cabernet Sauvignon, to a participant.  The participant(s) would then rise to the acknowledging cheers of his peers and the presentation would essentially be the acceptance speech.
The other girls aren't pixelated in real life.  That's just a camera effect.

It was great.  And classy.  But drunken.  Too drunken.  Probably we'll have to make some changes moving forward.  People lose track of the fact that there are eight wines to get through, and the pours get a little 'too full' to make it to the end safely.  By the third course I was more than tipsy.  By the 7th, you couldn't hear the presentations over the sound of drunken heckling.  By the 9th*, arrests were made.  But it was a close thing.

*Officially there were 8 courses, but we cracked open a bottle of the wine we made in November.  That was the fabled one-too-many.
so classy

Leslie and I were randomly assigned Cabernet Sauvignon.  We paired it with filet mignon sliders done two with a chimichurri sauce and stone ground mustard on artisan bread, and the other a Gorgonzola and Porcini cream sauce on artisan bread.  We then cut the sliders in half so that each person got half of each recipe...or one whole slider.  But seriously, with eight courses nobody leaves hungry.

Here was our presentation for this year's party...

2011 Dreaming Tree Cabernet Sauvignon

Dreaming Tree is owned by Dave Matthews and some wine guy.  Yes, that Dave Matthews.  Dreaming Tree’s website assured us that the wine guy’s credentials were beyond reproach, and that Dave Matthews also knew some stuff.  Liking wine, for example, was listed on his resume.

Dreaming Tree itself is named after a Dave Matthews Band song…”Dreaming Tree”.  But “What Would You Say” if we were to stand here in “The Space Between” “You & Me” and start interjecting Dave Matthews Band puns throughout our presentation?  Doubtless you’d lose patience and “Crash into Me” in your haste to “Say Goodbye” and, like “Ants Marching” we’d lose the lot of you and be left crying, “Where Are you Going?” we have “So Much to Say!” 

But we’re not clich√© like that. 

Dreaming Tree’s website is selling a story about their wine.  More so than the wine itself it seems, because while I’m not positive what the wine itself is supposed to be like from their website, I do know, for example, that Tino is an old local guy who doesn’t want to retire, and that Dale is a local fisherman who offered Dave a beer once.  And so on.  Charming stories about the people and places around the vineyard, and of course, back story about why Dave Matthews is a wine expert all litter their webpage along with charming photographs of Dave drinking wine with people, or staring into the middle distance, a visionary wine…liker…guy.  In the background are hand drawn sketches of fish and people and houses and things.  But still no ideas what Dreaming Tree Cabernet Sauvignon is supposed to taste like. 

After much digging I came up with this:  The wine “shows abundant fruit with notes of cherry, blackberry, anise and vanilla. It's soft and with a lush texture that makes it great match for everyday foods.”

I’m not sure that we agree about “everyday foods” But…it is soft, definitely softer than your typical high tannin Cabernet.  It makes it smooth and drinkable and easier to pair with food than the first wine we considered…more about that in a moment.

We also know is that it’s from California.  We know that because Dreaming Tree was as I mentioned, our number two selection for reasons.  For starters, number one did not pair particularly well with the first dish we tried, was a only a little better with the second, but not great with the third (a pumpkin cheesecake recipe that Leslie insisted we start at 10:30 at night and I was still waiting to cool at 1:00 a.m.).   Upon failing this last test, and with mounting panic, Leslie said, “Why don’t you see what their website says pairs well with it.”  So I went.  It turned out that our first selection was a wine from Oregon.  Drunk, we turned instead to a wine that we were relatively sure was not from Oregon, and quite possibly was from California.    

Yes!!  Dreaming Tree is from California!

From our general research on wine pairings with Cabernet we have some nice bullet-point memorizables:

  • 1.      Cabernet’s high tannin content lends itself to grilled meats…steaks, chops, and other red meat.  The char on the meat mirrors the bitterness of the tannin.
  • 2.      Black pepper counters the bitterness
  • 3.      Bitter foods…mustard greens, endive, eggplant
  • 4.      Cabernet counters fatty, buttery foods nicely.
  • 5.      Earthy herby flavors, dark mushrooms, fresh herbs.

Taking all of the above into consideration we tried five recipes (including those we sampled with the Oregon wine) and were left with two that we felt really paired well.  Instead of settling on one, we have prepared for you…

Petite filet sliders done two ways:  filet with chimichurri sauce and stone ground mustard, and filet with Gorgonzola and Porcini mushroom sauce both served on lightly toasted artisan bread.  

We each felt that one of the preparations paired better than the other.  We’re curious what you’ll find.  Do the herbs and pepper of the chimichurri pair better than the fatty Gorgonzola and earthy Porcini flavors of the cream sauce?

Bon Apetit!

We took an Ellen Degeneres-style Oscar selfie, but without the consent of the other participants I'm reluctant to share it here.  That said, here's a teaser...

Leslie said, "Did we do a selfie?" the following day.  She didn't remember anything after the 6th course. 

I seem more serious than I really was.  My lopsided grin is away from the camera so it's hidden.  I was happy.  Sooooooo happy.
Lily dressed up but was designated driver.


  1. You guys are like actual grown-ups.

  2. cool blog................!
    This blog is every year for the past six years we've had a wine tasting party.