Monday, July 2, 2018

Temecula Wine Pairing Dinner

Temecula is trying to work its way up the California Wine Regions ladder, and it's a tough climb.  It's got to be hard enough to fight for the attention of Southern California with Santa Barbara County, just up the coast a bit.  But trying to wedge yourself into a conversation containing Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Paso Robles, etc. is a suicide mission.  Add in the fact that Temecula is still just getting on its feet as a serious wine region, which many will argue is still a work in progress.  The Temecula wine community would love to see Angelenos spending their day trip money there, instead of driving north.

The Temecula Winegrowers Association recently held a small dinner in Los Angeles, the purpose of which was to woo people who write about wine to write about Temecula.  I was an easy target, because I do like Temecula and have found a number of wines from that region to be quite good.  That said, there has been a lot of chaff with the wheat as the area grows up.  The dinner was held in a pop-up space on a side street in Venice. 

One aspect of the Temecula Valley that was hit upon time and again was its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.  Most people think of the area as a hot, landlocked inland hell, but it's not.  Several of the representatives present pointed out that Temecula is actually less than 20 miles from the California coastline and receives the benefits of the ocean breezes.

Winemakers were standing together as I walked in before the dinner, telling each other "PBR per acre" inside jokes, spinoffs of "it takes a lot of beer to make wine."  In the aperitif time, I got to speak with Leoness Cellars owner Mike Rennie, a self-described "crazy ol' farmer" who happens to own about a quarter of the Temecula Valley's 2500 acres of grapes.  Rennie talked about how he speaks with former NFL quarterback - now Orange County winegrower - Vince Ferragamo weekly about grapes.  Rennie grows 19 different grape varieties in his Temecula soil.

Patrick Comiskey, who writes about wine for the "Los Angeles Times" seemed rather unimpressed with the pre-dinner beverage until I told him it was a Temecula Blanc de Blanc.  He admitted that it was "very good," and he seemed to be genuinely surprised by the realization.  The Carter Estate Blanc de Blanc is all Chardonnay - that's what Blanc de Blanc means - very dry, toasty, bright and balanced.  It will pair with just about anything, and it went great with the African spice popcorn and sfingi - Italian doughnut puffs - that were passed around before dinner.

Former NFL star and actor Fred Dryer was there as the guest of CRN's Michael Horn.  Dryer does a sports show for Horn's website and seemed rather unengaged - even when asked about his TV series "Hunter."  Dryer lit up, though, when I asked about his status as the "Sultan of Safeties."  He’s the only NFL player ever to score two safeties in the same game.  He really didn't seem very impressed with the food, which I thought was outstanding.  He also begged off on sampling much of the wine, explaining that he was driving.  Locavore chef Leah Di Bernardo of E.A.T. and her crew provided a menu that was inventive and delicious. 

As for the wine, Renzoni Vineyards winemaker Olivia Beale spoke eloquently about her creations, Tim Kramer explained the Leoness offerings and Marcello and Damien Doffo were there as a father and son wine crew.

Wines and Food

Leoness Mélange d'Ete 2017 - This lovely white is an off-dry mix of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Muscat.  Its sweet, floral nose is great, while the palate is flat but fruity, peach mostly.  It was paired with grilled peach toast to nice effect.

Robert Renzoni Vineyards Vermentino 2017 - Made from grapes grown by a grower "down the road."  There's a nice tropical nose with fabulous salinity, and similar notes for the palate.  The great acidity suggests a great food wine.  It should have been a great pair with the San Diego halibut, but oddly, it was not.  It wasn't a bad match, though.

Renzoni Lyric Rose 2015 - This rosé of Syrah displays a nose that’s herbal and full of strawberries.  The palate is dry and fruity, perfect .  Chef Leah's heritage pork paired extremely well with it, featuring strawberry on pork, served with the bone on plate.  A knockout dish.

Doffo Winery Viognier 2017 - This was served with the cheese course, in the middle of the meal.  Its flowers, peaches and herbs show wonderfully on the nose.  The palate has a great acidity, with stone fruit flavors in a straightforward presentation.  The wine was very nice with the triple cream brie.

Leoness Cellar Select Meritage 2014 - 50% Merlot and 35% Cab Franc with splashes of other noble grapes filling out the blend.  This beefy wine was paired with beets and berries, and fared surprisingly well.

Doffo Mofodoffo Gran Tinto 2015 - This wine features mostly Zinfandel with some Petite Sirah.  I would have bet it was a Tempranillo.  Smoke and red fruit decorate the nose, big tannins are there to work on meats, and a savory streak delights.  It paired with braised lentils well, too.

Renzoni Sonata 2014 - A Tuscan blend, half Cab and half Sangiovese, the clone used to make Brunello.  All oak and tannins, this might have been better as simply a Sangiovese.  24 months in new French oak definitely left its mark.  It shines with food and was served with grilled octopus, pasta shells and a tomato sauce.  It was an interesting pairing, although not ideal for this wine.

Doffo Mistura 2015 - Mistura is Portuguese for "mixture."  This Cabernet/Syrah blend was the first Doffo wine produced on the property.  There are baskets of red and blue fruit on the nose, and a soft and fruity feel on the palate . The wine paired wonderfully with the King Trumpet mushrooms on grain.  In my opinion, the Mistura was the best wine of the evening, and it was the best pairing offered.

After a break for an iced hazelnut and vanilla Spokane coffee, the meal wrapped up with the Leoness Signature Selection Grande Mélange 2014.  Their play on Châteauneuf-du-Pape has Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre.  There was good structure, nice fruit and a savory note that showed a bit tart.  It paired well with the vanilla bean gelato that ended the meal.

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