Southern California Wine Review Council

On a warm, sunny San Diego afternoon, nine members of our Southern California Wine Review Council met for a gathering of excellent wines, tantalizing food pairings, and a sense of camaraderie among wine and food lovers… and friends. Surrounded by a tropical garden and pool with exotic flowers and fountains, this couldn’t have been a more perfect setting for winetasting.

Part of what we love about wine is that pairing it with food is more of an art than a science. And while there are certainly plenty of food and wine experts out there that provide excellent pairing guidance, ultimately it comes down to each individual’s taste as we found out at this council. 

Each member was assigned a wine to research and present with a matching hors d’oeuvres or dish of their choosing.

Shrimp Ceviche

This month’s wines featured selections from the vineyards of New Zealand, Oregon and Northern California wine regions.  We began our tasting with the 2017 Mt. Beautiful estate-grown Pinot Gris from North Canterbury, New Zealand. The wine, with its floral nose and a slight touch of honey, paired beautifully with the citrus acidity of fresh-made Shrimp Ceviche. It was a marriage made in heaven on this warm afternoon. Retail price for this “beautiful” selection is $18 a bottle.

We journeyed across the pond so to speak, returning back to a selection from Oregon’s Willamette Valley – a 2017 Cameron Hughes Pinot Gris, Lot 631. The crisp, fresh and very affordable wine exuded scents of green apple and pear with tastes of honeysuckle and citrus on the palate. Again, a perfect summertime accompaniment. The Pinot Gris paired with a charcuterie board of varied meats, cheeses and olives and each member of our group seemed to find their favorite matches. For my taste, I loved the saltiness of the prosciutto and creaminess of the Brie with the wine. The Cameron Hughes Pinot Gris retails for $12 a bottle.

Two Rosés With Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms

Next on the palate-pleasing entertainment roster came the Rosés. The 2017 Cameron Hughes Lot 639 from Arroyo Seco, Monterey was produced from Valdiguié, a traditional Southern French grape grown in rare planting areas of California. The wine has a surprisingly rich coral hue with immediate aromas of strawberry. Its delightful juicy berry taste with hints of apple and melon sports a slight sweetness. With a price point of only $13 a bottle, this Rosé is a real gem. The earthy richness and buttery flavor of the cheese and crab-stuffed mushrooms paired wonderfully with this complex Rosé.

A 2018 Mt. Beautiful Rosé provided a slightly different experience. Salmon in color, the nose on this New Zealand wine made from 65-percent Pinot Noir and 35-percent Pino Gris emanates scents of melon, raspberry and rose petal. Due to its crisp, dry and acidic finish, this affordable $13 wine paired best with the selection of soft cheeses.

Next on the agenda was the Pinot Noirs, and we had the opportunity to taste three different vintages from Talawind Ranch, a 20-acre horse ranch located in the heart of California’s Russian River Valley appellation. Each of their Pinot Noirs retails for $30 a bottle.

Talawind Pinot Noir

Beginning with the 2016 Talawind Ranch Pinot Noir, the wine’s deep garnet color was boldly apparent.  Aged in French oak barrels, this Pinot has deep complex aromas, dried fruits and berry flavors on the palate and finished with an earthy note. A delectable Blue Cheese, Pear and Prosciutto Flatbread was an ideal complement.

2015 Talawind Ranch Pinot Noir exhibited a ruby hue in the glass. The medium weight Pinot produced aromas of root beer or sarsaparilla and spice. A distinctive black cherry and berry taste is immediately apparent and this wine, also aged in French barrels had an earthy finish as well.  Paired with luscious Homemade Ricotta-Stuffed Grilled Nectarines, it made for perhaps one of the best wine-and food-pairing experiences ever. 

Last but not least, we tasted the 2014 Talawind Ranch Pinot Noir – aged in new French oak barrels and representing a mixture of several grape clones. Aromas of ripe black cherry and a mix of spices are easily identifiable. Ripened fruit tastes of plum and boysenberry along with the silky-smooth tannins of the wine is carried from first sip to finish. Though each of these Pinot Noirs was great in its own right, the 2014 was a popular favorite. The wine, paired with a creamy Mediterranean hummus and Lebanese tabbouleh salad made for an excellent match.

Noreen Kompanik

An unknown author once wrote, “Wine and friends make a great blend.” Add some great food and you have one very memorable wine and food pairing event. Salut!