Food and Wine Adventures in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County

Video shot and produced by John Beck.

Last July, I was invited to the incredible Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County for a multi-day excursion in tasting and learning about the region’s wines and the combined food experiences that can be had throughout the area. The wines the region is known for are primarily Zinfandel are Sauvignon Blanc but also some distinct, under-the-radar Rhône style wines.

The experience really changed how I viewed Zinfandel; I now consider it one of my dinner wine candidates — reframing its peppery-ness as an asset. It was so great to hear about the county’s aim to be an entirely sustainable and how the wine-growing region is already 70% there. In the video, I visit 3 vineyards in a day — however, I basically visited 7 overall. It’s hard work, really. Tasting wine.

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Piccolo Venice Doubles in Size With Flavors & Charm To Match

Garganelli Neri ai Ricci | Squid ink Garaganelli, fresh sea urchin emulsion, quail egg shavings

I had never been to Piccolo on the beach prior to their remodel. One of my girlfriends, a lady of Venice, had eaten dinner there however and had raved about it – so I was excited when I was invited to taste their food. Piccolo is now twice the size it once was, but to my observation it had the charm to match their expansion.

Caprese: A Revision

I appreciated the open kitchen, which really added to the still-intimate, neighborhood feel of the restaurant. Italian hospitality is exuded by every employee there. The fact that the food also delivers will make you forget that you are dining on the beach without so much as a view of it, lest you score one of the few outdoor patio spots. We’re not in Malibu, anymore. The saying is “location, location, location” (not “view, view, view”), and it seems that Piccolo is more than content to rest its reputation on its food with its locale reflecting its desire to be Venice’s Northern Italian speakeasy. Only public parking is available, and expect no apologies about it – your reward comes in the cuisine.

We started out with Chef Roberto’s new-for-summer revision of Caprese as we knew it – with burrata and micro cilantro topping a multi-colored and -layered, fluffy gelee floated with olive oil and seasoned with a delicious Hawaiian Lava salt. It was refreshing, delightful and a nice introduction to what followed.

Capesante Gratinate | Seared sea scallops over parmesan-truffle fondue

With our palates opened, we were ready to enjoy a tasting-sized yet indulgent serving of seared sea scallops – perfectly done so with flavorful brown coloring on one side of the sliced scallop to reveal an ever slim ring outside a tender center on the other. The thin shaving of truffle, as always, was magic – yet I couldn’t leave a drop of the creamy parmasan fondue on my plate. All three components together are a match made in heaven – made in no small part by its proportioning.

Risotto con Salsiccia di Cinghiale - Vialone Nano rice, home-made wild boar sausage, parmesan fondue
Risotto con Salsiccia di Cinghiale | Vialone Nano rice, home-made wild boar sausage, parmesan fondue

The Squid Ink Garganelli was another favorite, with the dark, ridged rolls having that perfect al dente bite; soggy, Americanized pasta seemed more than just blocks away. The earthiness of the egg pasta was further rounded out by shavings of dried, salted quail egg yolk (alternately substituted with bottarga shavings) and the delicious sea urchin emulsion the pasta lay upon. We partook after tossing. The fullness of the egg pasta infused with squid ink was so delicious and could only come straight from the sea – yet precluded the saltiness that the inclusion of shellfish would bring. In this dish, I appreciated that the salt element was subtle enough to really let the squid ink really shine.

Germano Reale al Miele | Pan-seared breast of Mallard (wild duck), truffled-honey sauce

The housemade wild boar sausage risotto was also delicious. It had real depth thanks to the bits of sausage and almost-smoky tomato-based sauce. The risotto did well in holding flavor of the sauce while the consistency of each grain remained deliciously firm at the center – the way risotto should be.

The seared slices of duck breast had a delicious layer of fat which was so perfect in absorbing the truffled-honey sauce it was dressed with. It’s an indulgent, sweet Secondi and I would easily order it again (once I had tried most other things on the menu, that is). If sweet, rich and tender bird is your speed, you should definitely order this dish. The pickled greens and cubes of what seemed to be cornbread were great accompaniments, cutting the richness while complimenting the duck slices.
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Donkey and Goat Tasting Tonight at Pourtal Wine Bar

Red Wine and Spinach Spanakopita

I had the opportunity to visit Pourtal recently for one of their tasting events. It was a really fun experience and there’s always opportunity to learn just a bit more about wine while enjoying the pairings with bite-sized food. Fortunately, they always have educational & libational events coming up – including tonight, which particularly piqued my interest. Why?

For today’s installment of Pourtal’s participation in “Natural Wine Week LA” (going on through Sunday), they’re hosting Jared Brandt from 7 – 9 PM, who hails from the the wife & husband-owned Donkey and Goat winery. Operating out of Berkeley, Tracey and Jared Brandt are the “…donkey and goat behind these naturally made wines that are distinctive, soulful and truly represent the earth from which they come.” I first tried their 2009 “Isabel’s Cuvee” Granche Rose at Allston Yacht Club with H.C. and can honestly say this is probably one of the only roses I would heartily recommend given my limited rose knowledge. The whole tasting of 5 Donkey and Goat wines is only $15. Arrive at Pourtal a little early for their 4 – 7 PM Happy Hour to take advantage of their $5 glasses of wine and $4 delicious eats (try their tater tots) and you’re set.

In the meantime, have a great weekend, everyone. Don’t forget that Cinespia in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery kicks the summer off tomorrow with a screening of Wizard of Oz ($10 donation). Also, the all-new Nice Cream Vegan Ice Cream parlor opens on the Cahuenga Pass in Studio City.

Friday, May 14, 2010

7 – 9 PM

$15 for 5 wines

Pourtal Wine Bar
104 Santa Monica Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA‎ 90401


Mad Hatter Wine Pairing

Photo credit to adagio725 on Flickr

Sure, Halloween is over – but there are still plenty other reasons to get festive!

Dean Hewitson, known as the “Mad Hatter” of Hewitson Wines, will be visiting Los Angeles tomorrow from South Australia on his U.S. tour celebrating the debut of his limited-release 2006 vintage Mad Hatter Shiraz.

There will be a wine reception followed by a five-course pairing dinner with the Shiraz as well as other Hewitson wines – all in a whimsical “Mad Hatter” setting for your merriment and enjoyment. You’re even encouraged to come in your own “mad hat” to participate in the fun!

Reserve your spot ASAP as they are limited.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

7 PM


RSVP by emailing madhattertourLA [at] or calling 323.871.1511

BLVD 16 at Hotel Palomar
10740 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90024

White Trash Tasting

There are tons of special event wine tastings that I’ve passed up, most likely because I was lazy or they sounded run-of-the-mill. But when I heard – thanks to Caroline – that Colorado Wine Co. in Eagle Rock was pairing wines up with “white trash” foods, I couldn’t resist the opportunity. Unique and ingenious, I thought, in this day and age of Anti-Elitism. Because I may live in the “fake” parts of the United States, but you can’t ever say I ever forgot where I came from. (Then again, the Midwest isn’t really White Trash country; I tend to regard it more as the White Ghetto. There’s a difference, y’see? It’s more Harley-Davidsons and General Motors than Haulmarks.)

Apparently, this was their 2nd time holding the event and it definitely did not disappoint.

I had a great time with HC of LA-OC Foodie and Caroline. Luckily they arrived earlier than I did and were able to snag a table for us three to sit comfortably. And the 4-course menu?

  • Bouffèes de Fromage avec Denis Pere & Fils Brut, Burgundy, France – $24.99/bottle

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