The 9th International Alsatian Wine and Food Festival 2014

Wow!  It is that time of year again! Time to don our festive Alsatian outfits and drink our way through a legion of unpronounceable white wine varietals while eating delicious pork and Asian inspired dishes.

Alsace 2012

Bob and Claudia Klindt,
Claudia Springs Winery

For me it is something far more, something more akin to a spiritual homecoming to a place where my heart and soul still resides.  My family lived in Mendocino for seven years and I still think about those beautiful experiences often.  I had the good fortune to work with Bob and Claudia Klindt at their amazing micro winery, Claudia Springs Winery for three years. I was their cellar rat performing whatever task that needed to be done on that date.  One hat I wore remarkably well was marketing, basically a license to torture them electronically with imagery and pictures only a twisted kitchen mind could conceive.  In their good nature they actual let me run with a few of them and never fired me, though the picture of Bob in Alsatian attire came awfully close.  I had a lot of fun working there and learned a lot from Bob and Claudia.

Every year, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association host two great festivals, Pinot Fest and the other celebrating the wine varietals commonly found  in the Alsace region of France.  My great grandparents are from Alsace so the thought of eating steamy bowls of choucroute while downing glasses of Gewurztraminer almost sounds sexy.

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Chef Francois with Shirley Londer, Londer Vineyards

The International Alsatian Wine Festival was one of the highlights of the year  I looked forward to.  Dozens of winemakers and restaurants from all over the world converged on our sleepy little valley and uncorked some of the world’s most amazing white wines.  I eventually got involved with some of the inner workings of the festival culminating with me coordinating the food side of the event in 2011.

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I got bitten by the Chef bug and returned to man the ranges at Figue Mediterranean in the Palm Springs area of Southern California.  For a year and half I have been deeply immersed in all things Mediterranean from beautifully poetic seafood stews like Bourride, Bouillabaisses less elaborate cousin to Moroccan Chicken Tajines to perfecting the art of spit roasting and everything in between.

Like the prodigal son I am returning to the Anderson Valley this Friday to do a demo of my Moroccan Seared Sea Scallops that I formulated especially for this event.  It is a quirky fusion of Moroccan and Italian tastes that simply work well together with off-dry Gewurztraminers.  My thought process was to create something that not the typical foods paired but would fit the bill.  I consulted Evan Goldstein’s book ‘Perfect Pairings’ and took his wonderful pairing advice.

Gewurtraminer goes well with aromatically spicy dishes.  You need to be aware of the level of heat, but exotic cuisines that stress curry, ginger, clove, cinnamon, allspice and cardamom are very happy tablemates.

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Claudia Springs Winery on a misty May morning

I thought about the cuisine we are doing at Figue (www.EatFigue.com) which really is a fusion between classic, traditional flavors and bold and experimental interpretations fusing different cultures.  The Mediterranean is the first true fusion cooking the world has known.  The menu of Figue is the story of the Mediterranean.  It is the story of conquests, invasions, immigrations and discovery.  Each wave of change brought new foods, cooking techniques and dishes to the table.  I look at the range of typical recipes, ingredients and techniques and see an artist’s palette full of beautiful colors and sensuous flavors waiting to be reimagined on a canvas.

my Seared Moroccan Sea Scallop with Preserved Lemon Farrotto, Green Charmoula and Gewurztraminer recipe

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2003 Paul Hobbs Richard Dinner Vineyards Chardonnay and Roast Chicken: a Match in Heaven

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Admittedly I am not a huge proponent of California wines.  Both my wife and I worked for wineries in California for several years and have drank our way through many greats.  I enjoy them.  Yes, there are great California wines, but if you asked me what my last drop of fermented grape juice to pass thru my lips would be, I would answer a great Bordeaux or Burgundy.  Please do not say anything about elitism.  It simply is preference.  I too wish those wines would be friendlier on my pocketbook.

Several years ago a close friend who works for wine distributor Michael Skurnik confided that I ought to check out Paul Hobbs Winery and invest whatever I could into bottles and cases.  I took note because Peter is a Burgundy hound and when he goes gaga over something I know it has to be special.

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After last night’s bottle of 2003 Richard Dinner Vineyard Chardonnay I say with utmost confidence that Paul Hobbs’ wines are liquid magic. Peter was right and damn, I wish I bought a truckload.  I have gotten to the age in my life where I am more impressed by simplicity than overworked complicated things.    The less you manipulate, the better.  Making wine is no different than a Chef’s approach to food.  We met Paul’s brother Matt for a tour and tasting that included several barrels and bottles.  He was an incredibly knowledgeable and gracious host who conveyed his love of the family wines to us.  We loved them when we tasted them seven years ago, but last night was one of those rarefied moments of life when all the stars line up and bliss happens.  I adore wines with some age on them, even whites.  I cracked the Richard Dinner Vineyard Chardonnay open and poured the straw colored ten year old Chardonnay into our glasses.  The nose was ethereal with the first taste bringing citrus and melon dancing on my tongue.  Pure magic!

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From their web site: ‘Meticulous vineyard management followed by minimally-invasive winemaking techniques allows us to produce wines that express their vineyard origins with finesse, complexity and authenticity. Paul Hobbs wines are fermented with native yeasts, aged in French oak, and bottled unfined and unfiltered.’  Nature at it’s best.  When I cook, it is not about how much I can do to manipulate food but how little I can do to bring out the flavors.  The perfect chicken, the perfect onions, fleur de sel, hand picked herbes de Provence.  No mirrors to hide behind.

I simply seared then roasted a chicken from De La Ranch, one of Southern California’s premiere organic producers.  I roasted the legs, thighs and wings on a bed of caramelized onions then added the breasts at the end so they wouldn’t dry out.  I deglazed the pan with a cup of Paul Hobbs chardonnay  while I plated the onions and chicken.  I added a spoonful of Fallot Dijon mustard and a nob of Spring Hill butter and reduced it to sauce consistency.  I napped the chicken with the Dijon sauce and served it with a sauteed mixture of fregola, sweet corn and sauteed zucchini blossoms.  I figured a slightly classic Burgundy preparation needed a Burgundian varietal.  A True match in heaven!

Sadly, I have one bottle left.  I will prepare the exact same dish again, no changes.

I strongly suggest stockpiling Paul Hobbs’ wines.  They are phenomenal.  Visit their web site: http://www.paulhobbswinery.com/

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Here is the cut sheet for the wine we drank last night!

Vineyard
¨ Owner/Mgr: Caroline and Patricia Dinner /Joe Votek
¨ Appellation: Sonoma Mountain
¨ Clone: Old Wente, Robert Young selection
¨ Vine age: 21 years
¨ Site: Hillside, northern exposure, gray clay-loam and
gravel with sub-soil lens of volcanic tuft
¨ Yield: Less than 1 ton /acre

Harvest
¨ Harvest Dates: October 2 – 9, 2003
¨ Harvest Brix: 24.2° – 25.0°
¨ Growing Season: The 2003 growing season began as a difficult one
with hot and cold spikes. Rain in late spring
prolonged bud break, and resulted unusual
ripening patterns. Diligent work in the vineyard
throughout a consistently warm summer resulted
in wines of complexity and power.

Winemaking
¨ Hand-harvested grapes
¨ Whole cluster press
¨ Barrel fermented with indigenous yeasts; 2 months to
completion
¨ Concurrent spontaneous malolactic fermentation in barrels;
6 months to completion
¨ Aged 15 months in Francois Freres, Seguin Moreau, Cadus,
and Alan Fouquet French oak barrels; 89% new
¨ Unblended, unfined and unfiltered; bottled January 2005

Notes
¨ Cuvee Agustina, named for my daughter, is a selection of the
best barrels of our Richard Dinner Vineyard Chardonnay. It is
produced only in the very best vintages. Warm gold in color
with a nose of honeysuckle and spice, this wine is unctuous
and mouth-filling. On the palate, flavors of pear and spiced
apple intermix with lively notes of orange blossom and lemon
custard, which linger through the enduring, velvety finish.
Alcohol 14.8%

201 cases produced

Paul Hobbs Winery
Sebastopol, California Tel: (707) 824-9879 Fax: (707) 824-5843
http://www.paulhobbs.com