Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Pinot Noir: Santa Barbara vs. San Luis Obispo County

My first "Wine & Dine" at Max's Cucina in Santa Barbara was a very good time--sort of like a one night wine club.  It was a different experience for me to taste wines without someone from each winery pouring, although the winemaker from  Summerland, the featured winery for the evening, was there to showcase his wines.  I really enjoyed meeting other Pinot Noir fans and listening to comments about why they brought a certain wine.  The theme of Santa Barbara County vs. San Luis Obispo County was a good comparison to make.  Now I just have to find a wine and dine dinner in San Luis Obispo County to try the same experience from the opposite perspective. 

Numbered glasses ready to go
Etienne Terlinden, Summerland Wine Maker

A nice homey atmosphere at Max's

I started the St. Patrick's Day tasting with a sample of the just-released 2012 Summerland Viognier from Paradise Road Vineyard in Santa Barbara County.  It was fantastic and for a second I thought I wouldn't mind staying with white wines for the rest of the evening, but I got back on track and focused on Pinot Noir wines until dessert.
C'est Cheese provided a nice variety of cheeses made from sheep milk, cow milk, and a mix of sheep/cow/goat milk.
For the rest of the evening, whenever I took pictures of people I told them to "C'est Cheese" ...

Henrietta, the owner, making sure the wines are available

SBC, SLO and the Others
The following is my personal tasting record and the results of rating wines on a scale of 1 to 5 (I avoid higher math when tasting).  I'm sure other people will have different tasting results.  And I know I missed out on the 2006 Laetitia (SLO) and the 2010 Byron (SBC); maybe they were just the second bottles for individual tables to enjoy.
There certainly were a few more wines from from SBC (11) than SLO (6) from what I could find.  And then there were five other wines from other counties - what's up with that?  Wines from Mendocino, Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara, and Sonoma counties were brought by people who either flunked geography or don't need any stinkin' rules!  They were pretty good wines anyway, so I'm not complaining.

I rated the SBC wines an average of 3.8, with favorites from Foxen, Foley, Vino Sapien, and Pali.

As a group, the wines from SLO were clear winners (even if I removed the lowest 2 of the SBC wines) with an average rating of 4.4. The Claiborne & Churchill, Talley, and Windward* were all excellent.
* The 2002 Windward aged very well!

The Other wines from all over California tied SBC with an average rating of 3.8.  My favorite was the Testarossa from Los Gatos, Santa Clara County.

After the initial wine tasting we had a break so the staff could remove the wine and cheese and set the tables for dinner.  The back parking lot was the scene for enjoying a few interim sips. A little strange, but if you keep pouring wine you can herd people almost anywhere I guess.  I was glad to catch up with good friends, world travelers, and wine connoisseurs, Jennifer and Teddy, and talk during this time.

The dinner began with a few words from our Wine & Dine organizing friend, Leslie Thomas, and then an interesting discussion about wine with Bilo Zarif, Summerland Proprietor, and Etienne Terlinden, the winemaker at Summerland. 
Leslie with Wine Bell - getting ready to warm up the crowd
This group was serious about wine!
Bilo telling us about the wine biz
Richard Salzberg in action - the man to know for great finds and refills!
 The people in the back were having a very good time
Etienne answering a technical question

The Duck Confit Ravioli with Brown Butter Sage Sauce was a winner!  Pasta with butter, duck and a bit of salt was a nice appetizer to start the meal.

The Coq au Vin over Grilled Polenta, with Lemon-Garlic Broccolini was good.  How did they know I like the leg? It may have been over the grilled polenta when plated, but jumped off on its way to the table.  I liked the lemon-garlic broccolini and pearl onions as the vegetable.

When I saw Lavender-Infused Creme Brulee on the menu I thought that this was not going to be a good way to have creme brulee, which I otherwise enjoy, especially if I get to operate the flame thrower.  I like to smell the lavender growing in our back yard, but not so much as an added flavor. Well what a surprise!  The amount of lavender flavor was very subtle and it was a great dessert - especially with the 2010 Summerland Late Harvest Viognier (Paradise Road Vineyard
).  A perfect finishing touch for the dinner!

Chef Peter demonstrating how large the chicken must be to feed 60 people

I can't think of any better way to dine out and have a wine club/seminar experience than participating in the Wine & Dine dinners at Max's Cucina.  It was a great theme, a nice mix of wines and people, and gourmet food.  

And a special thanks to Leslie Thomas, the wine and food guru that organizes these fun eventsCheck out the BYOB Wine & Dine Calendar for 2013 here.

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