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Santa Barbara, CA, United States
I enjoy creating original wine-pairing recipes that are healthful and delicious. I work for Touring & Tasting a Santa Barbara based wine club and national magazine as Food Editor. However, I am not paid for this blog and the opinions expressed here are strictly my own. I received my Personal Chef Skills Competency Award from the SBCC's School Of Culinary Arts. In 2012, I started Inside Wine - Santa Barbara with pal Lila Brown which features wine tastings with winery owners and winemakers. I also serve on the Board of the Santa Barbara Culinary Arts group, which had Julia Child as one of the founding members and funds scholarships for SBCC culinary students in her name.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Inside Wine Tasting at Refugio Ranch Vineyards

California wildflowersSpring has opened her arms over Southern California, releasing a shower of blossoms. The undeveloped hills of California chaparral are graced with native bush monkey flowers, California poppies and purple lupine. Spring's gentle breeze rustles the leaves and breathes renewal into the land. It feels like a paradise on a glorious day in March.

Refugio Ranch vineyardsOn another splendid spring day last week, around 30 of us drove over Santa Marcos Pass from Santa Barbara to the Santa Ynez Valley to taste wine and have a picnic alfresco at the Refugio Ranch vineyards. Nestled against the northern flank of the Santa Ynez Mountains and just south of the Santa Ynez River, the property is dotted with oak trees and is situated with a view of the ranch one one side and the Valley on the other. Owners Kevin and Niki Gleason and their family, have been careful shepherds of this idyllic piece of land, carefully carving out sustainably farmed blocks of grapes in the 415 acre estate while preserving its rustic beauty.

Refugio Ranch winesThe vineyards are planted mostly to Rhone grapes. The whites (in order of acreage): Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Roussanne, Semillon, and Malvasia Bianca, are carefully crafted into the Refugio Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, Tiradora (100% Sauvignon Blanc aged sur lie), Viognier and Ineseño (Roussanne and Viognier) by winemaker Ryan Deovlet. The reds: Syrah and Petite Sirah, are used to produce the Refugio Ranch Barbareño. There are also blocks of Sangiovese and Grenache. The latter will be included in a new blend to debut this fall.

The individual Refugio Ranch vineyard blocks are hand-harvested at night to insure maximum quality. At the winery in San Luis Obispo,  Deovlet crafts the fruit into expressive and beautifully-balanced wines.

ILila Brown and Inside Wine Santa Barbaranside Wine Santa Barbara co-founder Lila Brown used her catering experience to lay out a beautiful spread of food, including pork loin with apple slaw, homemade chicken salad , breads, cheeses, salad, veggies and mushroom pate. We had a friendly "Best Dessert" contest with Prem winning a bottle of coveted Refugio Ranch wine for her pie made with hand-grated coconut.

With delicious wines to enjoy, tasty food, good friends and lovely views, we had the quintessential wine country afternoon at the peaceful Refugio Ranch vineyards, thanks to Sales Manager Nicole Carnevale. The vineyards are not open to the public, but their friendly tasting room at 2990 Grand Avenue in Los Olivos is open Friday and Saturday 11 am - 6 pm, Sunday and Monday 11 am - 5 pm.

Refugio Ranch wines will be featured at the upcoming Santa Barbara Culinary Arts "Backyard Bounty" dinner at the Rockwood Women's Club on April 22nd. Three chefs will prepare a gourmet dinner from local, sustainable ingredients.
Refugio Ranch wine tasting

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mushroom Cuisine

Professor Cummings SBCCIn the emergency room, someone comes in with severe gastrointestinal distress after eating wild mushrooms. Who do you call? Professor Robert Cummings of SBCC. He regularly is asked to identify wild mushrooms, being an expert on mycology--the study of fungi. Last Monday evening, Professor Cummings entertained the Santa Barbara Culinary Arts group with a slideshow outlining the benefits and hazards of foraging for wild mushrooms. An engaging speaker, he pointed out that mushrooms are high in micronutrients and protein, including lysine--an essential amino acid. Many are high in anti-oxidants and are anti-inflammatory.

Chef Randy BublitzThe mountains of Santa Barbara sprout an abundance of mushrooms in the spring, from bear's head and puffballs to the coveted chanterelles. Several restaurateurs and caterers in town are known for their wild chanterelle creations.  Chef Randy Bublitz , Chef Isidro Carrillo and their team of culinary arts students at SBCC created an outstanding dinner to accompany Professor Cummings' talk, using a range of mushrooms provided by the Berry Man, a purveyor of wholesale produce from Malibu to San Simeon. Touring & Tasting provided the wines to accompany the gourmet meal.

mushroom madness sbccThe menu:
Scrambled Egg with Black Truffle Shavings
Black Trumpet Mushrooms with Potato Gratin
Pan Seared Venison with Port & Morels
Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Madeira Hedgehog & Truffle Glaze
Risotto with Porcini
Huitalacoche  Tortilla Crisps
Korean Roast Salmon with Oyster & Shittake Mushrooms
Haricot Verts with Mixed Mushrooms & Pancetta

Chateau du Prieur BordeauxThe wines:

2011 Fess Parker Riesling, Santa Barbara County
2008 Zaca Mesa Roussanne, Santa Ynez Valley
2008 Allan Scott Pinot Noir, New Zealand
2010 Chateau du Prieur Bordeaux, France

Paul Arganbright, president Touring & TastingIt was unanimous--everyone I spoke with raved about both the food and wine. The simple combination of egg and black truffle was divine--a dish that explained why black truffle is so expensive and desired. The port and morel sauce was rich and intense; Chef Randy commented that the secret was in the long, slow cooking to develop the flavors. The Korean salmon dish was also superb with a bit of chile to give heat without overwhelming the delicate salmon, Shiitake and oyster mushrooms. The wines were paired very nicely, with the crisp, citrus and honey taste of the Fess Parker dry Riesling balancing the rich sauces--I do believe a quantity of delicious butter was used--and the Zaca Mesa Roussanne providing a white wine for those who prefer the creamy mouthfeel of a wine aged sur lie. The New Zealand Pinot Noir from the Marlborough region had deep fruit and a smokiness that paired very well with mushrooms--Pinot Noir and mushrooms are always a great pairing. The Chateau du Prieur is a very expensive-tasting Bordeaux that easily met the challenge easily of pairing with the diverse meal. It is from an 135 acre estate in Bordeaux, just 5 miles from St. Emilion, so its excellent terroir shone through in the glass.

the death capIf you want to try your hand at collecting wild mushrooms, read up on it first and make sure you have any mushrooms checked by an expert. The North American Mycological Society's 30 year report found there have been 1,641 people sickened by wild mushrooms,  with 1% of them dying. Also, there were 15 cats and dogs deaths, with the cause confirmed as mushroom poisoning.  The "death cap", Amanita phalloides, can kill someone just by touching other mushrooms collected and eaten. The amatoxin α-amanitin it contains stops cell metabolism and destroys the liver within days. Young Amanita look identical to the edible straw mushrooms and puffballs, so if in doubt, don't collect any of these.

Paul Arganbright addresses mushroom groupI grew up foraging for mushrooms with my family in Colorado. Like the other Japanese-Americans, we preferred matsutake Tricholoma matsutake which grows only on fallen pine logs and has a signature aroma and flavor of pine. It is so concentrated that a single matsutake can flavor an entire pot of soup. I treasure the memories of time spent as family walking through the quiet woods looking for the brown caps poking out from under the pine leaf litter. Their aroma is intoxicating. As with all mushroom hunters, our hunting grounds were secret. Try asking a mushroom hunter in Santa Barbara where they find their chanterelles--they will never say! Fortunately, wild mushrooms can often be found at farmer's markets and you can easily grow your own from one of the mushroom kits available online.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Food and Wine Scene in Santa Barbara

Winderlea Vineyard and Winery’s Peach Caprese SaladIn many ways, being Food Editor at Touring and Tasting is a dream job. One of the most enjoyable tasks has been putting together the recipe section of our website and receiving wine pairing recipes from wineries and wine country restaurants. Often, there is not an accompanying photo, so I need to cook and photograph the dish. This has been a tremendously educational experience for me as a person interested in food and wine pairing. I've relished the opportunity to learn from the choices winemakers, chefs and winery owners have made when creating a recipe to complement the flavors of a particular wine. Two of my many favorites: the Winderlea Vineyard and Winery’s Peach Caprese Salad and the Oysters with Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs Mignonette.

Inside wine santa barbara meetup groupOutside of work, when I'm not posting fabulous wine pairing recipes from wineries and accommodations in Touring and Tasting magazine, I run a wine tasting Meetup group in Touring and Tasting's home base of Santa Barbara. I started Inside Wine Santa Barbara with my friend Lila Brown, a terrific cook who also works in the wine business. We met in culinary school and became "baking buddies" and friends, based on our mutual love of all things food and wine.

Karen Steinwachs winemakerFrom our first event in September of last year, we have been fortunate to have a number of winemakers come to pour their wine for the group. One of the highlights was Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard, which is a must-visit in the Santa Ynez Valley, with 106 acres lovingly planted to vine, herbs, vegetables and fruit using organic and sustainable methods. Winemaker Karen Steinwachs charmed us with her wit as well as her carefully crafted wines. Another highlight was Clay and Fredericka Thompson of Claiborne and Churchill Vintner's in Edna Valley who poured their delicious Pinot Noir and Alsatian-style whites while regaling us with stories from their exceptionally interesting history. In January, we all enjoyed the rich and powerful Paso Robles wines poured by winemaker/owner Donald Thiessen of Stacked Stone Cellars.

winner of Touring and Tasting wine gift basketTouring and Tasting has generously sponsored several of our Inside Wine events, including our inaugural wine tasting in the open-air, Spanish-style courtyard of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and at the classy ocean-view Hyatt Santa Barbara. Our members have appreciated tasting many of the fine wines that are offered in Touring and Tasting's diverse wine club levels, like the 2009 Rodney Strong Reserve Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 2009 Youngberg Hill Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, and 2008 Tamber Bey Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. Lucky raffle winners at our Holiday Party took home big wine gift baskets from Touring and Tasting stuffed with gourmet treats and delicious wines, and all enjoyed the Roxo Port tasting paired with chocolate desserts from Bistro 1111 in the Hyatt Santa Barbara.

Refugio Ranch winesOur next event is March 23rd, when we'll have a picnic and wine tasting in the pastoral vineyards of Refugio Ranch, an expansive site with lovely views, normally not open to the general public. Once part of one of the original Spanish land grants, the 415 acre estate vineyard is now owned by Kevin Gleason and his family who have the land sustainably farmed and the grapes hand-harvested to insure optimum quality. Under winemaker Ryan Deovlet's guidance, the wines are complex and beautifully balanced.

On May 30th, Brian McClintic and Eric Railsback, fresh from the hit film "Somm", will host a varietal tasting for Inside Wine Santa Barbara at their new wine bar. The "wine ghetto" or "funk zone" in Santa Barbara stretches along E. Cabrillo from State Street to Garden. It has been slowly developing into a wine destination over the last several years. Now, it is poised to become a wine pairing destination as well, with several new businesses going in, the most exciting of which is Caveau Bar a' Vins opening this spring at 131 Anacapa Street. Brian and Eric are bringing their kitchen team from San Francisco to whip up tasty creations to pair with their local and international wines.

Brian and Eric of Caveau a' vinsThe documentary "Somm" which debuted at the Napa Film Festival, sold out at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival and was bought by Samuel Goldwyn for theatrical distribution, follows a group of young sommeliers studying for the test to become a Master Sommelier. Only 186 people in the world have earned the title of Master Sommelier in the four decades the test has been in place. The test is that difficult! Applicants have to pass a rigorous written exam, a test of their wine service skills, and a test in which they need to identify the varietal, vintage, region and perhaps the brand of six wines--in a blind tasting with a total time of just 25 minutes.

documentary SommOne of the successful candidates to receive the coveted title of Master Sommelier is the tall, dark and broodingly handsome Brian McClintic. Brian began his wine service at Morton's Steakhouse in Costa Mesa, California, going on to work at Marche Moderne in the same area, then The Little Nell, Il Mulino and Matsuhisa, in Aspen, Colorado before passing the rigorous Master Sommelier exam. He is partnering with Eric Railsback, an Advanced Sommelier, in Caveau Bar a' Vins. Eric began his distinguished career selling wine at the venerable Wine Cask of Santa Barbara, moving on to be the wine director of the hip Hungry Cat, then Osteria Mozza and Gordon Ramsey in Los Angeles. He was asked to help open Michael Mina's RN 74 wine bar and restaurant in San Francisco where he led a team of sommeliers before starting the new Santa Barbara venture. The wine bar is slated to open mid-May, but Brian joked that our Inside Wine event may be "a hard hat party". Stay tuned!