June 25, 2009
State Fair Wine Winners

The judges sipped and swirled wines for three days, and winners are now known. 562 wineries earned medals at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition, held from June 10 to June 12 at Cal Expo.

Gold medal winners included such area wineries as Michael-David Winery, Jeff Runquist Wines and Madrona Vineyards. A database of winners, except for five "best of show" awards, is available soon at

The "best of show" wines will be announced on July 9 at Grape & Gourmet, a food and wine festival at the Sacramento Convention Center.

The judging task was enough to test anyone's taste buds. More than 60 judges collectively sampled 20,000 glasses of wine to determine winners.

The competition celebrates California's wine industry, which is worth an estimated $30 billion. 607 wineries from around the state entered more than 2,600 bottles of wine.

Winning an award is about more than just bragging rights. Nabbing a gold medal or other top award can boost a wine's bottom line.

"It's one of those things where it's always good to win, but what (an award) does do is bring people into your tasting room," says Paul Bush, co-owner and winemaker of Madrona Vineyards, an El Dorado County winery that won a gold award for its cabernet sauvignon. "You never quite know how you're going to do. You just make the style of wine you believe in."

Such varietals as petite sirah and sparkling wines showed especially well this year, said chief judge G.M. "Pooch" Pucilowski. Some 300 wineries are expected to pour their winning wines at Grape & Gourmet.

"You can walk anywhere, close your eyes, stick out your wine glass and you're guarnateed to get a medal winning wine," says Pucilowski. "You can't beat it."

June 24, 2009
Date night at home? This scallop recipe yields a romantic meal

scallops2.jpgI'm a firm believer that quality vinegar can turn an average meal into one that you'll be talking about for days.

The following recipe for seared sea scallops calls for Banyuls vinegar, a wine vinegar made from grapes grown in the Banyuls-sur-Mer region of France. The vinegar is aged in oak barrels for more than five years, which helps yield a nutty flavor.

Though a bit of an investment at the outset, the vinegar keeps well and can be used to make delicious vinaigrettes and as a reduction sauce for a variety of proteins.

In this recipe, the Banyuls vinegar is used at the end to deglaze the pan, and is then poured on top of the scallops, which have been seasoned and seared in olive oil spiked with garlic. The vinegar's nuttiness marries beautifully with the scallops delicate flavor and turns the pungent garlic into a subtle undertone.

Banyuls vinegar can be found at many specialty grocers in the Sacramento region, including Taylor's Market and Corti Brothers.

Follow this link to see the recipe:

June 23, 2009
Sneak peak: Local teen takes food, cooking to the extreme

squab2.jpgHave you ever heard of a 14-year-old who eats squab, much less knows how to cook it? My colleague, Carlos Alcala, has found a local teen who lives for cooking and chronicled his adventures for Wednesday's Food & Wine section.

Here's a sneak preview from Carlos to whet your appetite:

Some of us check, double-check and triple check our recipes as we cook. We don't make anything for guests that we haven't tested before. We measure ingredients carefully for every recipe. That's not Jeffrey Caves. The 14-year-old Carmichael cook is fearless in the kitchen. He's not afraid of knives, fire or failure. He knows enough about cooking that he can usually operate by the seat of his pants (or pans) and save any dish gone wrong from becoming a disaster. See what makes this teen kitchen whiz tick in Wednesday's Food & Wine section.

June 22, 2009
Slocum House's new chef already has stellar rep in area

This is the beginning of a new era at Slocum House, the venerable upscale restaurant in Old Fair Oaks, and owner Kerry Kassis says he couldn't be more excited.

Kassis recently made a dramatic change in the kitchen, replacing his executive chef, Eric Sunquist, with Gabriel Glasier, who cooked at the highly regarded Redbud Café in Cameron Park until its closing in recent months, an apparent victim of the economic downturn. Sunquist tells me he is exploring his options. With his skill in the kitchen, he will know doubt land at a very good restaurant somewhere -- let's hope it's in the Sacramento area.

Unbeknownst to the former Redbud Café chef/owner, Kassis had been watching Glasier, marveling at the chef's skills and wondering if he would someday be able to get him to cook under the Slocum House roof.

"I happened to stop in there for dinner years ago and I couldn't believe they were putting out that kind of food," Kassis told me. "I started going up there more and more and thought, 'This isn't going to happen.'"

It happened by accident, as it turns out. Slocum House was interviewing a server who listed Redbud on his resume and Kassis learned the place had recently closed.

"It didn't take more than a second or two to ask where the chef was now," Kassis said.

Turns our, Glasier was exploring his options. Kassis and Glasier got together to talk and apparently hit it off. Glasier put together some mock menus and Kassis had visions of returning Slocum House to its glory years under James LaPerrierre, who left in 2004 after nine years.

"Even though our food has been good over the past three or four years, it wasn't the kind of food where people would walk outside the door and say, 'Wow,'" Kassis said.

Kassis sent me a preview of the restaurant's new menu, which will premiere Friday. Glancing at the menu, I notice jumbo gulf prawns stuffed with blue crab, American Kobe sirloin with black truffled mac and cheese, a lamb porterhouse with Israeli cous cous, a farmer's market summer vegetable pot pie with brie cream.

I must admit, my first reaction is, indeed, "Wow."

June 17, 2009
Darrell Corti's Chile trip

Did you all read about Darrell Corti's recent trip to Chile? Our local gourmand and grocer returned Monday from this eight-day trip, but not after a trek full of visits to Chile's wine country and olive orchards, plus plenty of seafood dinners and may glasses of pisco sours. A crew from the Sacramento-based also made the trip to shoot video for a possible TV or Internet show. But in the meantime, you can check out a blog about this trip, with postings by Corti Brothers store director Rick Mindermann. Lots of good stuff here, so surf on over for a taste of the Chilean trip ...

June 12, 2009
Changing of the chefs @ Ella


Ella Dining Room & Bar will soon have someone new wearing it's executive chef coat. David English, the executive chef at Ella since its 2007 opening, is leaving the downtown restaurant come mid-July.

English's first stop will be Italy, and then he's got some big plans back home in Sacramento.

"I'm taking a couple months off to travel through Italy," says English, a native of Davis. "I want to get some inspiration and enjoyment in their culinary arts and get re-energized. Then I'm looking to come back and look at opening my own place. I certainly want to be a part of midtown."

The Selland restaurant family, the proprietors behind Ella, are conducting a national search for English's replacement and already trying out chefs. Will Ella's ever popular pappardelle pasta with poached egg remain on the menu? We'll have to stay tuned for that, and will let you know when the new executive chef is named.

"It's been a huge pleasure to lead that kitchen and cook for people in Sacramento," says English. "I wish them luck in their search. I think they'll find someone who'll continue what we're doing."

June 12, 2009
Grand opening of Naggiar Vineyards

Want to see what a $1.5 million wine tasting room looks like? Then check out the grand opening festivities going down this Saturday and Sunday at Naggiar Vineyards in Grass Valley (18125 Rosemary Lane, Grass Valley; 530-268-9059). This 3,600 square foot facility features plenty of wine tasting for the public, plus an events center and covered patio for outdoor sipping. Plenty of activities are on the grand opening weekend menu, including live music, prize drawings and a ribbon cutting ceremony at 2 p.m. Saturday. The festivities run from 12 p.m. - 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Regular tasting room hours will be Friday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information and directions:

June 11, 2009
OneSpeed goes full speed on opening night

OneSpeed opened with a bang Wednesday night as East Sacramento neighbors and Waterboy aficionados alike converged on Folsom Boulevard and 48th Street. Tables were packed throughout the night and the attractive new neighborhood pizzeria with the artisan touch drew rave reviews from diners.

Rick Mahan, the owner and chef at the acclaimed Waterboy restaurant in midtown, has spent months - and lots of money - to get OneSpeed rolling. A bicycle devotee and the owner of 8 bikes (and counting), Mahan wants to celebrate cycling as a way of life at his new pizza place, thus the name.

The orders flew into the open kitchen at a frenzied pace, as servers and cooks and bussers zig-zagged each other all night. And there was Mahan, dressed in shorts and sporting the chiseled calves of a cyclist (I can talk about a chef's calves, can't I?), running the show and offering encouragement to his staff, which included four servers, two bartenders, two bussers, two managers and seven cooks. They didn't get out of there until 11 p.m. From the looks of the happy crowd, OneSpeed could have stayed open half the night.

"I was so pleased with my staff. It was easily the best opening I've ever been involved with," Mahan told me when I caught up with him by phone the next day.

It had to be overwhelming. Mahan and crew were expecting 100 diners. They got 200-plus, including yours truly, who thoroughly enjoyed the thin-crust pizza that comes out of the oven in about two minutes, the perfectly cooked salmon, and the buttery gnocchi. But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the cherry tart, which was very simple but absolutely delicious.

In the spirit of OneSpeed and Mahan's celebration of the bike, we rode our one-speed bikes to the restaurant for opening night. Alas, the bike racks haven't arrived yet, so we locked our rigs to a signpost across Folsom Boulevard. Mahan's bike rack is going to consist of several reclaimed old bike frames welded together.

Referring to the big night, Mahan drew a deep breath and said with a laugh, "I'm pleased because I've never owed so much money in my life."

June 10, 2009
New owners @ Old Sugar Mill


Now being served at the Old Sugar Mill: a set of new owners.

Koy Builders of Pomona, Ca. has taken over ownership of the Clarksburg tourist destination, which currently hosts tasting rooms for six local wineries.

The Old Sugar Mill's previous owners are Clarksburg Investment Partners, headed by local wine proprietor John Carvalho Jr. This Clarksburg company started renovations on the 75-year-old sugar mill in 2000.

Current tenants of the Old Sugar Mill include Todd Taylor Wines, Heringer Estates, Carvalho Family Winery, the Solomon Wine Company, Three Wines and Clarksburg Wine Company.

"Our owners have an inherent appreciation of and sensitivity toward the historic nature of Old Sugar Mill and its place in Clarksburg both past and present," said John Beckman of Koy Builders, in a statement. "We very much look forward to working with John Carvalho, and building on the good works he has already accomplished here."

Beckman's background in the wine industry includes stints in winery operations and marketing. He holds a degree in enology from the University of California, Davis.

So what might this ownership change mean for local wine lovers? Likely not much, at least for now.

"Things will probably go along as they were," said Duke Heringer of Heringer Estates, a longtime Old Sugar Mill tenant. "We're hoping for the best, and that we don't get stung with any increase in our lease. But the Old Sugar Mill's been great for us. We're seeing our (visitor) traffic increase every year. To be able to do a retail shop in a nice galleria has done us quite well."

June 10, 2009
Forman cabernet sauvignon: tasting notes


Sacramento recently played host to a unique tasting of Forman cabernet sauvignon. 17 vintages of this somewhat underrated wine were sampled (1983-1999), plus some examples from 2002, 2004-06. Proprietor Ric Forman himself attended the tasting himself, and you can read more about how the night went in today's "Wine Buzz" column.

Here are my tasting notes from the night. And yes, this was some serious wine geek-dom:

1983: The first vintage under Forman's own label. First bottle was flawed; back-up bottle showed better. Certainly not in its prime, but showing a nice rosey color and still some vibrancy in the fruit.

1984: Elegant style but somewhat restrained nose. Berry fruit still showing after all these years. Would've liked to have tasted this 5+ years ago.

1985: Now this is what Forman's all about. Fantastic structure, solid fruit with secondary tobacco and earthy flavors. Would guess this as top-notch Bordeaux in a blind tasting. Ric Forman remembered this vintage as "lean and mean," and the 1985 is still rocking. Earned WOTN (a.k.a. "wine of the night") for myself and many others at the tasting. Paid about $60 for this on just a few months ago. A steal.

1986: Herbal qualities of mint and eucalyptus prominent here, a style you rarely see anymore with California cabernet sauvignon. Too bad. Enjoyed the subtelties of this vintage.

1987: Struck me as a little tougher and more austere than the other wines so far. Nose had some funk that needed to blow off, but this wine has clearly made it through the long haul. Mike Dunne, former food and wine editor for the Bee, picked the 1987 as one of his favorite vintages at this tasting.

1988: Pleasing nose with a nice smokey quality. The brightness and acidity of this wine was memorable.

1989: Youthful purple color and savory nose. Still boasting solid structure and good berry fruit.

1990: A transition year to a riper style for Forman. Grapes hung on the vine longer than previous years, and it showed. Youthful color and tasty core fruit. Firm tannic grip. Liked this one, and earned WOTN honors from Marcus Marquez, owner of L Wine Lounge & Urban Kitchen.

1991: Great vintage and still a great wine from Forman. Remarkable structure, oak integration and nice tannic grip. Tasty plum fruit with secondary notes of cedar. Food friendly, but also a wine to sip and ponder on its own.

1992: Softer and more resolved tannins than the 1990 and 1991. Still pleasing, and good with bites of steak.

1993: Brought this wine as my contribution to the tasting. Harkened more to the Bordeaux style of 1980s-era Forman. Ric Forman called 1993 a tough vintage, and the overall fruit profile was less ripe than hoped for. Still a firm acidity and bite to this wine.

1994: My hand-written notes say, "NICE!" Noted vintage for California cabernet overall, and this bottle was showing beautifully. Gorgeous aromatics. Core fruit remains strong, structure firmly intact and would love to re-visit this wine. Perhaps my second favorite wine of the night. Paid about $60 for this about a year ago on

1995: No notes on this one. Sorry, think I was still being bowled over by the 94.

1996: Wonderful plummy aromatics. Slightly softer in style than the 94 and 91, but a notable sense of elegance. Prominent fruit without being overpowering. Surprised with how much I ended up liking the 96.

1997: Vintage noted for its ripeness and upfront pleasures. That held true for the 97 Forman. Darker nose of violets and licorice was different than other bottles so far. More of a brooding, dense wine with loads of dark fruits. Actually preferred the 96 to the 97.

Not as much fruitiness showing on the nose or palate compared to other 90s bottles, but still a very solid wine. Nice tannic grip that worked well with bites of steak. The overall 98 vintage in California often gets a bum rap for its less ripe style, but this wine is certainly in for the haul. Aging better than the 97, at least from this tasting.

1999: Currently in a tasty and thoroughly enjoyable sweet spot of primary fruit and beginning of secondary bottle notes. Flavors of black currants, plus some tobacco and a little spiciness. Very much a crowd pleaser. WOTN for Rick Kushman, my pal and wine drinking colleague.

2002, 2004, 2005, 2006:
Welcome to the modern age of Forman, with upfront wines that emphasize blueberries and violets. Alcohol levels in the upper 14 percent range, compared to 12-ish percent from the inaugural vintages. As a group, also getting notes of coffee (especially in the 2002) and lots of plum. Ric Forman predicts these big structured wines will age well, but geared more toward immediate enjoyment.

June 8, 2009
Deputies serve up fundraiser to benefit Special Olympics

The waiters at Applebee's in Cameron Park will look at a little more "uniform" than usual on Tuesday.

El Dorado County sheriff's deputies will wait on diners during the restaurant's lunch and dinner service as part of a fundraiser for the Special Olympics of Northern California.

The deputies' "tips" will be donated to the organization, which provides athletic programs for more than 13,000 people with developmental disabilities.

There are training and competition opportunities year-round within Special Olympics Northern California. Our programs are free to all eligible athletes and are possible thanks to the generous support from individuals and businesses who believe in Special Olympics athletes..

The event, called Tip A Cop, is part of the 2009 Law Enforcement Torch Run, a year-round fundraising and awareness campaign organized and managed by local law enforcement staff, a sheriff's office news release states.

The participating Applebee's is located at 3281 Coach Ln., Cameron Park.

View Applebee's in a larger map

June 2, 2009
Amador County Fair wine judging: and the winners are ...

Check out my "Wine Buzz" column today and you'll read about my first foray as a wine judge. I spent Saturday morning and early afternoon at the Amador County Fairground in Plymouth, with the task of considering 69 wines for possible medals. My three-person panel sampled 22 sangioveses, 31 cabernet sauvignon, 11 red Bordeaux blends, three "other white varietals blends" and two apple wines. The event can be summed up like this: good times, many glasses and a seriously stained tongue by the end of it all.

Here are the "best of class" winners selected by my panel:

Sangiovese - Macchia 2007 Sangiovese (This wine featured some stiff competition with a Cooper Vineyards 2006 Estate Sangiovese, but the edge went to the Macchia for its overall balance and fruity, long finish. Sangioveses from Vino Noceto also showed especially well).

Cabernet Sauvignon - Iverson Winery 2006 El Dorado Cabernet Sauvignon (a well-structured wine that also won us over for its flavors and aroma).

Red Bordeaux Blend - Winery by the Creek 2007 Grand Reserve (My personal favorite was the Hatcher Winery 2006 Meritage, but this wine was certainly fine and noted for its expressive bouquet and balanced fruit).

Other White Varietal Blends - Avanguardia Wines 2006 Selvatico (Out of the three wines in this flight, we all agreed that this wine had the best aromatics and flavor).

Apple Wine - Boa Vista Vineyards 2006 (Compared to the somewhat cloying Kandi Apple Wine from Boa Vista, this apple wine from the same producer was simply more refreshing and balanced - especially after a long morning of tasting).

But the competition featured nearly two dozen judges hosting many different panels. And by the end of it all, one wine reigned supreme: Sobon Estate 2007 Primitivo. This wine swept all of its fields and emerged as the "best of show" bottle. Wasn't on the panels for primitivo or "best of show," so I'm looking forward to tasting this one myself. Have fun tracking this bottle down ... and now, here are more "best of show" winners:

Best of Show - Sobon Estate 2007 Primitivo

Best Red - Sobon Estate 2007 Primitivo

Best White - Sierra Vista Winery 2008 Viognier

Best Desert Wine - Chateau Routon Winery 2005 Sierratage Vintage Port '05

Best Rose - Bray Vineyards 2008 Barbera Rosato

Best Amador Rhone - Karmere Winery 2007 Syrah

Best Amador Red Zinfandel - Obscurity Cellars 2007 Old Man Murrill Vineyard Zinfandel '07

Best Amador Italian - Sobon Estate 2007 Primitivo

Best Sauvignon Blanc - Wildrotter Winery 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

June 2, 2009
Will my wine make it in time?

That's the question as New Vine Logistics recently suspended operations. This direct-to-consumer fulfillment company based in Napa, which shipped wine to 44 states and helped wineries sell their wares online, is seeking capital while its 200+ clients scramble to find shipping alternatives. New Vine Logistics also partnered with in 2008 to help the e-retailer ship wine.

So what does this mean for local wineries and wine drinkers? We're still sorting this out as events unfold, but in the meantime you can learn more about this story here and here.

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