Whoopin’ It Up at World of Pinot Noir
Our favorite pairings with sexy Pinot Noir don’t involve pork belly, mushrooms, or wild game. While we love these foodie flavors, it’s the people pouring their delicious Pinots that make the best pairings for us. Handshakes, kisses, and fun conversation with winemaking friends enhance our Pinot pleasure principal every year at one of the largest convergences of Pinot producers in the West, World of Pinot Noir. After a hug this year from exuberant Central Coast winemaking pioneer Lane Tanner, I noticed my clothes sprinkled in glitter, a sparkly reminder of this delightful event and the good energy of our friends in wine.
While this wine tasting event didn’t feature a stage with live music and dancing, there was plenty of good humor and foodie delights. The bacon-wrapped scallops and black truffle-uni-polenta bites were off the charts: wow! Yes, “wine is serious business,” as Santa Maria Valley winemaker Paul Lato has observed; and yet, having fun with the grape remains a worthy goal. We picked up some schwag from Lumen, Mz. Glitter’s latest wine project with Will Henry, that features the Sistine Chapel detail with God sharing the gift of life—wine!—with Adam. Have you seen that photo of Lane in a grape bin looking like she’s in a dry ice bubble bath? Ha!
If you’re thinking “Wait, I thought this was a serious wine tasting event,” you should know: the more times one attends World of Pinot Noir—or “WOP-N” as in “Doo Wop”—the more fun it becomes. You begin to make wine friends with these women and men who pour themselves into each vintage with this challenging grape. The only drawback? We couldn’t taste all the wines or say hello to everyone we know at the best Pinot party of the year. We had a blast at this year’s World of Pinot—our 5th!—and are grateful for the media access to this top event on our wine tasting calendar: thanks #WOPN2015!
Mushroom Keys and Electric Unis
At the Foodie Frenzy Seminar, we savored the opportunity to sample several West coast Pinot Noirs paired with gourmet bites using wild mushrooms and, in the second half of the seminar, another set of bites featuring uni (sea urchin). WOPN’s Grand Tasting events encourage wine enthusiasts to broaden their understanding of the wide range of winemaking styles that nuanced Pinot Noir can express. The pairing seminars—small, focused food-wine tastings—extend the wine tasting experience into a flavorful dance with dishes featuring those umami mouthfeels and rustic ingredients that speak Pinot’s language.
The first half of the Foodie Frenzy Seminar focused on wild mushrooms and featured stand up comedian—er—retired professor and mycologist Bob Cummings as well as three winemakers who take mushroom and truffle foraging very seriously: Jeff LeBard of Gainey Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, Andrew Brooks of Bouchaine Vineyards in Carneros south of Napa, and Luke McCollum of Left Coast Cellars in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. This outdoorsman-heavy panel, moderated by wine writer & fellow comedian Matt Kettmann, delved the line dividing delicious from deadly while expert Bob—an avid winemaker in his own right—lobbed facts, emergency room tales, and fascinating mycelium science at panelists and guests. This session lived up to its title: “He’s a Funghi.”
While the mycologist explained the importance of consulting Mushrooms Demystified, the comprehensive “mushroom key” by David Arora for doing a “diagnostic” of the complete mushroom to avoid making a fatal foraging mistake, we sampled three varied preparations of wild mushrooms to pair with these wines from California and Oregon. Gourmet bites with mushrooms included a wild mushroom-stuffed ravioli, a prosciutto-wrapped mushroom, and a crostini topped with a wild mushroom mix. Indeed, mushrooms love Pinot Noir and the wine loves them right back. *mwah!*
The second half of the Foodie Frenzy Seminar focused on sea urchin stories as well as fish tales by a fish-focused panel of winemakers including Amy Lee of Rocky Point Cellars in Willamette Valley in Oregon, Gray Hartley of Buellton’s Hitching Post Wines, and Ryan Zotovich of Zotovich Cellars from Lompoc. Uni fisherman Stephanie Mutz brought some live specimens of these ubiquitous sea creatures that she dives for off the Santa Barbara coast. I have to be honest: while the mushroom pairing was satisfying and deliciously familiar, the uni pairings with these Pinots were like a bolt of lightening. This unique wild-caught ingredient seemed to deliver an electrical charge through the wine, flavor-wise. I’m no food and wine expert but you better believe I’m looking forward to my next taste of this sustainable sea creature that can—zap!—transform the wine experience.
While Sea Stephanie demonstrated how to crack open the live animals on the spot, including the active uni that had been creeping across the panelist’s table during the discussion—”They don’t have a central nervous system: they’re not screaming in pain,” [crack!]—we tasted three pretty bites of the orange uni, set off beautifully with a rainbow of flavors. One dish included black truffle shavings atop a delicate mini-slab of uni riding on a pat of polenta while another sported edible flowers, the purple nicely setting off the orange. We were electrified with how the various iterations of uni bites paired with these food friendly Pinots. The wines loved this ingredient!
Further Highlights of World of Pinot Noir 2015
It’s always a pleasure to say hello to Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards and taste his outstanding wines. At every sustainable foodie event we’ve attended over the years, we’ve repeatedly crossed paths with Richard, the first winemaker to plant Pinot vines in the unique Santa Barbara County transverse valley containing the cool-weather Santa Rita Hills. The Sanfords continue to reap the rewards of their family commitment to working closely with the natural systems in their vineyards, as evidenced by their exceptional 40th Anniversary Cuvée they poured at WOPN 2015. This was one of our favorite wines of the weekend.
Very interesting to cross paths at the Wrath Wines table with an intense wine geek from France and catch a glimpse of his extensive notes for navigating the World of Pinot Noir Grand Tasting. Like this guy, we were also excited the first time we discovered these exceptional northern Central Coast wines.
I think Mike Sinor knows everybody. If you loitered with your wine glass at the Sinor-LaVallee table for a short while like we did, this all-around good guy and serious Pinot Noir fanatic introduced us to an interesting cross section of foodie movers and shakers as they made a beeline for a chance to taste these wines. Let’s hear it for anniversaries! Their not-produced-every-year Anniversary Cuvée was another highlight of this amazing tasting event. We’re grateful for Mike’s support of our foodie media project from the beginning of our journey toward delicious.
We finally had a chance to meet Southern Central Coast winemakers Kathy Joseph of Fiddlehead Cellars and Chad Melville of Melville Vineyards and Winery in person and over wine: yes! We were seeing and tasting double with the Brothers Storm—Hannes from Storm Wines South Africa and Ernst from Storm Wines in Santa Barbara County: good people and amazing wines. Bernardus, Riverbench, Siduri, Kenneth Volk, Calera, Sea Smoke, Ampelos, Paul Lato Wines, Lucia Wines from the Pisoni family, and so many others: such a delicious time we had. Thanks to all the winemakers near and far. Thanks also to the WOPN organizers and Bacara Resort for a super-fun Pinot Noir party: whoop!