A three-day whirlwind small production vineyard and winery tour hosted by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance culminated each day in a lavish food and wine pairing at the area’s finest restaurants. The chefs at Artisan, Il Cortile, and Thomas Hill Organics were each given four wines and challenged to create complementary courses for each of them.
Thomas Hill Organics Bistro & Wine Bar
was the final restaurant to take the wine pairing challenge, and although chef Christopher Manning was in New York cooking at New York’s James Beard House, sous chef Kenneth Toledo handled the task with grace and wit. We were escorted past a handsome brick-wall-flanked bar, through a pretty, airy courtyard, and then into a quiet private room in the back.
The evening began with a Shale Oak 2013 Grenache Blanc. “We were shooting for more acidity,” explained vintner and environmentalist Curtis Hascall, and he certainly achieved these qualities with this food-friendly white — it was both herbaceous and citrusy, with a touch of mineral and a pleasingly acidic finish.
Chef Toledo paired this wine with perfectly cooked scallops in a pool of citrus grenache beurre blanc surrounded by a silky fennel avocado purée. Sliced kumquats gave a nice pop and textural interest, and were pretty on the plate. It was a wonderful, thoughtful pairing.
The second course challenge was a beautiful 2014 “Liquid Hope” Rosé from Villicana Winery &Vineyard, presented by sparkling owner, Monica Villicana. A relative newcomer, Villicana and her winemaker husband, Alex, crafted this rosé to honor her mother, whom she lost to brain cancer, and $1 of each bottle sold is donated to cancer support. The couple has branched into distillery as well (their aromatic gin is stellar). The high-acid, low-sugar 2014 “Liquid Hope” Rosé, a 71.9 percent grenache, 14.6 percent mourvedre, 13.5 percent syrah blend, is a deep rose pink in the glass, with crushed strawberries and a bit of Meyer lemon in the nose and on the palate and a refreshing, dry finish.
Not to be outdone in the creativity department, Toledo prepared a brown sugar-glazed sea bass with apricot marmalade, asparagus, and an improbably wonderful watermelon Jolly Rancher gastrique, which delighted and amazed everyone by highlighting the rosé’s fruit without swamping it. It was the most inventive pairing of the challenge.
Innkeeper and winemaker Philip Krumal brought his Asuncion Ridge 2012 “Inception,” a 70 percent cabernet sauvignon, 30 percent syrah blend. This wine has big, dark fruit flavors and the 30 percent addition of syrah gives it a bit more backbone and complexity. Inception was perfectly complemented by Toledo’s pear-glazed rack of lamb, served rare on a well-made goat cheese risotto studded with English peas and red bell pepper.
The final course was from Edgar Torres’ Bodega de Edgar
, a 2012 Toro de Paso, one of the winery’s three “Passionate” blends. This is a gutsy, well-structured, full-flavored wine made from tempranillo, grenache, and merlot grapes. The nose is redolent of spice, dark stone fruit, and a bit of tobacco on the palate, with a long, integrated, silky tannin finish. Impressive now, it should only improve with age. Sometimes the vintner’s background is as compelling as his product, and Torres’ is a classic Horatio Alger story: after illegally entering the United States, the young Mexican supported himself as a waiter and fell in love with wine and viticulture. Working hard and with help from the wonderfully supportive Paso Robles wine community, he achieved his dream and is now one of Paso Robles’ most engaging small production success stories.
Undeterred by a wine not intended for sissies, Toledo rose to the occasion and presented a flavorful charred beef filet in a puddle of foie-enriched Bordelaise sauce, silky oyster mushrooms, and foie butter herb-poached potatoes. Even the kale refused to wilt in the face of this big wine. Bravo.