full_2198dc44504f99146dc65d02cfe28ff3What’s better than a roomful of great Pinot Noir? Why, a roomful of good food to match! Here are my top 10 food and wine pairings found at Pinot Paradise. The 9th annual Pinot Paradise, held at Villa Ragusa in lovely downtown Campbell,  presented a plethora of delicious Pinots, just begging for the perfect food pairing.

My co-contributor, Lindsey Roffey, and I, set out to find our faves. While Lindsey focused on the food, I conducted a detective-like hunt for the perfect wine for each dish, or vice versa. That’s the fun of wine and food events like this: you get to make your own rules. Because many of the wines were from the cool, challenging 2010 and 2011 vintages, they were acid queens: romping with naturally tangy red-fruited juiciness, eager to find foods with bright flavors and textures. The older vintage wines are less “edgy” making them a bit easier to pair.

Dan&LindseyIn general, Pinot Noirs from the Corralitos side of the Santa Cruz Mountains where they have a strong coastal influence and long, moderate growing season, tend to be flirty, red fruity and filled with spice and floral notes. They love anything served with berries, including lighter game, poultry and venison, as well as delicate mushroom dishes and goat cheese. Pinots from the Summit area off Highway 17 down into Los Gatos tend to be richer, fatter and have darker fruit flavors. They demand rich lamb, venison, bison burgers, or even a hearty beef bourgignon. Their favorite cheeses are parm, cheddar, blue, gorgonzola and smoked gouda.

Some of the most ethereal Pinots come from Woodside: they tend to shape-shift from sip to sip, eluding description, beckoning you to follow where they lead. Those are sometimes best enjoyed with some crusty bread and triple crème brie or aged, hard cheeses, especially those infused with truffles.

Top 10 Food & Wine Pairings From Pinot Paradise

2010 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, Branciforte Creek, 14%, $39

Notes: Huge peppery nose, lots of earth, soy and Asian 5-spice. Phenomenal texture and gorgeous acidity. Built to last, but with only 5 barrels, it will sell out fast!

Match: Oddly enough, Sushi Confidential’s salmon sushi rolls with soy and lots of ginger were really fun with this! Would have loved some lamb with this wine, though.

2010 Clos Tita Estate, 14.5%, $36

Notes: Amazingly bright and spicy aromas carry over to the palate, where a flood of cranberry, pomegranate and beguiling spice set you up for an incredibly powerful, lingering finish. One of Dave Estrada’s best ever.

Match: Paradise Beach Grill had two kinds of stuffed mushrooms, one with prosciutto and one without. Packed with peppers, summer squash, scallions and gouda cheese, they were great with this well-built savory-noted wine.

 2011 Cinnabar Winery, Saveria Vineyard, 13.5%,

Notes: Stylistically, this wine is near perfection, with its floodwaters of tangy strawberry rhubarb and its powerful raspberry cranberry core. The acidity sings.

Match: This wine will make almost every meal a delight, but it was particularly fetching with Nonno’s Italian’s fabulous aged parm and a dollop of wildflower honey.

2011 House Family Estate (Saratoga Hills)

Notes: Winemaker Jeffrey Patterson made the absolute most of this cooler vintage, bringing out all the beautiful aromas of watermelon candy and white pepper and accentuating the delicate cherry crème brulee flavors that simply dazzle.

Match: Chocolate Visions (Scotts Valley) made absolutely amazing and delicious Pinot jellies just for Pinot Paradise, and they are delightful with Pinots like this – filled with pure strawberry and raspberry flavors. Another Pinot that paired well with these is the 2011 Alfaro Family Lester Vineyard Pinot, a thoroughly exuberant cranberry-apple-raspberry crisp of a wine.

2009 Kings Mountain Vineyards Estate, 13.5%

Notes: Still young and tight, winemaker Alex Hutchinson prefers to bottle age his wines before release. This shows big structure, lots of pomegranate, blueberry and elderberry fruits, due to picking at 24.8 brix, which preserved the red fruit core.

Match: Relative newcomer, Love Morsels, has this amazing fruitcake made from owner Diane Love’s grandmother’s secret family recipe. They’re a wonderful surprise, so moist andpacked with plump dried fruits, one bite will take you back to when fruit cake was a real treat. Not just for Christmas any more! (lovemorsels.com)

2009 Silvertip Vineyards, Estate, 14.6%

Notes: Powerfully built from multiple clones, this chocolate-scented beauty offers something intriguing in every mouth-pleasing sip. An all-around crowd pleaser.

Match: The crispy duck confit cubes from Cin Cin, served with frisee and a cherry gastrique, were spot on with this wine.

 20008 Muccigrosso Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains, 14.1%, $35

Notes: Oozing charming notes of cherries, black pepper and pomegranate, this wine is as lovey to drink as it is to sniff. Wonderfully textured and pleasing.

Match: Stonehouse Bar & Grill’s goat cheese crostini with pinot cherries made fast friends with this very pretty, appealing wine. Stonehouse Grill is at the Scotts Valley Hilton.

2008 Silver Mountain Vineyards, Muns Vineyard, 14.6%

Notes: Jerold O’Brien says “I’m not a pedophile! I don’t abuse young Pinots!” which is why he brought his 2008 while many were pouring 09s and 10s. This wine is smoky, with a fair amount of black fruit and distinctive char. It was a very warm year, and we did have forest fires around the harvest of 2008.

Match: California Café’s Chef Bobby Lagan served up tasty little bites of smoked bleu cheese mousse, port reduction, and mushroom truffle duxelle. Awesome with the bolder, smokier Pinots like this one.

2011 Thomas Fogarty Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, 30th Anniversary

Notes: Young, shy, nutty and quite acid-rich. It wants cheese!

Match: Grapevine Wine & Cheese Shop had just the ticket, with aged gouda, nice and nutty and a fine pair they made.

2010 Woodside Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains, 13.2%, $36

Notes: Another standout effort by Brian Caselden, this sleek, well-built, acid-studded beauty, is like a teak yacht, fully-rigged and ready to take you on a fast-paced cruise to tropical islands. It’s got enormous energy in reserve.

Match: Bella Chi Cha’s dreamy fig and creamy gorgonzola crostini’s were the ideal mate for this gloriously finessed wine. They also make a 3-layer pesto torta and a creamy goat cheese with apricot jam. Find them at Andronico’s, Draeger’s, Gene’s Fine Foods, Nob Hill, New Leaf and Whole Foods.


Laura NessLaura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” is an accomplished wine journalist and wine critic whose passion for wine was ignited by a visit to France, where she had the unmatched pleasure of tasting Sancerre in the medieval town of Sancerre – splendid!— and then a Saumur, after visiting the Chateau de Saumur in Chinon. The concept of terroir came alive in those incandescent moments. She regularly judges wine competitions and serves on the tasting panels of the Pinot, Cabernet and Chardonnay Shootouts. She was instrumental in helping define the unique sub-regions of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA in concert with Appellation America. You can usually find her sipping and smiling in Mendocino, Livermore, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Cruz Mountains and Paso Robles. Laura writes extensively for many industry and consumer publications, and has weekly wine columns in several Bay Area newspapers. She blogs, irreverently and sporadically, at myvinespace.com.

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