Wine, Food … and More Wine and Food

Rick Sanchez in full swing at the wine-pairing dinner. Photo by

The 35 people who got the chance to enjoy CordeValle’s Laird
Wine pairing dinner on Saturday feasted on incredible fare prepared
by executive chef James Squassoni.
The 35 people who got the chance to enjoy CordeValle’s Laird Wine pairing dinner on Saturday feasted on incredible fare prepared by executive chef James Squassoni. Some were there celebrating birthdays, such as doctors Kevin and Pam Stewart, and there also were some anniversaries. But most people showed up to have a good time with fine wine and good friends.

The evening began in the library in front of a roaring fireplace after a warm greeting from the four handsome doormen. Greeting guests at the concierge’s desk was local Live Oak High School student Jeff Schroedter, who was still smiling after downing his first goose this week (the inside scoop on that was watching Jeff, Nick Reichert and my son clean the carnage on my garbage cans Friday night). It’s a good thing Jeff refrained from bringing his goose to work and carrying it by the neck the way he did in the neighborhood. Sometimes it’s hard to separate a boy and his goose.

Sipping our wine aperitif, the room filled with the music of Steve Chambers on clarinet and Todd on guitar. Steve filled me in on the fact they now make flavored reeds for the clarinet. I believe Steve’s reed was merlot-flavored Saturday night. Too bad I only play violin.

As the first wine dinner of this year, CordeValle host Elaine Stoddard welcomed her guests and encouraged them to keep their calendars clear for upcoming events. “Oohs” and “aahs” surfaced when Elaine announced cooking classes will be given in the spring at nearby winery Clos LaChance. “And not a mirror-and-watch kind of cooking class, but a get-down-and-get-dirty kind,” Stoddard explained.

Emerging chef Ramune Ambrozaitis led the “oohs” and many of the “aahs” on that one. Accomplished domestic chef Shawn Moen and her husband, Randy, were glad to be back drinking wine in California after a recent trip to dreary old Manhattan. (Actually, they loved the Big Apple, but Randy wants a message sent to Greg Bozzo: “The Rockettes were horrible!” I’m only the social messenger. The Moens do highly praise the Broadway show “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”, starring John Lithgo.)

Rebecca Laird of the Laird Family Vineyards stood before the celebratory crowd and shared her family’s Cinderella story of their rise to Napa history status as the biggest grape-grower in the Napa Valley.

The story goes that in 1970, her parents drove to Napa and fell in love with the countryside. Her father was determined to move the family there. Laird purchased an abandoned prune orchard for $150,000 in Napa only after consulting with Bob (they call him Bob, we call him Robert) Mondavi. Laird met him out in the orchard, and Mondavi told him what to plant and signed a 20-year deal to buy fruit from him. A Cinderella story for sure. The tasting on Saturday night was wine labeled under the Laird brand and consists of their favorite 1 percent of their tremendous yield.

Next it was Peter Hiers’ turn on the wine floor. Hiers brokers fine wines under the name Rising Star Producers, featuring limited, single vineyard wines. I’m putting his business card out to bid for all you small, local enologists.

According to Hiers, “The small wineries are the ones producing the best wines in California.” We here in South County know that; now can someone tell those wine snobs at Wine Enthusiast magazine!?

Back at the table, Bill Christopher let loose during the dinner playing up the “don’t tell the gossip columnist anything” game. Randy Moen filled me in on everything juicy about Bill that I will use at a later date.

Brent and Elizabeth Gordon seemed to enjoy the banter, but when it came to generational differences, Bill was kind enough to explain the subject to Elizabeth (who I think was celebrating her 25th birthday that night).

Back to the fine fare, plate after plate arrived while the 500 wine glasses on the table were poured with extreme care. A most memorable salad accompanied two very different chardonnays. Hidden underneath the organic baby frisee was Chilean sea bass and butter-poached Maine lobster medallion dressed with a shallot-mustard-tarragon sauce.

The second plate of baked manicotti stuffed with confit of Sonoma duckling, exotic wild mushrooms and merlot-infused fig sauce paired perfectly with the Laird merlot. An entree of braised Swiss Veal Chop, sage sauteed gnocci (my favorite) and winter cassoulet (wonderful-not too dry) paired with a Laird cabernet. Full of wine and food, one more plate of cheese and dried fruit paired with a Laird syrah arrived. Bill Christopher looked at his plate and commented on his shriveled grapes (you didn’t think I’d put that in, did you?).

Full and happy, the invitation from Carol and Rick Sanchez (unofficially voted the nicest people around) to join them at the bar after dinner sounded like the perfect time to discuss the wines we had just tasted. Rick had other subject matter on his mind. Sanchez decided to go night putting. That is, putting at night in front of the bar fireplace, where there is little or no walking involved. Saves on green fees.

One person who was just happy to watch the night putting was CalDoor Chief Financial Officer Ron Ianni – a definite candidate for the paper’s most eligible bachelor story.

Ciao for now.

Leave your comments