A wine event with Paso Robles wines plus snacks for carnivores was too weird to pass up. The American Lamb Association hosted this “Fans of Lamb” event at the scenic Golden Gate Club in the Presidio in San Francisco.
“Hosted” is actually a bit too strong. We paid the “three for the price of two, bring the flock” rate of $100 for three people. My lovely wife, Norma, and her daughter, Cybele, accompanied me to this strange event. Part of our motivation for attending was to see how the Presidio was shaping up now that it’s a park instead of a military base.
Fifteen chefs displayed their best lamb recipes (complete list at the end of this article). To quell thirsts, there were also 32 wineries from the Paso Robles area. We did not taste all the dishes or all the wines. This review is impressionistic rather than comprehensive.
What is a lamb jam without the lamb? Naturally there was a butchering demonstration. All you bloodthirsty wankers should calm down – the lamb they brought in was pre-killed (see left). But it was definitely a butchering demo. The “after” is below.
The only joy-killer at this event was a persistent and loud, loud, loud announcer. Did I say loud? In fact, when he made his first announcement, he commented on the high volume. But no one did anything about it. We literally headed for the exits whenever he began one of his increasingly-frequent proclamations, “try this, try that, get your votes for best chef in…blah, blah.” Norma took evasive action and ran outside to the patio, her refrain: “Once he shuts up we’ll go back in.” It’s bad enough that we occasionally are forced to put up with loud restaurants (when we make a mistake). But to pay good money and put up with San Francisco Sunday traffic only to have our ears blown out is unforgivable. Especially in the city that invented the large-venue rock concert.
Back to the event. Our vote for the clear winner among the chefs is Michael Koenig of the Grand Café. This is an excellent French restaurant housed in the Hotel Monaco at Union Square San Francisco. We didn’t take notes and don’t remember exactly what the dish was, but it was delicious.
So on to the important stuff…wine
We visited some old friends, some newcomers, and generally had a good time. As usual, we’ll focus on the wines we liked. And we learned a new TLA: GSM. Grenache, syrah, mourvedre, the three grapes that form the basis of Rhône blends.
First up was Tablas Creek, a reliable favorite over the years. We were fortunate to taste their first release of Patelina de Tablas (under $20). Cherry aromas with a nutty palate, a classic GSM blend. A steal if they stick to the quoted price range.
Thacher Winery was new to us. We sampled their 2007 syrah ($26), 2008 zinfandel ($29), and 2008 Controlled Chaos ($35). All three were quite respectable, although the Controlled Chaos seemed overpriced to us.
Next up was Adelaida Cellars which we had visited on two separate trips to Paso Robles. On both occasions we were impressed with the aging time the wines would require, probably 5 to 10 years. But at our last visit we learned that there was a change in management. A change for the better – their 2008 HMR vineyard pinot noir was very good, albeit overpriced at $35.
We had tasted wines from kukkula before, so we weren’t surprised that their wines were good. We especially liked the 2007 sisu ($28), but the 2009 was even better (not currently on their web site, but my notes say the price will be around $40). Sisu is owner Kevin Jussila’s name for his version of GSM. Kukkula is one of the many Paso Robles wineries inspired by Tablas Creek’s work on beaucastel viticulture in the area.
Ortman Family Wines was new to us. But they won’t be strangers in the future. Their stellar accomplishment is producing a petite sirah that actually tastes good and is drinkable (Wittstrom Vineyards, 2007, $36). They also produce a cab that’s very nice (Margarita Vineyard, 2007, $25, and a bargain).
A new winery for us was Halter Ranch Vineyard. They were tasting about 8 wines, red and white. Blends are their calling card, just like their well-regarded neighbor up the road, Tablas Creek. Halter compares in quality to Tablas Creek blends in our opinion.
Halter Ranch Vineyard is located across the street from Adelaida and just up the road from Tablas Creek. And they live up to the reputations of their neighbors. Their 2008 Côtes de Paso ($28) is very nice. It’s about time there was competition for Robert Hall’s Rhône de Robles ($18, a long-time favorite of ours). (Economists reading this will undoubtedly wonder if this winery is owned by Prof. Robert Hall of Stanford. As far as we know the winery owner is not related to either Prof. Hall or the long-defunct clothier of the same name. Similarly, Tobin James Cellars is not related to the late James Tobin.)
Our last stop was Midnight Cellars. While it wasn’t exactly saving the best for last, their wines were quite nice and one was a real bargain. Their Full Moon Red ($14, zinfandel – syrah – cabernet franc) is very quaffable.
As promised earlier, here’s a list of participating chefs and restaurants:
- Adam Mali (Nick’s Cove)
- Antelmo Faria (Tacolicious)
- Banks White (FIVE Restaurant & Bar)
- David Bazirgan (Fifth Floor)
- Dino Vazquez (Eastside West Restaurant & Bar)
- Eric Berg (Wente Vineyards)
- Jeff Mall (Zin Restaurant & Wine Bar)
- Jeffery Lunak (Morimoto Napa)
- Jessica Gorin (Thirsty Bear)
- Josh Silvers (Petite Syrah and Jackson’s Bar & Oven)
- Michael Koenig (Grand Café)
- Ola Fendert (Oola Restaurant)
- Richard Hodge (Puccini & Pinetti)
- Robbie Lewis (Bon Appetit)
- Yang Peng (Wood Tavern)
For those of you who need a good groan over some really bad puns, the official souvenir bag is shown above.