A few months back I attended the annual Make-a-Wish event at the Sonoma-Cutrer vineyards and was lucky enough to win one of the live auction lots, the Wine Experience with Tom Simoneau “The Wine Guy.”

Make-A-Wish May 2010

Make-A-Wish May 2010

The stars aligned and we were finally able to schedule this event and get together to taste some great wine, eat some great food, and have some amazing conversations about the juice we all love.

Here’s a little background on Tom, I snagged this clip from his website, http://www.tomsimoneau.com/ (I’ll add some personal color from our experience).

Tom Simoneau, the KSRO Wine Guy for the past thirteen years, knows the wine business. A grape grower, a winemaker, a wine marketer, wine educator, wine judge and wine critic, Tom Simoneau is the walking definition of “Wine Guy”.

Born in Maine and educated in Boston, Tom shunned graduate school at Boston University to form a country rock and roll band. It was his musical career that eventually placed Simoneau in wine country. “We based our California operation in Healdsburg because it reminded us of Maine and it was close enough to San Francisco, so we could pursue our dream of a record deal.”

Since Tom is “The Wine Guy” here is a his syndicated wine minute from our Make-A-Wish Event:  Click Here to play audio – Make-A-Wish072910.

Tom Simoneau - The Wine GuyNorcal Wingman on-air Live this Thursday!

I will be on the radio with Tom Simoneau this Thursday, July 29th around 4:30 PM, on KSRO’s The Drive with Steve Jaxon.  You can listen live by visiting KSRO.com and clicking on “Listen Live” or tuning into 1350 AM, if you live in the greater Sonoma County area.  The Drive is on daily, from 3:00PM to 6:00PM (Pacific Time of course) and usually features local Sonoma County luminaries, of a much higher caliber than myself.  Check it out HERE.

Tom and his wife Brenda really put out the red carpet for us. We decided upon a Cabernet Sauvignon tasting and Tom said he had something creative he’d put together for our group.

Our group, was not an ordinary tasting group, I can’t remember what Tom said exactly, but he said he was going to really have to put something special together.  Included in our tasting crew were Sonoma-Cutrer’s new winemaker, Mick Shroeter (formerly of Geyser Peak & Penfold’s) his lovely wife Linda, my wife’s Aunt and Uncle who are also wine grape growers and home winemakers, and me and “the wife.”

TastingCrew

The Tasting Crew - Pictured (from left to right): Brian & Michelle Wing, Mick & Linda Schroeter, Sharon & Bob Duste, Brenda & Tom Simoneau

Upon our arrival we were greeted with glasses of Chandon bubbly and we began getting acquainted over some fantastic hors d’oeuvres, prepared by Tom’s wife Brenda.

Chicken Salad on Fresh Cucumber

Chicken Salad on Fresh Cucumber

Now, just to be clear, Tom and Brenda’s house, “Simoneau Ranch,” has one of the most spectacular views of the Alexander Valley that I’ve ever seen.  They’re located just east of Hwy 101 in Healdsburg and the view from their back porch looks across the Simoneau vineyards, and up toward the Geysers and off to the right in the distance you see Mt. St. Helena, a truly stunning spectacle!  Anyhow, I digress.  We chatted about wine and toured the property.  Tom showed us his vineyards and gave us a nice look at his cellar where he has cases upon cases of wines stacked to the ceiling, ribbons and awards for his wines, and some empty bottles, “trophies” of past experiences, each with a story.

After the tour it was back up to the house where we enjoyed some more snacks and tasted Tom’s two wines, a Chardonnay, “Brenda Lee’s,” a lovely, lightly oaked Chard, with about 10% malolactic fermentation, and his Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Oh, I forgot to mention, Tom used to sell his grapes to Silver Oak up until recently when the economy tanked so now he just makes his own Cab (it’s great by the way).  Well after some tasty snacks, a goat cheese flan (see recipes below) and some bacon wrapped figs stuffed with blanched almonds, we got on with the main event.

Tom and Brenda had set up a double-blind, Sonoma versus Napa, no-holds-barred Cabernet Sauvignon battle royale!

Double Blind

Six Cabernet Competitors

The Cabernet Contenders:

From the West (Sonoma County):

2005, Jordan, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvigon, $52
2005, Chateau St. Jean, Cinq Cepages, Sonoma County, $75
2004, Robert Young, Scion, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, $58

From the East (Napa County):

2006, Oakville Ranch, Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, $60
2006, Swanson Vineyards, Alexis, Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
, $75
2005, Revana Family Vineyards, St. Helena, Cabernet Sauvignon, $149

All Set for a great Tasting

Table for 8 with 48 Glasses

We each tasted though the wines together and discussed the characteristics and qualities we saw, smelled and tasted.  It was quite an educational experience for me.  Having both Tom Simoneau (who also teaches wine tasting/judging at the local community college) and Mick Schroeter discussing and dissecting the wines and then sharing what they experienced and comparing that to what I was getting out of them was really cool.

A Great Tasting

Blind Tasting Crew at Simoneau Ranch

It gave me insight into what a world-class wine maker looks for when tasting and judging wines.  It also made me feel pretty good about my own palate and overall sensory capacity for wine, I’m making some incremental improvements (if I do say so myself).

So when it was all said and done, we had a clear winner and two wines that were so close that second and third place could have been combined into a tie for second.  Here are some of the scoring details:

First Place: 2006, Swanson Vineyards, Alexis, Oakville, Cabernet Sauvignon. Big and Juicy with grainy tannins, hints of licorice.

Second Place: 2004, Robert Young, Scion, Alexander Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Coffee and Cocoa cover this Alexander Valley beauty, great tannic structure that is well representative of the AVA.

Third Place:  2005, Chateau St. Jean, Cinq Cepages, Sonoma County Red Wine.  Soft and supple, ripe red fruit and easy drinking tannins make this Sonoma Valley Red shine.

And the Winner is...

The Favorite Cabernet Is...

A great time was had by all and I can’t wait for next year’s Make-A-Wish event so I can try and win again.  Not only did we have some great wine and great conversation but the money made from Tom’s donation and my winning bid goes to help out a great cause.  The Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Foundation® grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy.  Please support them if you can, it’s an amazing organization.

Again, I want to extend a heart felt thank you to Tom and his wife Brenda for being such gracious hosts.  This was truly an exceptional experience and it could not have been possible without their generosity to both the Make-A-Wish foundation, and to us.

Cheers!
Brian
norcalwingman

Below are the recipes of a few of the outstanding treats Brenda Simoneau prepared for us, Enjoy!  Be on the lookout for a cookbook by Brenda in the not to distant future.

Savory Goat Cheese Flan

Recipe by Brenda Simoneau

1 cup half-and-half
8 oz. sour cream
3 eggs
1 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz. Bucheron goat cheese
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 tbsp. of unsalted butter at room temperature

Depending on the size of your ramekins (custard cups) generously butter 6 – 8.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

While the goat cheese is cold remove the rind, place goat cheese in your mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it come to room temperature. Once at room temperature, mash with a fork. Add one egg at a time mixing well. Add the sour cream and mix well. Finally, add the salt, thyme, and half-and-half. Mix well.

Divide the custard among the ramekins, place them in a baking dish, and add very hot water to the pan so it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake until the custards are set, about 25 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. Place the ramekins on a cooling rack and let sit for about 5 minutes.

Serve warm in the ramekins or run a knife around the edge of each ramekin, turn them out, and serve with a simple green salad.

Kalamata Olive Breadsticks

Recipe by Brenda Simoneau

1 tsp. active dry yeast
5 oz. warm water
1 tbs. olive oil
2 cups of flour
1 tsp. salt
30 pitted kalamata olives roughly chopped

This recipe makes about 76 skinny breadsticks. You’ll want to set up more than one baking sheet, so you can quickly rotate them in and out of your oven.

Stir the yeast into the warm water in a large mixing bowl. Let it stand for about 10 minutes. Stir in the olive oil.  Add the salt, chopped olives, and 1 cup of flour. Stir until everything comes together. Add half cup flour and stir until the dough comes together. Add a ¼ cup of flour and stir until the dough comes together. Lightly sprinkle some of the remaining flour on your work surface and knead the dough. Sprinkle and incorporate more flour as needed until the dough is smooth and soft.

Pat the dough into a rectangle (roughly 6” x 14”) on a surface that you can use a knife on. Lightly brush with olive oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 30 minutes.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees.

The dough should be very elastic now making it very easy to shape your breadsticks. Cut off a piece of dough about as thick as a finger. Lay it on your work surface, roll back and forth as your hands work out to the ends. This stretches out the dough to the desired length. Remember they will puff up in the oven to about twice the thickness that you rolled them out to. Lay them about an inch apart on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the pan and bake for 10 more minutes. Continue baking and checking every 3 minutes or so until they’re crisp and golden.

Chicken Salad

Recipe by Brenda Simoneau

1 poached boneless, skinless chicken breast
¼ cup diced celery
¼ cup chopped pecans
2 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon
½ tsp. salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ sour cream

Slice the chicken against the grain, and then chop into small pieces. You want about one cup. Place the chopped chicken and all other ingredients in a bowl. Mix together. Taste and then adjust the salt and pepper.

Serve on cucumber slices, crackers, or toast.

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