A Pinot Noir Dinner to Savor

As anyone who reads this blog knows, Pinot Noir is our favorite varietal (followed increasingly closely by Cabernet Sauvignon). We try to make it to every Pinot Noir tasting, dinner and seminar that we can. This is particularly true of the Pinot Days Festival, which is held every June in San Francisco. We, as discussed in last June’s Pinot Days blog, always go to at least one of Pinot-pairing dinners, seminars and of course, the Grand Tasting.

So, imagine our disappointment when we discovered we had to be out of town for this year’s celebration of all things Pinot. But, while we did have to miss most of the events, we were, at least, able to postpone our trip by one day. This allowed us to attend the Festival’s annual Winemaker’s Annual Table Hop Dinner which is co-sponsored by the Northern California Chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food (AIWF Norcal), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization on whose board both Joyce and I serve.

This event, which is held at one of the city’s premier restaurants and hosts winemakers from about a dozen different wineries, is always a blow-out event. This year was no exception.

This event was held at one of the city’s newest, most anxiously awaited restaurants—Dixie. The chef, Joseph Humphrey who won Michelin stars at each of his last two restaurants (Sausalito’s Murray Circle Restaurant and The Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley) decided to go back to his roots. Having begun his career in of North Florida and New Orleans, chef Humphrey decided to focus on contemporary Southern cuisine. .

The event began with a reception on the restaurant’s lovely outdoor patio. Wine makers from four premium wineries, Ketcham Estate, Romililly, Cuvaison and Bailiwick, each poured between two and four different Pinot-based wines. Humphrey, meanwhile, began our feast by passing around five different canapés. The stand-outs, at least in our humble opinion, were the deviled eggs and fried chicken livers.

After about an hour of pre-tasting foods and wines, we sat down for a five-course dinner, with each of the first four courses paired with two Pinots from seven vintners: Amalie Robert, Inman Family, Philo Ridge, Scherrer, Le Cadeau, Keller Estate and Gypsy Canyon. For dessert, there was a special treat: a fortified, “Ancient Vine” (more than 10 years old) produced from a heritage Californian grape originally cultivated by the Franciscans.

The chef, meanwhile, went all out. From his grits with smoked maitake mushrooms, halibut with sassafras, grilled rabbit and roast duck, ending with a dark chocolate and bourbon mousse with chocolate-olive oil cake and crème fraiche ice cream. All, by the way, are on the very reasonably priced dinner menu, where all entrees are priced between $21 and $25.

The chef, meanwhile, explained the motivation behind and the concept of the restaurant and provided an overview of each dish. Each of the winemakers discussed the wines and, in the spirit of a “Table Hop,” changed tables after each course, giving quests an opportunity to meet each. And, in support of AIWF’s signature Days of Taste program, each of the winemakers contributed wine to a very spirited silent auction.

Overall, a delicious and educational evening, all in support of a great cause. Judging from the people with whom we spoke, it was a good time had by all 50 attendees. Chef Humphrey, meanwhile, put on quite a show, especially considering that the restaurant had been open for less than two weeks and that this was its first large event.

As for the remaining Pinot Days’ events, there’s always next year.

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