Written by Allen R. Balik
Since 1990 my wife, Barbara, and I have produced a large annual charity wine tasting and auction benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s research and care programs, raising more than $28 million since the event’s inception.
“A Culinary Evening With the California Winemasters” treats our 1,400 guests to the artistry of 75 of California’s best winemakers and 55 chefs from around the country.
As part of Winemasters, we kick off the season by holding a “Pre-Event” dinner in Los Angeles honoring one of our longtime supporters while focusing on a specific grape-growing region (AVA), winery or vineyard. We held this year’s dinner in early March at Cavatina in West Hollywood’s Sunset Marquis Hotel and showcased the wines of the Coombsville AVA in the southeastern hills of Napa Valley.
We chose the Coombsville AVA (and a premier selection of its wineries) because both the wines and topography are so unique. The entire area is a volcanic caldera so the soil types are somewhat consistent throughout the AVA with an integrated mix of exposures, altitudes and grade. The cooling afternoon breezes from San Francisco Bay moderate the temperatures throughout the growing season, leading to longer hang times, more even ripening patterns and enhanced flavor/aromatic development.
For years Coombsville was a growers’ paradise supplying Upvalley wineries with grapes of stellar character lending a backbone of power and elegance to their wines. In December 2011 Coombsville was awarded its formal AVA status, ushering in the growth of small family-owned wineries and gaining recognition worldwide for exceptional wines displaying finely tuned structure, balance and finesse with an underlying sense of minerality unique to the area. Since its AVA recognition more than 300 wines have been released with Coombsville on the label as the appellation of origin.
Our dinner at Cavatina was designed to show the diversity and quality of wines produced from Coombsville.
We featured 12 wines from 11 Coombsville producers (who generously donated all of the wines), each paired with a dish of the exceptional five-course menu created by James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schlow.
Tom Farella of Farella Winery and Vineyards was our guest speaker, introducing the Coombsville area and wines to our 80 dinner attendees. Tom was the perfect choice for this role as his family was a pioneer in the area as both a grower and vintner and he was largely instrumental in the establishment of the AVA as a leader of the effort.
Between each course Tom spoke about the wines and wineries that accompanied the prior course and introduced those for the next course while also entertaining many questions and comments from the group. We began the dinner with a tray-passed range of delectable canapés accompanied by Tournesol Sauvignon Blanc, Hagafen Riesling and Tulocay Pinot Noir.
The first course was a beautiful presentation of sliced duck breast with kumquat and grilled foie gras pairing beautifully with Sciandri Coombsville Cuvée (a blend of syrah and cabernet sauvignon) and Mi Sueño Syrah. Both wines brought out the character of the dish and fresh tang of the kumquat.
Then for the second course, we savored homemade tortelli pasta with mushrooms, walnuts and Parmigiano paired with Farella Malbec, Porter Family Merlot and Arrow & Branch Red Wine (a cabernet franc driven Bordeaux-style blend). The earthy character of the dish was the perfect foil for the wines, bringing out the best in each.
The main course was an artistic plate featuring slow-cooked prime sirloin accented by a gentle touch of truffle and complemented by the artful cabernet sauvignons of Farella, Ackerman and Sodaro’s Felicity. Robust yet elegant examples of Coombsville’s cabernets that highlighted the rich yet delicate flavors of the dish.
And for dessert we were treated to a creative presentation of what Michael Schlow modestly called “Cavatina Cheesecake” accompanied by Dolce, one of California’s premier Sauternes-style dessert wines produced from botrytized semillion and sauvignon blanc grown in Coombsville. A stunning marriage of complex flavors and textures to complete the meal.
When planning the dinner I especially hoped to introduce our wine-loving crowd to Coombsville, as the area remains unknown to many consumers. My goal was to exhibit the diversity of the magnificent wines grown there as well as the very talented producers, many of whom are just coming on the scene. Judging from our guests’ interest and reaction to the evening, I would say with Tom’s knowledge, support and generosity all was accomplished.