Riding the New Wave Rhône Wines

Tirelessly tasting Rhônes


We like to say we don’t do “wedding food.”  Our food is real, not dumbed  down to suit all tastes. And, be it a wedding or other event, we want you to enjoy our food with some really distinctive wines, like several we tried recently at Romancing the Rhônes, a tasting of California wines made from varietals associated with the Rhône region of France.

They were  wines that complement the kind of full flavored foods we serve. In general, the Rhônes have intense layered fruit and bright acidity that enhances the food, unlike some of the over concentrated fruit bombs so popular now that mask and muddle the flavors.

The tasting featured dozens of superb wines from all over California and a few from Oregon. It was sponsored by Affairs of the Vine (www.affairsofthevine.com) and held at the Old Mint in San Francisco.

The wines are part of what I call the Second Wave of West Coast Rhônes.  The First Wave of Rhônes came in the 1980s and 1990s when California winegrowers like Randall Grahm and a few others  discovered that California’s soils and climates were well suited to Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier, Roussanne and other Rhône varietals.  The Second Wave of Rhôneistas have built on that, making small lots of exciting site-specific wines that show well with a wide variety of dishes.

These Second Wave winemakers are also doing some interesting blending, often breaking out of the Rhône box altogether to shape a delicious glass of wine.  A good example of that is La Sierra Azul by Clos Tita wines of Santa Cruz, a blend of Syrah, Merlot and Viognier that is exceptional, an elegant wine with bright fruit and balanced flavors.

Tercero Wines from Los Olivos takes a more traditional approach. They were pouring an incredible lineup of Syrah-Grenache-Petite Sirah blends from single vineyards on the Central Coast.  And if you want to step back from the reds, Tercero has a lovely rosé made from Mourvèdre.

Other favorites from the tasting include Hug Cellars, especially the red wine blend called El Pape and a delicious Mourvèdre from Fenestra. Cinnebar  Winery from Saratoga was also pouring a top rated Mourvèdre. Also on the A list was Red Belly, a terrific old vine Carignane from Skylark Wines. Among the whites, we enjoyed the Viognier and Roussanne from Cass Wines.

Turns out that pioneering Rhône Ranger Randall Grahm is also riding the Second Wave with a lovely little red wine called Contra, a mélange of Rhône and non-Rhône grapes that  hits all the right palate pleasure buttons and sells for under $15. More, please!

On that note, many of the best wines we tasted at Romancing the Rhônes retail for under $20.  Because the wines often come from small artisan producers they can be hard to find.

But finding good wines, distinctive wines is just one of the many extras we offer at AWC.  We don’t believe you should have to eat bland food or drink boring wines.  We will source out-of-the ordinary and delicious wines to match your menu and arrange for delivery to your event.


—Larry Walker



Local Is Everywhere


One of the questions I hear from our clients: Do you use local sustainable ingredients?  People in the Bay Area are hip to this concept.  They see it in the local press.  They see it espoused on local restaurant menus.

And, YES we do!  And, we here on the west coast are not alone.

On a recent trip to the Miidwest I saw and tasted the same trend. I spent some time in Chicago, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio and found the same passion and skill that fueled the food scene in California.  I also found that chefs there were looking in their own backyards and local farms to stock their pantries.

Here are a few sample virtual tastes, beginning with Chicago.



We were not able to get a dinner reservation at Blackbird on short notice, but we did squeeze in for a late lunch.  Blackbird is not far from the Lake, on busy West Randolph Street,. It has a sleek almost industrial look. A vibe that says, ‘Hey, it’s happening here.’ We opted for the three course prix fixe lunch. It was about the best $22 we’ve ever spent for lunch.

My meal began with confit of octopus ( the octopus is cooked in buttermilk) with pea porridge and dill seeds garnished with a tiny salty meringue which I didn’t really understand why is was there, but it tasted good.

Then, wood-grilled sturgeon with smoked green cabbage, fried enoki mushrooms and walnuts with a smear of kkaffir lime across the plate.

The enoki mushrooms at Blackbird

My desert was Valrhona chocolate draped Pain Perdu with pistachios buttercream and candied beets. Long plate, of course.  Oh my!

Longman & Eagle


This is a relaxed and easy-to-like take on a traditional Chicago bar-resaurant. Chef Jared Wentworth is passionate in his quest for local ingredients, insisting on  a  farm to table, “nose to tail” approach.  The menu changes with what is available, sometimes daily. If you don’t have a good time here, you have serious problems.

Our server had just returned to Chicago after working in San Francisco for several years.  His heart was yearning for San Francisco but his head knows that working three jobs just to make his rent in this city is a bit crazy.  He can have a job and a life in Chicago.

Slagel Farm Hen eggs featured at Longman&Eagle are what eggs are supposed to taste like.  Slagel meats are on the menu, too.  My asparagus-rhubarb salad with a one hour Slagel egg, pickled red onions, Werp greens and shaved goat cheese makes me want to get my reservations to fly to Chicago next spring.

Oh, and they rent out rooms, too.  Four rooms.  I liked the one with the footed tub in the middle of the room.  Now, that’s sexy.

The Purple Pig


The motto at this Near North Side Michigan Avenue restaurant is ‘Cheese, Swine & Wine’ to which I would add, Wow!  It is the place to be after catching the early show at Blue Chicago, a blues club just a few blocks away on North Clark Street.

Fava beans, baby leeks and a hard cooked egg with crispy prosciutto was my starter.  Standots in my memory was the cheese plate: Green Hill Camembert from Georgia, and the 2001 Viña Tondonia Reserva Rioja.

Well, the point is not to urge you to go to the airport and grab the next flight to Chicago, but to remember to be mindful of what’s on your plate, wherever you are eating.  Remember to connect locally, to look beyond the same tired theme chain restaurant and seek out real local food.  Your palate will thank you.

Next time, on to Cleveland and Columbus.

(Ann Walker Catering will never offer you a cookie-cutter menu. We design the menu for your event based on what you want, not what is convienent for us.  We also take into consideration what is in season. We use local and organic ingredients whenever possible.)

—Ann Walker