by Rick Riozza

Fifty years ago the Napa and Sonoma Valleys were the “new” wine sweetheart locales where the world came to the Tuscan-like landscape and made world class wines.  Soon everyone will again take notice of another world class wine region that has emerged: Lake County, California.

So we all rolled up to wine and dine at Escena’s Lounge & Grill’s wine-dinner finale for their 2nd annual wine pairing dinner series that featured the exquisite wines of  Lake County’s beautiful Shannon Ridge Winery.

For those who may be unfamiliar with Shannon Ridge Vineyards and Winery or with any of the wonderful vineyards of the Lake County region—well, you’ve probably already enjoyed wine made from grapes grown there. Napa County wineries for a long while have and continue to source so many varieties of the mountain area fruit.

In Lake County, Clear Lake is the oldest fresh water lake in North America! and there’s the rocky red volcanic soil around Mt. Konocti. The unique combination of altitude, climate, and soils plus the careful selection of winegrape varieties has resulted in a nearly perfect union of site and variety. The result is an intensity of place that produces grapes and wines of compelling quality and character.

And now, dear wine lovers, you can be the first on your block to be talking up the beautiful landscape and wines of Lake County as the “new Napa”!

Surrounded by dramatic landscapes and pristine wilderness, the Shannon Ridge vineyards hug the mountain rim along the south-east edge of Lake County’s High Valley wine region.

And speaking of dramatic landscapes, do we need to be reminded that one of the best panoramic views of the mountains surrounding our valley serves as a backdrop while we enjoy Escena’s cuisine. Inside the dining room or outside on the patio, I’m always amazed at the majestic view of the mountains that puts you in the mood to enjoy a nice slice of life.

Escena Lounge & Grill’s Food & Beverage director, Elise Arouh, has done just a superb job of providing us vino lovers throughout the summer with Escena’s culinary charms of matching delicious meals to the world class wines of the most notable of wineries. And the $50 wine dinner tab proved there was no better deal in town!  But all good things do come to an end and we really enjoyed this food fare finale with Elise, Chef William and Shannon Ridge’s representative, Brenda Bullington.

Brenda was a hoot! And when she introduced herself at the start of the dinner, she got all us diners to indeed shout out a loud hoot!  Thereafter we all settled comfortably continuing to enjoy and chat about the tasty food & wine match up.




And there was no better time to have introduced Escena’s new Executive Chef, William Withrow. He’s got a great bio! Moved to the Loire Valley at an early age and trained at the School of Culinary Arts in France where he refined his understanding of not only French cooking, but a variety of other international cuisines. A classical & modern artist in the kitchen, Chef William’s culinary passion is already known in our valley’s kitchens such as Cuistot.

The salad course starred Shannon Ridge’s Lake County 2011 Chardonnay that was crisp and refreshing and yet owned aromas and flavors of pear, green apple, tropical fruit and creamy vanilla! Chef William’s made his culinary presence felt immediately with his Poached Pear Salad with Mixed Organic Greens, Fresh Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese with a Passion Fruit Vinaigrette.

This was one of the most delicious salads I’ve had all year. Elegant and artful, the goat cheese and tangy vinaigrette danced wonderfully on the chilled dish of beets and greens. The Chardonnay complemented exquisitely: It’s a pairing to always keep in mind.  And I hope the Chef continues this salad throughout the year.

For the Entrée, we had a choice between the Slow Roasted Baby Back Ribs that paired with Shannon’s 2011 Wrangler Red, or, the Skuna Bay Salmon matched with the single vineyard, Morine Ranch 2009 Roussanne.

The Wrangler Red blend was right up my alley with Zinfandel, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, from Shannon Ridge’s high-elevation ultra-premium Lake County vineyards.  The ribs were meaty and the wine was balanced to match fruit to the sauce and cleansing to the palate.

The Roussanne rewarded the salmon with a bouquet of tropical fruit, lychee, and cola, and with flavors of Passion fruit and citrus.  An elegant wine that was full-bodied with a long finish.  Tasty stuff!

And for dessert, we had the first Pumpkin Ginger Crème Brulée of the season served with a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc.  This multi-layered white, was crisp with aromas of lemon citrus and flavors of tangerine and lemon grass.  No need for a dessert wine here for this semi-sweet course.  Brenda—that was a yummy call!  T’was a nice lively and citrusy change to the pumpkin pastry.  Fun Food Finale!

So let’s get another party started—and start pouring for your friends and guests these delicious Shannon Ridge Wines which can be found at LQ Wines in La Quinta, Jensen’s in Palm Desert & Palm Springs, and Desert Wines & Spirits in Palm Springs.


Rick is the valley’s “sommelier-about-town” and continues to host & entertain at wine tastings & events. Contact

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