By Rick Riozza

Do you smell that?

Do you smell that!

I love the smell of winemaker dinners in the evening.

And along with the new season of cozy weather comes comforting wafts brought to you by our valley’s famed restaurants and great chefs. It’s where the foodies & vino lovers converge to enjoy the tasty, inventive, and sometimes exquisite fare that is marvelously matched with world class wine.

I’ve had the fun gastronomic pleasure to cover Executive Chef Robert Nyerick for the past few years in my “Mind of the Chef” series. From his wonderful seven year tenure at Miramonte to his current executive position at Rancho Las Palmas Resort’s multi-awarded restaurant bluEmber, he has established himself as an esteemed & respected epicurean.

We recently chatted of the new season of winemaker dinners that will include the likes of Schramsburg & Michael Mondavi Wines along with themes such as Romantic Tuscan Nights and California vs. France. And Chef Nyerick is always quick to share the culinary limelight with Chef de Cuisine, Brandon Testi. There’s truly an admiration society between the two as they put their minds and talent to pair the meals with flavor profiles of featured premium wines. And by the way, Chef Brandon just won the Crater Lake Chef Competition and will be on the auction black at the Ritz-Carlton at this week’s Chef Auction for the Pendleton Foundation which assists cancer patients & families.

With the theme of Earth to Table, Chefs Robert and Brandon have designed some scrumptious plates to wonderfully complement the famed Santa Rita Hills wine of Dierburg & Star Lane Vineyards.

Santa Barbara County, home to an increasingly diverse array of grapes and styles, stands out in the international world of winemaking.

In 1997, the Dierbergs purchased and planted a property in the Santa Maria Valley, prepared to make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that would both reflect and elevate the reputation of Central Coast wines. The Dierbergs planted on steep hillsides along Drum Canyon Road and Highway 246 in what is now the world famous Santa Rita Hills.

“We immediately knew that we wanted this amazing ranch,” recalled Mary Dierburg. “It was absolutely breathtaking.”With what she calls “blind confidence” — plus some of the best consultants in the business — the Dierbergs decided to plant Star Lane with Bordeaux varietals based on their faith in those grapes’ ability to soar in the unique microclimate.

Their instincts quickly paid off in 2009 when Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara was officially designated an American Vitacultural Area. In an industry marked by tried-and-true formulas replicated the world over, the Dierbergs are truly pioneers of California’s wine industry. “The wines speak of the terroir in Happy Canyon,” said Mary. “The flavors and intensity are completely unique to this corner of the world.”

There’s a great deal of responsibility that comes along with owning such precious pieces of the California landscape, one that the Dierbergs are deeply committed. Dierberg Vineyard has a steady focus on sustainability and an understanding of how their stewardship of the land will affect future generations. “We want to continue the long tradition of preserving a place where agriculture coexists in harmony with nature,” says Jim Dierberg. “Our goal is to leave our vineyards in better shape than they were when we bought them years ago.”

As I spoke with Chef Robert, he clued me on the up-coming wine dinner. Here’s a preview:

For the Reception: The fresh, refreshing, yet soft and creamy Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc will be served with the appetizer plate consisting of Shrimp & Salmon Mousse, Brie with Walnut & Orange, and Prosciutto Wrapped Melon Balls infused with Mint Water.

The First Course will be Chef Robert’s signature Pan Seared Sea Bass atop vegetables prepared Pot Au Feu. Dunno—but how hard is it in this valley to get perfectly cooked lightly prepared sea bass! Chef does it right! Add to the delight, the Dierburg Steel Chardonnay: It’s pure, flinty, and delicious—like Chablis Burgundy in a glass.

The Second Course features the Dierburg Drum Canyon Hills” Pinot Noir. The winery’s notes state: “The intensity is true and authentic to the unctuous power that people have come to associate with the Santa Rita Hills, and yet there is a solid chassis of acidity underlying the wine, making it an excellent combination of ripeness and refinement. Expect raspberry and cola on the nose, sage and cherry on the tongue, and a whole spice rack of sensations throughout.”

This Pinot will be served with a Cocoa Dusted Breast of Duck, Autumn Greens, Brussels Sprouts, with Sundried Cherries. I did mention world class fare—yeah?

For the Third Course, look to a Roasted Saddle of Lamb. Chef says the saddle will be boned, rolled and tied, as with a tenderloin. “This style of preparation keeps the lamb deliciously moist inside while the exterior roasts giving lamb that optimum non-gamey savor.”

For this course and Dessert, we will experience the wondrous wine coming from Happy Canyon. With the Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, look for initial aromas of black plums, figs, and cinnamon, and, in the palate we find pepper, cocoa, cola, and intriguing hints of extracted boysenberry. The Star Lane Merlot begins with scents of blackberry, mocha, vanilla, and wild sage and flavors of bitter chocolate and fresh cacao beans.

The Chefs will be doing dessert up with panoply of Chocolate Pops along with Smoked Almond Brittle. And—as we always say, Sweet Dreams.

Bon Appétit! & Cheers!

bluEmber Restaurant, 41-000 BOB HOPE DRIVE
RANCHO MIRAGE, CA 92270-4497 760.834.2110