By Rick Riozza

I don’t see much of any March Wine Madness going on here in the valley; more along the lines of March Happiness with some tasty vino being poured and delicious food and meals being served at our marvelous local venues.

We’ve just had some major wine players mixing it up with our local talented culinary artists in the kitchen; in particular, Saxon Brown Wines at Mindy Reed’s ZIN American Bistro, and Cakebread Wines at LULU California Bistro.

So let’s catch up and highlight a bit of these wonderful wine events.

Pretty much every California wine enthusiast knows and dreams about Saxon Brown Wine.  Ever since Wine Spectator magazine started reviewing its wines close to 20 years ago, there’s been an on-going love affair between the winery and the publication which continuously score the wines in the mid 90 point scale.  Just amazing ratings!

Owner and winemaker Jeff Gaffner joined Mindy Reed as they both casually sat and visited about the dinner tables at last week’s fabulous wine dinner at ZIN American Bistro in Palm Springs.  We diners felt pretty lucky having Jeff down here in the desert. In addition to Saxon Brown, Jeff enjoys critical acclaim as consulting winemaker for artisan labels including Xtant (Napa Valley), Stephanie by Hestan (Napa Valley), Black Kite Cellars (Anderson Valley) and Ram’s Gate Winery (Carneros).

We are into a new season of stellar wine dinners at ZIN.  The chef and kitchen continue to provide culinary mastery, matching delicious dishes with world class wine.  We wine folk will definitely calendar the next dinner here featuring Walla Walla Vintners, Tuesday April 19th at 6pm.  I’m personally heading out to Walla Walla wine country this summer; high quality wines coming from this region are ethereal!

The match-made-in-heaven pairings for the Saxon Brown dinner included the first course of Black Cod over leeks and fresh fava beans in a Chardonnay foie gras sauce, with of course, the 2012 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay

This is a luxurious, Montrachet-style Chardonnay that offers exotic white peach, lemon crème and pineapple aromatics with just a hint of coconut milk. Buoyant and mouth-filling, the generous palate balances vibrant apple and tropical notes with crisp acidity and refined oak tannins, all of which carry through the lingering finish. The perfect fish and wine pairing.

The second and third course absolutely wowed the guests. We enjoyed a Pork Loin Roulade stuffed with wild mushrooms along with roasted potatoes. And the wine was none other but one of the most flavorful Pinot Noirs coming from the Sonoma Coast 2012 vintage: Glass House Vineyard.

Wine Enthusiast magazine aptly wrote, “A wonderful spicy, toasted oak character runs through the aroma, flavor and finish of this full-bodied and eminently smooth wine. It smells full of grilled baguette and baking spices like vanilla and nutmeg, tastes almost like cherry pie topped with cream and has a luscious, lingering finish. While technically dry, it seems almost sweet with all those bakery impressions.

The third course was a Slow Braised Lamb Shoulder with carrots and onions.  This impeccable comfort dish was matched with the Saxon Brown 2011 Stonewall Zinfandel.  This Zin is intensely rich and vibrant but is not overly heavy.  A wonderful “food friendly” Zin.  The sumptuous nose of allspice, light cedar, ripe plum and cherry coupled magnificently with the yummy dish.

The dessert included the 2009 Late Harvest Sémillon that tasted like a baby Chateau D’Yquem!  How does Jeff do that stuff!

Cheers to him, Mindy and the staff for a great time! ZIN American Bistro – 198 S. Palm Canyon Dr.  Palm Springs, CA 92262.  Make reservations soon!
(760) 322-6300

LULU California Bistro, whose slogan in town is: “There’s always a party at Lulu!” took a major step up with their first wine dinner ever, on March 9, 2016, with a six-course dinner that paired with the world class wines and great vintages of Cakebread Cellars!

“We’ve always admired the spectacular wines produced by Cakebread Cellars in northern California,” says Jerry Keller, owner and creator of Lulu.  “And now for the very first time, it was our culinary team’s dream to create a custom menu paired with some of Cakebread’s best varietals and blends from Napa, Sonoma, and Washington State.”

Since its founding in 1973 by Jack and Dolores, Cakebread Cellars has been famous for its warm, gracious hospitality and unmatched wines.  With an enduring commitment to quality, the belief that life’s occasions are elevated by good people, good food, and good wine flows through everything they do.

With 40 harvests under their belts, and the second generation of winemaking, Cakebread Cellars has become one of the most successful and respected wineries in America, renowned for its world class vineyards, wines, and hospitality.  It has vineyard properties located throughout Napa Valley and a location in the Anderson Valley.  The winery ranches surrounding the production facility in Rutherford are where it all began.

LULU California Bistro first opened its doors on August 22, 2011 and has served its delicious California cuisine to over two and one-half million guests since opening.  Owners Barbara and Jerry Keller have made careful choices in creating “Palm Springs’ hippest restaurant.”

Although I’ve hung out at Lulu’s famous bar enjoying the cocktails and bites, this was the first time I got to try an array of dishes by the chefs.  The meals were delicious, inventive and majestically paired to the Cakebread wines.

For you foodies crowd who wish to see my notes and review of the individual dishes and wine at the Cakebread Dinner, you can go on-line at

LULU California Bistro 200 S Palm Canyon Dr Palm Springs, CA 92262   760.327.LULU (5858)