By Rick Riozza

Just when you thought you’ve experienced all of the best a restaurant can provide for a wine pairing dinner, an entirely new happening unfolds right before your eyes and appetite.

And so it was at the Escena Lounge & Grill last week when the final leg of their 2013 Around The World Summer Wine Dinner Series came to a journey’s end. Their themes of “Going to California” and “A Dinner Among Friends” featured the exceptional wines from Ramey Wine Cellars which paired with a four-course meal prepared by three distinguished Coachella Valley chefs.

And why so many chefs in on the meal? Well—no one sitting around the bountiful table was questioning who was in charge and in the kitchen with Dinah. And, as I’ve mentioned in my past reviews, Escena has always limited their wine dinners to only 14 patrons—which becomes the most intimate dinner party in town. The very fortunate gathering truly enjoyed the food, wine, and conversation.


Any enthusiast who enjoys Napa/Sonoma wines is quite familiar with those from Ramey Wine Cellars. Winemaker David Ramey is held in the highest esteem as a true innovator, a talented wine artisan and an industry revolutionary. More than 30 years ago David helped lead the way from technically proficient, squeaky clean wines to more natural winemaking methods that embrace the importance of “terroir”—creating distinctive wines of unique character.

And Ramey’s background brings a smile to all of us who have experienced great California wine. He spent his early career creating benchmark wines for such wineries as Chalk Hill, Dominus, Matanzas Creek, and Rudd. Ramey Wine Cellars was founded in 1996.

Jeremiah Heffernan, Escena’s food & beverage manager, has done a wonderful job in presenting a great array of world class wine during the Summer Wine Dinner Series. A very personable guy, ask for him during any dinner for a great recommendation from their very reasonable wine list.

As mentioned, we were pampered by a trio of chefs that included Executive Chef Anthony Mejia, Chef Justin Napfel—who arrived recently from The Parker, and the Guest Chef and Sommelier Kathleen Kirk.

The threesome put together a triumphant meal that matched the featured wines seamlessly:

The aperitif wine was JCB a French sparkling wine, a Crémant de Bourgogne, where the bubbles began to light up the evening. These sparklers carry a bit more fruity heft than their sister wines up in Champagne. But you’ll still get the Brioche-like flavors that we like in a gold sparkling wine.

The Sonoma Summer Salad consisted of sliced watermelon and Heirloom tomatoes with Italian burrata cheese, grilled bread, and a Balsamic Olive Oil. Ramey’s 2010 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay served as a tasty foil to the summer salad. It was bursting of green apple and laced with lemon, pastry, stone, and mint. Very fresh and full of energy.

The Seared Scallops were perfectly seared; they were sweet, plump, and delicious. The English Pea Risotto was a bit toothsome but the carrot broth and Lavendar Beurre Blanc made it a very tasty dish. To match with a very tasty wine, the 2010 Ritchie Vineyard Russian River Valley Chardonnay came to play big-time with its complex aromas of Meyer lemon, nectarine, and honeysuckle. The palate was of citrus and orchard fruit flavors. Elegant and perfectly balanced, it was a tough call as to which Chardonnay the table liked the best.

The red wines for the evening were the 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2010 Rodgers Creek Vineyard Sonoma Coast Syrah. I did mention that we were enjoying exceptional wines—yes?

The Napa Cab was surprisingly medium-bodied and robed in beautiful opaque ruby. It was enjoyed with a medium-rare Hanger Steak—a classic combo. A rich yet lively wine with penetrating blackcurrant and cherry flavors that gain sweetness as it lasts in the glass. An herb-butter sauce accompanied the meat dish and some of us detected the secret ingredient of anchovy in the mix.

The single-vineyard Syrah was bold and delicious and inky purple. Complex aromas of candied black and blue fruits with flavors of melted licorice, espresso, mocha, and boysenberry did well to match the dessert course of California cheeses, Chocolate Truffles, Candied nuts and dried fruits.

Well—I’m hungry all over again. And I’d like to thank JD Cole and the Escena staff for the wonderful time had at all three dinners. And a shout-out to all the good friends and acquaintances that joined us at the table.

In Vino Veritas et Caritas!

Escena Lounge & Grill, 1100 Clubhouse View Dr. Palm Springs, Ca. 760.992.0002

Rick is the desert’s sommelier-about-town conducting and entertaining at wine tastings and events. Contact