by Rick Riozza
There’s some great new energy and a new scene going on at the world famous Westin Mission Hills Resort & Spa in Rancho Mirage; and I’m so happy to report that it involves a lot of wine! Everyone needs to meet Denise Harnett, the resort’s Marketing Coordinator—she’s really busy right now, but she’s bringing all the energy with all the goings-on ( Indeed—CV Weekly is having their next mixer at the Westin on September 27th ).
Anyway—my son, Paolo, and I had the opportunity to meet with Denise at the Fireside Lounge. For some reason, I always thought that the Mission Hills Resort was private, but the Westin Company Hotel & Resort is open to all.
Denise was particularly interested in having us experience three venues. One was the Sangria Sunset Pool Party—now that’s a fun name! and I can envision diving into a pool of refreshing sangria (well—kinda sort of ) but unfortunately it has already run its summer course. The resort will kick that Party up again next summer. Too bad for me, I wanted to get into a Sangria discussion with you readers—another time, another article.
The Fireside Lounge is in a very chic setting and is pretty famous for their bar that owns quite a nice selection of Cognacs. But we were invited over to try a few food & wine pairings and found some fantastic match-ups. They’ve just re-vamped some of their appetizers, salads, and entrées, so we snooped through their wine by-the-glass selection.
The Crab Cakes in a Balsamic reduction sauce atop micro greens were flavorful, done perfectly with textures of both crisp and flesh. We spotted the 2011 Frogs Leap. I remember this Sauvignon Blanc from the 80s; it was one of the first humorous/imaginative winery names that would come out of Napa Valley—playing off the renowned Stag’s Leap region. Their grapes were and still are organically grown, and their wines were terrific—so fresh and crisp.
Fortunately the wine’s profile has not changed much: Citrus peel, lemon zest, and granite, balanced with low alcohol and acidity, this pairing with the crab cakes was just fantastic! It will always be my go-to glass of wine & appetizer at the Fireside.
We then saw the Grilled Ahi Tuna Salad being ordered around us so we followed suit. A beautiful & fancy presentation of a salad served on a large chilled dinner plate that did not disappoint on the flavor and freshness of the greens. This salad was crying out for a white wine while we were whining for a red that a grilled Ahi Tuna could handle. The white won over when we found the 2010 Sonoma Valley Chalk Hill Estate Chardonnay, this is a wonderfully intense and powerful quaff with a lot of elegance. One feels pampered sitting in this atmosphere with delicious food and a wine that offer flavors of baked apple, lemon peel, brioche, and cream.
All right! We wanted to get into some red wine but we were running out of time. The entire menu was offered and here we were barely leaving the appetizers and salads! Honestly, we were interacting with the resort’s patrons and staff and just having a delicious time—it’s how we sometimes enjoy dining, yeah?
Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli served along with Prawns in Curry Sauce was our tester plate to both a Santa Rita Hills Lincourt Pinot Noir and the most famous and structured Australian Penfolds Shiraz. And how many flavors do you think were streaming out this pairing!
The bay-leaf and Indian spices from the Penfolds Shiraz melded well with the curry sauce as did the cardamom notes from the Pinot Noir; the black cherry and rich brown sugar spice of the Pinot enhanced the Ricotta Ravioli; both wines showed a dark fruit & leather back-drop; and an interesting touch of lemon zest from the Lincourt lightly cradled the Prawns and Curry. The Fireside Lounge is a great recommendation. The place also serves breakfast and lunch.
The final food venue Denise spoke of is not yet opened. But please stay tuned! PINZIMINI will be the new modern Italian Restaurant here at Mission Hills that’s on my “Bit of Italy in the Desert” radar. I like the name already: a pinzimonio dip is one made with high-end olive oil infused with sea salts and fresh herbs that Italians dip their raw veggies and crusted bread into—yummy! Pinzimini should be opening next month.
I hear that there will be some great and savory dishes of antipasti, pizza, pastas & paninis. And I promise you some great food & fine Italian wine pairing recommendations—and this time we’ll spend an extra hour or two for dinner!
Buon Appetito! Salute!
Rick is the desert’s sommelier-about-town hosting and entertaining at private and business wine events & tastings. Contact him at

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