by Rick Riozza

It’s a good time to catch up on a couple wine outings that we’ve enjoyed about town.
The Gala at the Miramonte Resort & Spa’s JUSTIN’s wine pairing dinner was both elegant and fun. A fabulous Four-Course & Five-Wine Dinner with winemaker, Justin Baldwin, who spoke between courses. Chef Robert’s Pan Seared Sea Bass on Wilted Arugula and Truffled Tiny Greens along with the Vegetable Linguini paired with the JUSTIN 2010 Estate Chardonnay was the media table’s match-up of the evening.
Although the Winery listed this 2010 Chardonnay as a “Paso Robles meets Chablis” style, I would say it was more on par with a Southern Burgundy—plump, not lean. Delicious though, with aromas of apple and peach and flavors of white peach, toasted almonds and a finish of tart lemon alongside great minerality.
Meeting Justin Baldwin, owner and winemaker, was cool. He’s now moved down to our valley and anticipates hosting more local wine pairing dinners. I remember when famed winemaker Mike Grgich moved to La Quinta and made the restaurant rounds. With all the Chef vs. Chef “Challenges” going on in our valley, one can imagine a “JUSTIN vs. GRGICH Wine-Pairing-10 Course-Dinner Throw Down!” at one of our famed restaurants. Bring a BIG appetite to that one!
As I’ve written previously in these pages, the Wine Vault of the Desert is a premier 10,000 sq. ft. custodial wine cellar — available to wine lovers, collectors, restaurants, wine clubs, country clubs and wine stores alike. Just the other night, the Wine Vault Team of Ralph Iannuzzi and Jack Dixon hosted a wine tasting and food sampling for their members and the Friends of the Pendleton Foundation.
The major goal of the Pendleton Foundation is to assist families who are dealing with cancers of all kinds. Since each cancer is as unique as each individual, the aim is to support families in their decisions regarding treatment through financial assistance to ease the financial impact upon their households. If this charitable objective strikes your heart, please look into becoming a Friend of the Foundation. You can reach their Palm Desert office at 760.770.0880 or visit their website at
Chef Herve Glin of the Corktree Restaurant, a longtime supporter of the Pendleton Foundation, invited Executive Chefs Hector Ramirez from Ruth Chris Steak House and Gerald Brunett from Bellatrix Restaurant to join him in acknowledging this fantastic charity organization for its inspiring community support for Coachella Valley families in need.

These gustatory heavy-hitters prepared samplings of Herve’s Chicken Taco with Chipotle Jam, Ramirez’s mini Filet Mignon with a red wine reduction, Brunett’s Scampi Shrimp and Ahi Tuna, and the Miramonte Resort Kitchen Chef’s goat cheese and assorted appetizers. These samplings are great to pair with the wines offered for tasting. A little food, a little wine and one can experience a quick matrix of similar pitch & tone flavor links.
One of our valley’s favorite wine reps, Dennis Ayde, provided a smart & fun array of French and California wine. You wine enthusiasts should reach him at for his list of great wine deals.
We found the Thomas Barton Graves [grahv] to be the complete amuse-bouche with Chef Brunett’s stellar Scampi Shrimp & Ahi Tuna. This Bordeaux is a white wine made up of Sémillion [say-mee-YOHN] and Sauvignon Blanc, with fresh fruit aromas of pears, vanilla, and white flowers with flavors of citrus and beeswax. Always a great match with sea food.
An excellent California Cab produced by Roberts & Roger’s, their 2006 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, of course paired wonderfully Chef Ramirez’s steak. Napa Valley Howell Mountain Cabs are renowned for their complexity, earthiness, and elegant robustness. A 93 pointer from Wine Spectator, this is a serious inky-dark delicious quaff.
Sauternes [soh-TAYRN] is known as a Bordeaux dessert wine. This Thomas Barton wine is a light-bodied version and has aromas of citrus, peaches, apricot jam and acacia flowers. Although a “dessert” wine, it famously pairs with interesting food such as foie gras (whether legal or illegal!), Blue/Roquefort cheese, crab, Indian and Thai food. Let’s add Chef Herve’s Chipotle Jam Taco to the mix with that jam connection.
As one could tell, we all had a fun time in the cool atmosphere of the Wine Vault. Just a reminder: As a member of the Wine Vault, one of the many benefits is the Corkage Fee waiver at over 30 of the most desired restaurants in our valley. Go to for much more info.
And please join the Pendleton Foundation at the Miramonte Resort & Spa on Thursday evening, November 8th for the 8th Annual Chef’s Charity Auction. Chef Robert Nyerick is preparing dinner that evening and the hors d’oeuvres will be prepared by over a dozen famous valley chefs during the reception. Winning bids will have one of the spectacular chefs cook a private meal for 8, at either patron’s home or the chef’s restaurant. Food & wine is included. Tickets are just $95 per person.
Bon Appétit! Cheers!
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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