By Rick Riozza

I don’t wish to be an alarmist and I don’t mean to put a scare all of you, but a lot of our restaurants are “wineing” down their winemaker dinners as the “tourist season” begins to slightly disappear over the mountain horizon. “Really?—don’t we still have a lot going on, and at least for a couple of months or so?” Perhaps—but don’t get caught off guard. Keep the belly and the wine jug filled! I don’t want to hear about a half-empty glass.

The last time we spent time with Chef Robert Nyerick (the Mind of the Chef series) he was concluding his wonderful tenure at the Miramonte Resort after seven years. He is now the Executive Chef at the BluEmber Restaurant located in the Rancho Las Palmas Resort.

I popped in to pick his brain about the final up-coming wine dinner to be held Thursday March 20th at 6pm featuring the premium wines of Nickle & Nickle and Far Niente. Pretty much most of you wine enthusiasts know well about the fabulous quality of Napa Valley’s Nickel & Nickel wines. And for those new to wine—well, after this week’s wine dinner, you’ll not forget them.


Established in 1997 by the partners of Far Niente, Nickel & Nickel is based on a philosophy of producing 100 percent varietal, single-vineyard wines that best express the distinct personality of each vineyard. It is from some of the most coveted vineyards in the Napa and Sonoma valleys where the Nickel & Nickel wines are produced.

Fortuitously, Chef Robert was still in a meeting when I arrived so I got to spend time with Chef de Cuisine Brandon Testi. He’s on-point with the wine menu as he, Chef Robert, and the wine rep planned it out some weeks ago.

Interesting enough, Chef Robert welcomed young Chef Brandon on board early on at the Miramonte, so good to see the guys back together again planning & creating dishes. And as Chef Robert is always quick to point out that these winemaker dinners are truly a collaborative effort and he’s always shared the spotlight & accolades with his staff.

The cuisine savvy Chef Brandon opened up on the team’s pairing ideas for this dinner. I like his talent; he’s bright, energetic, and pursues excellence, as with his vigor to match flavors and textures to the excellent line of featured wines.

So here is the meat & potatoes of this grand dining experience:

The Reception will feature Nickle & Nickle 2012Medina Vineyard Chardonnay to be paired with Pacific Oyster with apple mignonette and fried leeks. And look for Fontina Fritti with apricot pomodoro and young basil.

The Chardonnay is from Sonoma’s Green Valley AVA by the Russian River which means the grapes have gone through a slow ripening process—therefore look for fantastic balance of fruit and acidity. Pear, lemon, and fig blended with stone and mineral elements will be great company to the appetizers.

On the 1st Course, both chefs said the sky-was-the limit (or shall we say the vast ocean was the limit) when it came to putting together the “Seafood Display”. Locally fresh scallops, clams, and shrimp along with the freshest catch of the day will appear in a rich brodo along with baby vegetables and micro cress.

This time the sister winery, Far Niente, will showcase its Napa Valley 2010 Cave Collection Chardonnay. This wine opens with delicate aromas of citrus blossom, honeydew melon, pear, flint and toasted almonds. The entry is silky with pear and citrus flavors. Look for the refreshing cleansing acidity that leads to a juicy finish, layered with toasted oak.

The 2nd Course presents the famed Roasted Breast of Pheasant. As the chefs pointed out, everyone has heard of this dish but when was the last time they had it? And everyone, in and out of the cooking world, knows that there is just a tiny window of time to cook that bird to perfection. The chefs are up to the challenge: prosciutto wrapped & roasted crispy, served with soaked cherries with shallots and valley field greens

And the consummate pairing will of course be the stellar 2009 “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir from yet another sister winery EnRoute. With a “passion for the Pinot” EnRoute is devoted to Russian River Valley grapes; it’s considered one of the best terroirs for Pinot Noir this side of Burgundy.

The classy Les Pommiers has uncommon depth and persistence, while also being extremely aromatic. There is an abundance of cherry, plum, and raspberry aromas progressing into floral and mineral notes with tobacco leaf and toasty oak. On the palate, layers of black and red fruits weave around beautifully integrated tannins. Mixed with refreshing acidity of the wine, it carries great complexity and will evolve in the glass. A magnificent match for the meal.

Amazingly, there is still the 3rd Course: What the chefs name “a true Charred Rib-“eye”. In other words, they’re cutting out all the surrounding fat leaving the “true marbled eye of the Prime Rib steak. Chef Brandon quietly quipped, “‘think Kobe’ on this one!” The Nickle & Nickle 2009 Kelum Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is the masterful call for this dish. It’s a world class pairing with Bordeaux-like qualities of berry and cassis mixed with notes of cigar, bay and herb—with a long finish.

Dessert is prepared by one of the valley’s best patisserie chefs, Tibico Neri. Thirty years at this resort, he is presenting a Desert Honey Poached Pear with Brie Brûlée along with Far Niente’s 2006 Dolce Wine.

Bon Appétit! & Cheers!

bluEmber at Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa 41000 Bob Hope Dr, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270 Reservations: (866) 423-1195

Rick continues to host & entertain at wine events & tastings. Contact

Rick continues to host & entertain at wine events & tastings. Contact