By Rick Riozza

This is a good time to catch up on some of the wine and food outings in the area, one we’ve recently enjoyed, and a few to look forward to.

Really had a good time kicking off Morgan’s in the Desert’s 2014 Winemaker Dinners & the Food & Wine Festivals when they hosted the Wines of Iron Horse.

Iron Horse Winery is one of Sonoma County’s most beautiful, small, independent, estate, family owned wineries located in cool, foggy Green Valley, one of California’s smallest wine appellations that lies in the southwestern part of the Russian River Valley.

In the arena of California sparkling wines, Iron Horse stands at the top. Their wines have been served at the White House for the past five consecutive presidential administrations, beginning with the historic Reagan-Gorbachev Summit Meetings and lately at our own Sunnylands where the Obama-Chinese VP Xi Jinping conference was held.

Celebrated Executive Chef, restaurateur, food scientist and author Jimmy Schmidt is at the helm of Morgan’s at the Desert where he wonderfully paired his inventive cuisine, drawing inspiration from the bounty of the Coachella Valley and its environs, to match with all of the fantastic flavors and nuances present in the Iron Horse’s stable of premium wines to the four course meal.

As to the sparklers for the event, the winemaker’s dinner began with an outdoor patio reception featuring the Iron Horse 2009 Wedding Cuvée Sparkling Wine,which is the winery’s interpretation of a Blanc de Noirs Champagne—a blending of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A delicious aperitif on its own with aromas of peach, raspberry, and hazel nut following on the palate with pink grapefruit, lime, and stone fruit, and, a perfect partner to the various menu dishes from salads, to charcuterie and cheese platters, and on to something decadent like the a roasted five-cheese macaroni gratin.

The other Iron Horse sparkling wine, the 2007 Brut Rosé, was surprisingly served with the Second Course of Pan Roasted Fennel Seed Crusted Black Cod with Black Lentil Risotto. I say surprisingly because generally a sturdy white gets served with that dish. But that’s how Chef Schmidt plays it. This is the winery’s most vivid and bold bubbly as to color and flavor, and due to the predominance of Russian River Pinot Noir in this wine, it matched impeccably with the roasted cod and washed through the seasoning of the perfectly prepared risotto.

The restaurant is housed at the Legendary La Quinta Resort & Club and the entire place is impressive. The up-coming line-up of events is just as impressive. From Winemaker Dinners featuring Long Meadow Ranch, Ampelos Winery, Justin Winery, and Swanson Winery to Food Festivals celebrating international foods such as Meyer Lemon, Blue Mussel, Morel Mushroom, Artichoke and Shell Crab, Baja Shrimp & Oyster.

I met with the Restaurant General Manager John Healy who is as personable as can be. He and Chef Schmidt have been a team for over 20 years at different restaurants throughout the country. Needless to say, their experience, loyalty and professionalism simply engulf both elegance and geniality. For instance, besides the five star dining I enjoyed, they invited me back to the kitchen to sample a few of their freshly made ice creams.

Their full line-up of eventscan be found online at

The BlueEmber Restaurant at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa is also beginning their Winemaker Dinner Series, featuring the wines of the famed Stag Leap Cellars Winery with their winemaker Marcus Notaro on hand on the evening of January 30th. Cocktail Reception begins at 6pm with the four-course meal following.

The esteemed Executive Chef Robert Nyerick, whose wine-pairing dinners I’ve covered often, will be again revealing culinary magic as he gets to play with a palate of world famous premium wines from the winery whose 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon took down the French at the famous Paris tasting.

A quick preview of the courses and wines are as follows: At the Reception, a Scallop Carpaccio will be served with a Sauvignon Blanc; 1st course, Panko Crusted Sea Bass to be paired with the Hands of Time Chardonnay; 2nd Course, Duck 2 Ways, Crispy Confit Leg & Seared Breast matched with Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon; 3rd Course, Grilled Center Cut Black Angus Filet of Beef with Cocoa Dusted Short Rib Ravioli is matched with the Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; and, 4th Course, Chocolate Decadence, Apricot Crème Brulée with Erioca Gold Late Harvest Riesling.

I’ve recently tasted a couple of these wines. For Chardonnay lovers, you’ll love the 2010 Hands of Timewhich offers pleasing aromas of lightly-spiced Golden Delicious apples and vanilla wafers along with citrus notes of tangerine and lemon. This carries over on the palate with a solid core of fruit and a supple mouthfeel and will be great with the sea bass. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Artemis is laced with sweet red berries, plums, flowers, mint and cloves. It’s got that great Stag Leaps depth and is a medium-bodied wine that’ll go great with the duck. This duck pairing sounds very French—n’est-ce pas? Yum!

BlueEmber Restaurant: 41-000 BOB HOPE DRIVE RANCHO MIRAGE, CA 92270-4497RESERVATIONS (866) 423-1195

Rick is your sommelier-about-town engaging at tastings & events. Contact