The theme of last week’s California tasting was to “Dream Big” which is certainly what Sonoma County Vintners did when it teamed up with The Buyer to take a group of leading buyers, sommeliers, wine merchants and consultants on a tour of London restaurants to showcase their different styles of wines and how their producers paired against different food styles. If only all wine tastings can be this fun, if perhaps not such a logistical challenge.
The Taste of Sonoma Wine Bar (and restaurant) Tour looked complicated enough on paper. Eleven Sonoma County producers, 14 members of the UK wine trade, a photographer, three restaurants and four hours. But somehow it all came together with great wines, gorgeous food, wise words and a lot of banter along the way. Richard Siddle looks back on a memorable day.
In an ideal world bodies such as Sonoma County Vintners would be able to host leading buyer, sommeliers, merchants, importers and wine writers in their region all year round. Whilst there are such opportunities it is not always possible for those who really want to go to be able to make trips of that nature such are the demands on their day to day job.
The idea of the Taste of Sonoma Tour was to turn things on their head a little and do something very different, and bring producers and buyers and influencers together in the environment that matters most. Where the wines they make, buy, and write about are bought and drunk by those looking to discover Californian wine and good food.
The tried and trusted way to bring producers and buyers together is over trestle tables at a traditional wine tasting. But why not shake things up a little and send producers, buyers, importers and merchants out together on a mini mystery tour together?
In order to bring clarity and purpose to events The Buyer worked with Sonoma County Vintners member programmes manager, Jesslyn Jackson, to devise a tour that would highlight and showcase different styles of Sonoma wines in each of the restaurants visited. Allowing producers to not just show their wines, but to do so in context with the style of food or restaurant they would expect them to be sold in.
It also gave them the chance to see how the trade members responded to their wines and, crucially, spend time with them to see how they interacted in each restaurant and get to know them far better than just in the traditional tasting format.
The trade team of buyers, merchants, importers and consultants included:
- Roger Jones, owner of one star Michelin restaurant, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn
- Greg Sherwood MW, senior buyer, Handford Wine
- Joe Fattorini, wine consultant at ITV’s The Wine Show
- Joe Wadsack, wine consultant at ITV’s This Morning
- Tal Groinen, China Tang
- Rory Benham, sales director, The Wine Treasury
- Chris Manthei, The Wine Treasury
- James Hocking, wine director, The Vineyard Cellars
- Mike Matthews, co-owner, Warren Wines
- Richard Ellison, owner, Wanderlust Wines
- Ed Virrell, Temper restaurant
- Christina Rasmussuen, wine writer
- Peter Dean, The Buyer
- Richard Siddle, The Buyer
The tour was divided up as follows (with a few additions along the way):
First Stop: Pitt Cue, Devonshire Square
Pitt Cue has gone from a food truck on London’s Southbank to being regarded as London’s premier restaurants (the original opened in Soho) for wood smoked meats. It has an extensive Californian wine list of its own.
Sonoma represented by Dry Creek Valley producers including:
- Dry Creek Vineyard Chenin Blanc, Dry Creek Valley
- Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Dry Creek Valley
- Dry Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2014, Dry Creek Valley
- Seghesio Family Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel 2013
- Seghesio Family Vineyards Cortina Zinfandel 2014
Each of the wines was paired against a selection of starters and bites from the Pitt Cue menu including:
* Carmel ribs
* Potato cake and smoked ketchup
* Pig’s head scrumpet
Hawksmoor has been central to the revolution in premium steak and meat-driven restaurants with its growing chain of restaurants across London. This was a chance to it Sonoma wines against its grass-fed, dry-aged meats with Sonoma.
Sonoma represented by producers from Sonoma Coast, Russian River and Carneros including:
* Iron Horse Vineyards Classic Vintage Brut 2010, Green Valley
* Schug Chardonnay 2014, Sonoma Coast (Schug Winery)
* Schug Pinot Noir 2015, Carneros (Schug Winery)
* DeLoach Vineyards Chardonnay 2015, Russian River Valley
* DeLoach Vineyards Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley
* Benovia Chardonnay 2013, Fort Ross-Seaview (Benovia Winery)
* Benovia Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley (Benovia Winery)
Here the wines went up against sliders from the Hawksmoor menu including:
* Smoked salmon on soda bread
* Mini grilled cheese sandwiches
* Mini sausage rolls
Third stop: M Restaurant, Threadneedle Street
The final stop on the tour took the group to the multi-faceted M Restaurant and its first flagship restaurant in the City. Here M Restaurant specialises in meats and wines sourced from five countries around the world including California.
For M Restaurant Sonoma County Vintners was able to throw the net a little wider to showcase a wider selection of wines, but with a focus on Alexander Valley. The wines included:
* Twomey Pinot Noir 2015, Russian River Valley (Silver Oak Cellars)
* Silver Oak Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley
* Sebastiani Zinfandel 2014, Sonoma County (Foley Family Wines)
* Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, Alexander Valley (Foley Family Wines)
It also included the opportunity for the trade tasting team to get a preview of EJ Gallo’s new J Vineyards sparkling wine, “J”.
Each of the wines were paired with M’s slider menu including:
- Pork belly Bao
- Salmon sashimi
- Smoked bone marrow.
There will be a full report produced on the day’s proceedings including all the comments from the trade buyers, profiles on the producers involved and a summary and conclusions of the tasting tour.
- The Buyer would like to thank all the trade members that gave up their time to throw themselves in to this quite different way of discovering Sonoma wines.
- Special mention must go to the team behind Sonoma County Vintners, and in particular Jesslyn Jackson, for having the vision to make the event happen and also the producers that took part.
- Thanks also to Rory Benham and The Wine Treasury for working away behind the scenes pulling the wines, and strings together to make the logistics of such a tour possible.
- Finally a big thanks to all the hospitality teams at the three restaurants Pitt Cue, Hawksmoor Guildhall and M Restaurants, for their great service, support, professionalism…and great food.