The following is a guest post written by Noreen Kompanik (

Wines of the West for Food Pairing

Here’s to food, wine, friendship, and good times. And cheers to some amazing family winemakers, including three women-led wineries.

That’s what happens when a group of food and wine lovers get together to pair their favorite dishes with some incredible wines from California and Oregon. Add in a tropical outdoor setting surrounded by palms and exotic flowers, and it makes for one memorable experience.

Our group of eight representing the Southern California Wine Review Council each chose from a group of wines, and then went to work researching the food item we thought would pair best with the characteristics of the selected wine. It’s always a pleasant surprise to see if our friends agree as we know our palates can be very different. It’s also eye-opening to find that other varietals can work with the various foods as well.

The lone white, a 2019 Vezer Family Vineyard Blue Victorian Sauvignon Blanc ($26) hails from the northern region of the San Francisco Bay area. Crisp and clean, the nose exhibits intense citrus and tropical fruits while the palate detects a flint minerality, a hint of toasted coconut, and a racy acidity that lingers on the palate. This white paired beautifully with an Apple and Beet Arugula Salad that included celery, gorgonzola, and walnuts.

Apple & Beet Arugula Salad

Bacon-Wrapped Ricotta Stuffed Medjool Dates also held up nicely with this wine selection.

Bacon Wrapped Ricotta Stuffed Medjool Dates

A 2017 Tres Sabores Red ($30) from St. Helena, Sonoma County, California led off the red selections. This blend of three red grapes created by organic winemaker Julie Johnson and her team was magnificent. Paired with a Wild Mushroom Tart and Spinach Cheese Phyllo, the combinations worked sumptuously well together.

Our next wine came from Oregon’s picturesque Willamette Valley. The 2016 OWTC (Oregon Wine Trails Company) Pinot Noir ($25) is light and fruit forward with a sweet cherry cobbler flavor. The smooth, easy-drinking red was a lovely match with a Cuban Potato Puree filled with a seafood ragout of calamari, shrimp, and scallops topped with a garlic lemon and tomato sauce.

A second enticing Pinot Noir, also a Willamette, Oregon winner, the 2016 Left Coast ($21) from Cali’s Cuvee Vineyards was smooth on the palate, exhibiting flavors of ripe plum and cherry mingling with bitter chocolate with floral yet spicy notes on the palate. This Pinot paired extremely well with Smoked Salmon on bagels with cream cheese, capers, and onions.

Smoked Salmon on bagels with cream cheese, capers and onions

The 2017 Anchor Valley Estate Vintage Pinot Noir was up next. This complex Oregon wine is described as elegant, sexy, and seductive. And it’s a perfect description. Initially, scents of cranberry and raspberry float to the nose. But the first sip produces a completely different experience with the smell of tobacco followed by a surprising pomegranate taste. The silky soft pinot also exudes hints of violets, roses, and vanilla. Paired with Sweet Italian Meatballs, the combination was divine. The smokiness of the red also melded beautifully with the Ricotta-stuffed dates.

A small-lot vineyard and hand-crafted winery, Theopolis, hails from California’s Anderson Valley in southeastern Mendocino County, near the Sonoma County Border. The multi-award-winning winery was founded by African-American Theodora Lee in 2003. We had the privilege of tasting her 2016 and 2017 Petit Syrah’s, both full-bodied, rich, and flavorful with rounded tannins, well-balanced acidity, lovely depth and texture. The 2016 ($39) showed hints of black pepper, lavender, wild cherry, and black tea, while the 2017 ($39) exhibited more raspberry, chocolate, cola, and toasted oak flavors.

A slow-cooked spicy Moroccan beef stew harmonized exceptionally well with both of these wines.

Named after Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Merisi Wines was started by female winemaker Mandy Donovan in Napa, California. Organically grown, sustainably farmed, and handpicked grapes are barrel aged in 30% new oak for 21 months, creating the flavorful 2017 Diener Ranch Merisi Petite Syrah ($60). The wine produces aromas of mint and blueberry with hints of smoke and raspberry liquor. The taste resembles warm melted dark chocolate, with accompanying flavors of spicy, warm molasses.

Paired with a 12-hour smoked slow-roasted southwestern Brisket Chalupa with Mexican crema, chipotle, and honey, this delightful dish was the ideal pairing with this Petit Syrah.

Finishing off an impressive collection of wines, the 2017 Berryessa Gap Petite Syrah ($28) from Northern California’s rural Sacramento Valley is tastefully blended with Zinfandel, and Peloursin (a French red grape). Aged 18-months in French oak, the wine gives off aromas of sour cherries and ginger, rounded out by intense flavors of baked apples and cocoa powder.

Slow Cooker Asian Pork Tacos served in warm flour tortillas with a broccoli, peanut slaw was a perfect foodie match for this bold and rich Petit Syrah.

Slow cooker Asian pork tacos

British wine critic Michael Broadbent once said that “Drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures.” No spoken words could ever be truer.