Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Passport to Sonoma an invitation to wine paradise

by Dwight Casimere

There is no more supremely sublime experience than driving through the Sonoma Valley on a sun-drenched afternoon. The vineyards and arbors of gnarled tree branches seem to envelop you as you see the names of the hallowed wine estates roll past; Kunde Estate, Adler Fels, Kenwood, Chateau St. Jean, Landmark. The facades are as varied as the wines served in the tasting rooms, from regal French chateaus to rustic country cottages that harken back to the region’s origins as the nation’s oldest winemaking region, dating back to 1824, when Franciscan monks planted the first gnarled vines in Sonoma’s rich, volcanic soil. Along every mile, signposts, old vines and whispering hills emit echoes of its storied past.

Wine lovers have a unique opportunity to take a behind the scenes look and experience first hand all of the glories that the Sonoma Valley has to offer. Passport to Sonoma Valley, May 15 & 16 lays the vast panorama of this extraordinary region at their feet. For two glorious days, 50 wineries open their tasting rooms and cellars to present over 300 wines paired with a mouth-watering array of culinary delicacies along the Sonoma Valley’s lush 18-mile stretch. Each “passport” entitles the holder to an experience reserved for only the most discriminating connoisseur. A commemorative glass is the ‘open sesame’ key to unlimited tastings, special discounts on wine purchases and exclusive entrĂ©e to the valley’s hidden treasures.

I have experienced the unparalleled pleasures of experiencing Sonoma Valley ‘behind the scenes’ at the annual Wine Country Weekend held each fall in the midst of the Harvest crush. A succession of wine tastings in the private tasting rooms, dinners in the wine cellar and the vineyard and moonlit excursions to the vineyards during the exciting night harvest made for a once in a lifetime experience.

Among the participating wineries in the Passport Weekend, there are some exceptional wines to be had. The Wine Doctor has been fortunate to preview some of the selections that will be offered.

Arrowood Wines is a stellar example of the rich heritage of Sonoma Valley because of the exceptional wines created by Winemaster and Owner Richard Arrowood.

His resume speaks volumes. Prior to founding his own winery, he was chosen by the founders of Chateau St. Jean Winery to become their first Winemaster and eventual Executive Vice President. The awards and accolades are too numerous to recount here but suffice to say Arrowood was the architect of Chateau St. Jean’s stellar worldwide reputation.

After 16 years with Chateau St. Jean, Arrowood decided to move on and devote himself to creating reserve quality Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. His creative drive also led him branch out into less familiar varietals to California such as Viognier, Malbec and Pinot Blanc. The results of his creative extrapolations are phenomenal.

I have waxed eloquently about the superlative palate-pleasing qualities of his award-winning 2005 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, a steal at $50. Grapes for this essentially Bordeaux blend of 94% Cabernet, 3% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot are culled from organic and sustainably-farmed vineyards along the benches, hillsides and mountains set in the dewy morning shadow of the Mayacamas Mountains. The resultant wine has all of the harmonic insight of a virtuoso. Elegant notes of coffee, rich dark chocolate and hints of tobacco belie its husbanding for 24 months in French and American oak. Total production of this extraordinary wine was only slightly over 7 thousand cases, making this one of the most prized wines to be discovered during the Passport excursion.

The same family has operated Kunde Family Estate for five generations. Located in the heart of Sonoma’s picturesque Valley of the Moon, the centerpiece is the Kunde Estate Tasting Room, constructed as a replica of the Kinneybrook Ranch cattle barn, which stood on the land for more than a century. Another focal point on the vast estate are the stone ruins of the Dunfillan Winery, set in a secluded five-acre meadow surrounded by vineyards and mountain views. Built by winemaking pioneer John Drummond in the late 1800’s, Dunfillan Winery is the site where California’s first varietally labeled Cabernet Sauvignon was vinified and bottled.

The Estates three elevation levels and seven distinct microclimates along with a mix of soil depths and types make for uniquely complex and sophisticated wines. A unique flavor portrait is created for each of the wines by this diverse pallet. Kennybrook Chardonnay, Shaw Century Vines Zinfandel, C.S. Ridge Chardonnay, Wildwood Chardonnay, Drummond Cabernet and Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc are just a few of the distinctively crafted wines created by the winemaking team. The winery also produces specific vineyard block designated wines exclusively for Kunde Family Estate Wine Club members. If you mention that Dwight The Wine Doctor recommended a sip, you just might have an opportunity to taste one of these limited edition wines. That alone should be an enticement to join the Passport Weekend experience.

Weekend Passports and daily tickets and Designated Driver ticket information is available at

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Celebrity Chefs 'living landmarks' of New Orleans Wine & Food Experience

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

-Chef John Besh

-Chef Susan Spicer

-Chef Jeff McInnis

-French Quarter 'Line' parade

Celebrity Chefs are the living monuments to New Orleans’ storied reputation as the nation’s repository of outstanding cuisine. The French Quarter is a living, breathing national landmark that literally pulsates with the sights, sounds and smells of America’s most vibrant culinary scene.

Walk down any of its cobble stoned streets and the aromas literally grab you by the throat and pull you in. There truly is not a bad meal to be had, but some chefs and their cooking expertise outshine others and have put New Orleans on the map as the nation’s number one destination for gourmands.

New Orleans Wine & Food Experience 2010, May 25-29 is therefore, one of the most anticipated events of the year’s culinary calendar. Joyce Godbold is Executive Director.

“Its critical for us that we have the participation of these great chefs. What makes our event so special is the caliber of the food. The chefs really are the primary reason that we are here. They make it all happen,” Godbold told The Wine Doctor by telephone from her office at NOWFE headquarters.

“Without their ongoing support and love for the city, none of this would be happening. I mean, you can take a few chefs and a few winemakers and put them anywhere, because they do wine and food festivals in just about every major city in the country. But none of them are like New Orleans. The chefs here are like living landmarks who work hard every day to make this city great.”

Katrina proved it more than anything. “John Besh, who is probably the best known of all of our chefs participating this year (Food Network, James Beard Award-winner. Restaurants August, Besh Steak, Luke, La Provence). “He was the one who was feeding people right after Katrina. That’s the kind of dedication and love for the city he’s shown year after year and that’s what comes through in his cooking is a genuine love for food and a love for the people of New Orleans.

“Susan Spicer (Bayona, Wild Flour Breads) is another one. She’s what I’d call a ‘quiet leader.’ She’s the total opposite of John. As a person, she tends to shy away from the spotlight, but the quality of her food speaks for her as well as her dedication. She really makes you proud to be a ‘girl’ in New Orleans. She’s really someone who women can look up to as both an example and as a businesswoman. This is our chance to honor her and push her into the spotlight which she so richly deserves.”

Festival participants will get a chance to learn secrets of one of the Master Chefs of New Orleans in a seminar on charcuterie, or cured, smoked and prepared meats.

“Chef Donald Link (Cochon, Herbsaint, Cochon Butcher sandwich shop and Calcasieu) is recognized as the national expert on house made charcuterie (salamis, pastramis, hams, mortadella) and Cajun specialties like boudin, tasso and andouille sausages. He uses family recipes that have been handed down over generations. He’s a living showcase of down-home Louisiana cooking and he’s willing to share his knowledge at this event.”

New Orleans and its French Quarter have also become the adopted home of many other culinary greats who come time and time again to the annual wine and food extravaganza. “ Bravo Network’s Top Chef Season 5 Winner Hosea Rosenberg (Jax Fish House, Boulder, Colorado) and Season 5 Contestant Jeff McGinnis (DeLido Beach Club, South Beach, Miami) of Florida have been adopted by New Orleans because they come here regularly to participate in events and lend their time and talents to NOWFE.”

Godbold says the 2010 New Orleans Wine & Food Experience is a standout among all events of its kind. “There’s not another place in this country where you’ll find 75 chefs of this caliber all in one place at one time. When you pair that with great wines from all over America and around the world, it’s an unbeatable event. You won’t find this combination anywhere else.”

NOWFE takes places May 25-29. For tickets and schedule information, visit

Friday, April 9, 2010

New Orleans Wine and Food Experience showcases America’s culinary capital

Story and Photos by Dwight Casimere

-Dwight The Wine Doctor and Bravo Network’s Top Chef Season 5 winner Hosea Rosenberg

-A Heritage pig or ‘Cochon’ as they say in New Orleans

-Mardi Gras celebrant at the Grand Tasting at the Louisiana Superdome

-Chef Emeril and Dwight The Wine Doctor

-Celebrity Chefs compete at the Louisiana Seafood Cookoff at the Superdome

Without question, America’s culinary capital is the City of New Orleans. That fact will be demonstrated with resounding clarity when The New Orleans Wine & Food Experience 2010 convenes in the Crescent City Tuesday, May 25 to Saturday, May 29.

More than a hundred New Orleans restaurants will serve samples of their delectable cuisine along with 15,000 glasses of wine poured by 200 winemakers will be served over the course of the five-day extravaganza.

Beginning with a series of wine dinners at New Orleans’ premiere restaurants, the event celebrates the pairing of the nation’s and the world’s finest wines with the imaginative cuisine of some of the nation’s most celebrated chefs.

Vinola! Tasting and Auction is one of NOWFE’s premiere events. It’s a rare opportunity for a ‘limited edition’ of 200 wine enthusiasts to mingle with elite winemakers and sample highly rated and collectible wines from around the world. Forty wineries will pour their most highly rated and revered wines followed by a live auction. This is a must event for wine aficionados and serious wine collectors!

Unique among all wine tasting events and a true centerpiece of NOWFE is the Royal Street Stroll. Its the biggest block party ever for foodies and wine lovers. They are surrounded by the sights and sounds of the biggest street party since Mardi Gras. For one night only, the French Quarter is turned into the world's biggest wine tasting! Wine glasses in hand, epicures stroll through the heart of the city’s historic French Quarter sampling wine and food offerings will meandering through the section’s unique antique shops, art galleries and boutiques. Live jazz from the city’s storied musical geniuses emanates from the quaint muses and cobble-stoned streets of one of the nation’s most fabled districts.

Louisiana Superdome is the setting for the ‘Super Bowl’ of all wine tasting events, the Grand Tastings Friday, May 28 and Saturday, May 29. 75 chefs and 1000 vintages are accompanied by some of Louisiana’s best musicians. The event is replete with local flavor and color, complete with Mardi Gras floats, ‘line’ parades and chef demonstrations and competitions. There’s nothing quite like it in the entire culinary world.

The 2010 seminar series brings celebrated local chefs and the world’s top winemakers to a series of intimate discussions in the private dining and meeting rooms of the French Quarter’s most esteemed luxury hotels. This is an opportunity to learn the hottest trends and cutting edge techniques from the experts of the culinary world. Topics include “Magazine, the Street of Dreams,” “Charmed by Charcuterie,” “Gone Gulfing” and “Wines with Altitude.” There is nothing stuffy about these informative and fun sessions.

The New Orleans Wine & Food Experience is a non-profit organization. The Board of the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience donates 100% of the events’ profit to support their programs and foundations. Proceeds from the 2009 event benefited University of New Orleans School of Hotel, Restaurant & Tourism, the Louisiana Restaurant Association’s ProStart Program, The Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, Delgado Community College Culinary Arts Program, New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, Girls First, Cancer Crusaders, Animal Rescue of New Orleans, Coach Sean Payton’s Play It Forward Foundation and Fore! Kids Foundation. For information visit or call (504) 529.WINE (9463).

Next: The Great Chefs of New Orleans take center stage.