Wednesday, April 4, 2012

OCWS Wine Extraordinaire!

A few weeks ago, I had the great pleasure to attend the annual Wine Extraordinaire hosted by the Orange County Wine Society. This fabulous event featured over 85 small wineries. While most of the wineries were California based, there were a few from as far away as Australia! In addition to all the exciting wines to be tried, there were a variety of food samples from local restaurants, a silent auction, raffle prices, boutique shopping and a souvenir Riedel wine glass!

The venue for the Wine Extraordinaire was the esteemed Hilton Hotel in Anaheim which not only boasts luxury accommodations and all the necessary amenities but it is located adjacent to the Anaheim Convention Center and only steps away from the one and only Disneyland, making it the perfect location for business and recreation alike!

Many of the featured wineries are new winemakers or small lot producers. Each winemaker at the extraordinaire produces less than 35,000 cases a year. The event is important in that it enables some of these new or low-production wineries the chance to showcase their amazing products to a large group of oenophiles while at the same time funds are being raised toward scholarships for wine-related educational programs at several California universities.

In addition to providing exposure to new and small wineries, the event is just a whole heck of a lot of fun! I attended along with my good friend and her husband. We had high aspirations to taste a majority of the wine labels being offered and then go back to our favorites. Well this was a lofty goal which I don't think anyone could realize! There were just so many wines. And so many REALLY good wines! To list them all would be a feat in and of itself.

The first rule we had to adopt at the event was to taste and then pour out the majority of the glass. There is just no way you can consume every taste! Or at least no way to consume it all and still remain standing! However, with some of our favorite wines, we did consume the whole taste and we even went back for another... just to make sure it was our favorite of course!

And of course, what good wine event doesn't come with some fine food pairing? There were booths of cheese, meats, cold cuts, sweets, a chocolate fountain, salads and more! My favorite Trader Joe's was there serving up cheese and meats and fruit. Local restaurants showed off their specialties. Boutique companies featured a special product or salad dressing. But the favorite in the food arena had to be Mad Mike's Gourmet Sausages! The bratwurst and the garlic chicken sausages were to die for! If you have a chance, taste some of these! Or better yet, go ahead and order them to be delivered. You won't be sorry!

My biggest regret is not taking a small notebook and writing more down. I have brochures and business cards from many of the wineries we really liked. But I wish I had written more detailed notes for myself. Many of the wineries offered instant discounts if you purchased at the event and all offered free shipping if you ordered that day.

To name a few favorites though.... the 2007 Syrah from Occidental Road Cellars was rich, complex and rather full or big for a Syrah and would pair nicely with so many dishes. I highly recommend it! We had a lot of fun with the Witch Creek Wines too and I intend to head to their tasting room in nearby Carlsbad to learn more. The wines were intriguing to say the least! One of the wineries had an amazing Barbera! I just loved it. Barberas are so hard to find and there are not many growers here in California that produce this grape. But I have no idea which winery it was. Darn it! So here is case-in-point as to why I wish I had taken good notes!

When it comes to white wine, I always gravitate toward a Chardonnay. And the butterier, the better in my book! I adore a true, full, buttery Chardonnay! In fact... while I usually prefer reds, if I can FIND one of these whites, I just drool! Pure heaven. And we did in fact find such a wine from Maldonado Vineyards! In fact there wasn't just one that I liked but two! (This was one of the winery tables we went back to by the way.) The two Chardonnays were close but different... like sisters or cousins. Both had a full round and buttery note. And both stayed in your mouth like the last wisps of a summers day. At first I thought I preferred the 2009 Sonoma Chardonnay. Then I decided I liked the 2008 Napa Valley varietal. And back and forth I went. In the end... I think I was leaning toward the Napa but like with good friends... do you have to choose just one? NO! I think not! I think I can like both equally for different reasons and paired with different food! What do you think?

All in all the day was a great success. We learned about some new wineries. Tasted some amazing wines not to mention food and got to engage in some very educational and exciting conversations about wine, the process and the results. The people at the event were all enthusiasts and it is always a great time to meet with and engage in conversation with like-minded individuals!

And now I know for next year... TAKE A NOTEBOOK! For certainly I must go back to this event next year and take better notes and tell you all about the newest producers to hit the scene.

For more information on the Wine Extraordinaire or the Orange County Wine Society, go to

And if you don't live nearby or don't want to drive home (wise idea), book a room at the Anaheim Hilton and stay to watch the Disneyland fireworks sparkle into your room as you sip the last of the bottle you purchased from your favorite winery.


*All photos aside from that of the hotel are credited to Jim Burk, the OCWS photographer.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Oscar Party 2012

I know... I know... Long time no see right? Yes. It has been a while. Why you ask? Well.... this, that, the other thing... AKA... LIFE! LIFE is happening. Kids, work, school, housework, dishes, bills, divorce, cleaning, dinner, soccer, t-ball, homework... It takes TIME and leaves me little time or energy for this blog. But I miss it. I miss all of you. But the good news is I have cooked a few times, thrown a few parties and gone out with some good friends! Life is nice...

And so... I had my annual Oscar Party! I really didn't get the best photos. But here it is. The idea was to go all black and white including the food but that was NOT an easy task. The dessert table was pretty easy... Cheesecake with blackberries, Oreo "Cake", popcorn, black and white candy... with a little red too!

The other food was more difficult. I decided on a white bean dip with pita bread and black tortilla chips. But it wasn't that white. I also did my Cream of Leek Soup which you can find here! One of my sisters brought a cheese tray with black olives and purple grapes. The other brought a crisp and fresh cauliflower salad. A friend brought chicken cakes with horseradish dipping sauce. I made simple pomegranate martini's and there was of course plenty of wine!

The other dish I thought would be good was a sort of dirty black rice with creole shrimp! I looked at a few recipes here and there but pretty much just threw stuff together. It was closest to this recipe though. It ended up really pretty good and even better the day after! But hey, with that much butter.... how could it not?

The main ingredients are butter (a lot!), garlic, fresh lemon juice, Worcester sauce and Creole Seasoning. I then served it over the black rice I made! Do give this a try sometime. It really was easy and sooooo delicious! Have some French bread handy to soak up the seasoned butter sauce!

Set up took some time but I was lucky to get to borrow some linens, serving pieces and a few decorations from the Hilton! A friend of mine is an event manager there and was so kind as to help me out for the decor! Thanks Leah! I also found a red carpet at Home Depot and had real movie lights in the front of the house and a few inside to set the mood of the red carpet event!

It is a lot of work to host a part in style but it is so fun! I just love it! Stay tuned for an update on the gourmet group and a food and wine event I will be attending this weekend!

Happy cooking! Merry Entertaining! Cheers!