On a Mission in Paso Robles
By Denise Kouzoujian
My Culinary Road Trip to Paso Robles began last month when my son, Jack, came home to tell me about his school’s Mission Project – every 4th grader in California does one. As I was planning our trip to Mission San Miguel, I decided to visit the nearby wine region of Paso Robles. I called my friend Doug Beckett, vintner of Peachy Canyon Winery, and was pleasantly surprised when he offered to set up a tour of “The Santa Margarita de Cortona Asistencia,” known to locals as the “lost mission.” Doug’s friend, Doug Philliponi, is the vintner of Ancient Winery and owner and operator of the cattle ranch where the “lost mission” is located. Our tour of the “lost mission” was awe-inspiring to say the least. My imagination took hold as I envisioned the Chumash Indians harvesting their food and wines—some of the first “perfect pairings.”
After the tour, we spent most of the afternoon tasting the various wines of Ancient Peaks. I was so moved by the “lost mission” that I decided to find a wine that would pair perfectly with magnificent Spanish Tapas from one of my favorite restaurants back in Menlo Park—Iberia Restaurant. At the beginning of my culinary career, chef and proprietor, José Luis Relinque, was the first chef I had the pleasure of working with as I assisted him in a tapas class.
Going back to the vineyards of Ancient Peaks Winery, where they sit upon five distinct soil zones that developed over millions of years. What this terroir brings is a profound complexity to the wines. I fell in love with the 2007 Ancient Peaks Oyster Ridge, a blend of 46 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 24 percent Petite Syrah, 15 percent Merlot, and 15 percent Petite Verdot. I knew I’d look forward to finding some amazing Spanish Tapas to pair with it.
The 2007 Oyster Ridge opens with exotic high-tones, aromas of violets, cola, black cherry, and juniper berry. On the palate you’ll find black currant and blackberry with accents of mint, white pepper, and toasty oak.
After leaving Ancient Peaks we made our way back to Peachy Canyon, which is one of my favorite wineries. Peachy Canyon is small and family-owned by Doug and Nancy Beckett. In 1982 they were school teachers who decided to move to Paso Robles to enjoy the country life. They became early pioneers of winemaking in the area. With more than 200 wineries there now, Peachy Canyon was the 11th winery in the Region.
Here I found the 2007 Especial Zinfandel with big Zinfandel characteristics –full of spice, black pepper, raspberries and vanilla. On the palate are blueberries, blackberries and mild earth notes. This would pair perfectly with José Luis’ recipe for lamb stew. My other favorite from José Luis’ kitchen is a poached fig recipe filled with pistachio, walnuts and chocolate. This will pair perfectly with Peachy Canyon’s Zinfandel Port VIII, which presents with elegant fruit and sweet cherry pie with a touch of new oak.
My trip to Paso Robles started with a grade-school Mission project and evolved into a blending of wonderful people, history, Spanish foods, and wine.
Chorizo-Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Bacon
1 small chorizo
12 pitted dates
6 slices bacon, cut in half
oil for frying
flour for dusting
1 egg lightly beaten with 1 t. water
Cut chorizo into 12 thin batons that will each slip into a date. Wrap each date with a piece of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Sauté, seam side down to begin with, then turning to brown all over. Serve warm or room temperature.
Or, heat at least ½ inch ((half)) of oil in a skillet (preferably deep-fry) to about 380o. Dredge the cooked dates in the flour, dip into the egg mixture and immediately into the hot oil. Fry until golden, tuning once. Drain and serve hot.
Veal Braised with Olives and Walnuts
2 -3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lb. veal leg meat, cleaned and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 onions, peeled and chopped
4 large Roma tomatoes, chopped (peeling and seeding optional)
2 bay leaves
½ cup pitted olives (Kalamata-type preferable)
½ cup walnuts
½ cup cream
½ cup veal stock
Heat olive oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the meat liberally with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides in the oil. Remove veal from the pan and set aside.
In the same pan, start the onions on medium heat to soften. When the onions are soft, add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and cook over medium-high heat until the mixture loses some moisture. Add the veal and the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover tightly and finish on the lowest heat until the veal is completely tender, about 45 minutes.
Note: Instead of finishing the above dishes on the stovetop, they can be finished in a tightly-covered pan or Dutch oven in a 350o oven. Check occasionally to be sure that the liquid has not evaporated.
Dried figs poached in port wine & stuffed with a mixture of walnuts, pistachios & chocolate
12 dried figs, whole
Port, Peachy Canyon Zinfandel Port
¼ cup sugar
½ lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick
¾ cup bittersweet chocolate + 12 half to garnish plate
½ cup pistachio nuts, peeled & salted + handful to garnish plate
½ cup walnuts, toasted
½ cup fresh whipped cream
Place figs in a pot with the stems up and—with two hands— pour in half port & half water with the sugar, lemon peel and cinnamon stick until the figs are covered by one inch.
Bring liquid up to a simmer on medium heat, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Drain liquid and reduce on low to a syrup consistency.
Finely chop the nuts & chocolate and stuff figs.
Plate three warm figs on top of reduced port syrup then garnish with whipped cream, nuts & a drizzle of port reduced syrup.
Recipe by Chef/Owner Jose Luis Relinque of Iberia Restaurant in Menlo Park