Amador Four Fires is a new festival making its debut May 6, about 2.5 hours east of San Francisco.

One of the most fun ways to learn about specific wine regions and enjoy local foods is to attend one of the hundreds of food and wine festivals across the country. In addition to the well-known mega-festivals like the Aspen Food and Wine Festival in June, there are many small events where just about anyone can meet winemakers and other culinary craftworkers.

Disclosure: The author of this blog post has been a media guest at some of the events mentioned.

Here are a few noteworthy festivals coming up in California:

  • Amador Four Fires – Plymouth, CA on May 6, 2017 – This is the third year of this event at the Amador County Fairgrounds (about 2 1/2 hours east of San Francisco.) Featuring open-flame foods from Spain, France, Italy and California, 40 Amador County wineries, other beverages from the region and a packed schedule of demonstrations and educational opportunities.
  • 25th Annual Monterey Winemakers’ Celebration – Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA on May 7, 2017 – Features more than 100 Monterey County wines, education programs, and other activities, including new for this year Monterey Wine Camp for immersive learning and a chance to win a wine merit badge.
  • Sonoma County Wine Country Weekend – Rohnert Park, CA on Sept. 2-3, 2017 – Moving to a new location this year (which should make the event more accessible,) this event includes two days of tastings, a charity auction, and seminars and demonstrations. The personal involvement of many of Sonoma’s great wineries and winemakers makes this one of the best “mass tasting” events.
  • Eat, Drink SF – San Francisco on August 24-27, 2017 – Organized by San Francisco’s restaurant industry, this combines a wide range of tasting opportunities with educational programs geared both for professionals and consumers.

Nearly every region has events aimed at attracting food and wine lovers, so if you are traveling, check with local winery associations or search on LocalWineEvents.com, which has a database of festivals and other events in many locations. Small or new events are a great way to get familiar with specific types of wines or regional specialties — and meet their producers.

(Updated to correct that this is the third year for Amador Four Fires, not first.)

There aren’t many reasons to go to Atlantic City, N.J., but give MGM Resorts some credit for trying. The company’s latest addition to the Borgata Resort is Chef Michael Symon’s Sicilian restaurant Angeline, opening May 6.

“This restaurant is so close to my heart, and takes me back to sitting around the family table as a kid, chowing down on my mom’s lasagna. Angeline’s menu is a modern version of the Italian comfort food I grew up with,” says Symon, who named the restaurant after his mother, Angel.

The menu is set to include traditional Italian-American dishes like meatballs and linguini with clams, and there will be a wood grill for lamb, swordfish and other items.

Symon joins other celebrity chefs at the Borgata, including Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, and Geoffrey Zakarian.

Annual visits to Atlantic City have steadily declined since 2006. There are seven casinos still open in the New Jersey beachside resort. For an interesting review of the city’s shuttered doors, visit this article on Curbed.

 

 

While there’s a lot to like about elegant, traditional wines, California winemakers are breaking with the past by creating a growing number of innovative blends. Recently, I had a chance to sample one such mass-market wine that was so good, one of my guests immediately texted a friend and told her to buy a case of it. At less than $15 a bottle, Apothic Inferno
is a wine to look for – especially now, since it’s limited release and supply is already dwindling since its launch earlier in the Fall.

Apothic Inferno is a great value big red wine, aged in whiskey barrels.
Apothic Inferno is a great value big red wine, aged in whiskey barrels.

Tasted blind, this wine stands out because of its unusual nose. My tasters could not identify it at first. “Baking spice, cinnamon?” No, that wasn’t quite right. “Chocolate and leather?” Maybe. “Could it be bourbon?” asked one taster, hesitating.

Indeed, that was close. Apothic Inferno is a blend of zinfandel, merlot, syrah and petite syrah – aged in whiskey barrels. It brings new meaning to the notion of a “big, bold California red.” This would be an excellent party wine, or perhaps paired with a heavy meat dinner. I also would caution against pouring it side by side other wines: it would overpower just about any wine other than perhaps an inky petite sirah.

And if you are a wine lover who also likes the sensation of a dram of whiskey in your glass, you really luck out with this wine. The winery describes it as a “wine with a whiskey soul.”

This is the latest in the series of Apothic wines, one of the Gallo brands. Winemaker Debbie Juergenson makes unique blends each year. Its standard Apothic Red, a blend of zinfandel, merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon has long been one of the good value wines that I point friends to. Apothic Inferno is another worth buying while you can.

Some Apothic wines are available at Amazon Wine. You can also find it at many local stores via Wine-searcher.com.

Planet_Bordeaux_082516.jpgThe winemakers of Bordeaux, France, want Americans to know that not all of their wines could be a down-payment on a car. Sure, you can spend $1,200 on a bottle of 1981 Chateau Lafite, but what about a wine to drink right now? You say your budget is under $20? No problem. Really.

I just attended a media tasting featuring 12 Bordeaux wines ranging in price from $10 to $25. Every one of these wines was good, and a couple of them were terrific. No offense to the winemakers of the New World, but it’s hard to steer anyone towards a merlot from California, Australia, or South America when wines like this are available and in the same price range. What’s impressive is that these are the normal prices for these wines. We are not talking about bargain bin remainder stock.

Although you will not find “Haut Medoc,” the best-of-the-best Bordeaux in this price range, a couple of these wines would be right at home on any dinner table (but maybe not a White House dinner.) Besides, not everyone likes the complexity of the Cabernet-rich high-end Bordeaux.

Of the wines sampled, here are a couple that I recommend:

  • White: Chateau Lamothe de Haux 2014 Bordeaux Blanc: This $10 wine is a blend of semillon, sauvignon blanc and muscadelle, giving it a sturdier texture and complexity of flavors unexpected in a “value wine.” Slightly off-dry, flavor notes of lemon zest and sweet citrus and aroma of honeysuckle.
  • Rose: Chateau de Lardiley 2015 Bordeaux Rose: The light hue stems from this wine’s limited time — just two hours — on the red grape skins before fermentation. It is a rare rose of cabernet sauvignon, which explains the robust, dry flavor, with notes of tobacco and dark red fruit. Surprising in many ways, including the $15 price tag.
  • Red: Three of the four wines sampled were very good. Choosing just one of them to recommend is not easy. My pick is Chateau Lafont-Fourcat 2014, Bordeaux Rouge. This is a rich, round wine with density and a long finish. Ripe plum, tobacco and berries, soft tannin, medium acidity. This 75% merlot/20% cabernet sauvignon/5% malbec blend sells for $15.

 

 

 

Sacramento likes to call itself the “Farm to Fork Capital” because of its role at the center of California’s enormous agriculure industry. And, in recent years, the fine dining scene in Sacramento has mushroomed.

That’s why the region campaigned (and paid) to host the 2016 International Food Bloggers Conference, which runs July 28-31. I am looking forward to exploring the region, meeting farmers, chefs, and others who are helping bring great food to tables all over the country.

In a clever appeal to the seemingly growing interest (or at least conversation) among some Americans about moving to Canada if a certain person with small hands becomes president, Air Canada has launched a campaign inviting Americans to “test drive” their country now. 

“If you’re thinking of moving to Canada, it might make sense to #TestDriveCanada first. Try things out for a weekend or two and discover beautiful destinations while enjoying great value for your dollar.”
My friends in Canada tell me that immigration offices there have been swamped with inquiries. Many people are finding that although Canada is a very welcoming country, Americans may find that moving there permanently may be about as easy as winning a Stanley Cup.

But I certainly see why it may be tempting.

Air Canada’s “test drive” sale fares are available at http://bit.ly/29EfdC9.

One of the bonuses of visiting the San Francisco area is a chance to go across the bay to Oakland or Berkeley for some of the best barbecue in the United States. I know that’s a tall order, but Everett & Jones, with locations in Berkeley, Oakland and Hayward, stands out from the crowded barbecue field for many reasons.

I first discovered Everett & Jones in 1980, when I was in college at nearby UC Berkeley. My friends and I would walk down to San Pablo Avenue where the family’s Berkeley location had opened. The ribs, links, or chicken are served with a scoop of potato salad – and back then, a couple of slices of Wonder bread. And a choice of hot, mixed or mild sauce. When one of us would ask for hot, the kind people behind the counter would question whether we knew what we were doing. Times have changed and so have my taste buds. I go with the hot sauce all the way. And there’s no more white bread: it’s wheat bread all the way.

But look at this serving of barbecue link sausage that I had a few days ago.

EJBBQ-2

Everett and Jones is one of the only places that I know of that has their own sausage for barbecue. There’s nothing like the texture of fresh sausage made from all kinds of meat that I don’t want to think about.

The ribs, beef and chicken are also quite credible. Each location has a brick smoker with plenty of hardwood to fuel the slow cooking that makes this authentic barbecue.

Especially when you add the sauce.

Everett & Jones’ barbecue sauce is hearty, and peppery, and filling. It is a moderately sweet tomato-based sauce, with hints of fruit for sweetness and plenty of crushed hot red pepper to get your attention. And, it is absolutely reminiscent of barbecue sauces from Alabama, which happens to be where the Everett family comes from.

Probably good that I’m usually 3,000 miles away, but it’s great to enjoy this classic American barbecue place every now and then.

Everett & Jones Barbeque Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato