Hidden Gems Worth Discovering
As a Certified Sommelier, one of my favorite things to do is to peruse restaurant wine lists in the hopes of finding hidden treasures. The uncommon and unexpected selections always serve as opportunities to explore the road less “tasted” and further expand my palate – and that of my dining partner too. Nestled among a mecca of interesting dining hot spots in Orange County, California, are a few destinations that unfailingly prove to be worth a visit.
The Drake in Laguna Beach | Led by Famed Chef Paul Gstrein
My love of bubbles is certainly not a secret, specifically my adoration of Champagne! That being said, it’s not often that I come across Piper Heidsieck Rare, 2002. I find this wine to be impeccably balanced and silky with hints of toasted brioche, crushed blackberry, lemon preserves and honey. The perfect pairing for this is Chef’s Hamachi appetizer. While one might not normally pair a champagne with a vinaigrette based dish, the dry yeast of the “rare” alongside the avocado with the Hamachi dish created a well-rounded experience.
I also do not keep my love for Pinot Noirs a secret, and I’m always on the lookout for big, elevated, full-bodied versions when possible. Sextant Wines Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands, also available at The Drake, does not disappoint. Aromas of strawberry, cherry, raspberries and baking spices give way to this balanced wine with some minerality. This paired well with the Wild Mushroom Crusted Halibut.
Selanne Steak Tavern | Located in a Historic 1934 Home Founded by NHL Superstar Teemu Selanne
It’s always an honor to sit down with Advanced Sommelier, and Master Sommelier candidate, Vito Pasquale of Selanne’s. There I discovered Mohua Pinot Noir 2015 from Central Otago New Zealand which is an “up and comer” in the Pinot Noir world. This paired with a scallop appetizer was simply divine. Known for their steaks, I was in pursuit of some interesting red selections as well. Cirillo Estate 1850 Ancestor Vine Grenache was an exceptional find alongside a few coveted options from Penfolds. The 2015 Bin 389 Cabernet/Shiraz blend was superb while the Block Bin 170 (at $1800 per bottle) was a very rare find. It is the world’s most expensive Shiraz and worth every cent.
Bourbon Steak | A Michael Mina Restaurant
Located inside of Monarch Beach Resort lies their restaurant crown jewel, Bourbon Steak. One of my favorite Rieslings is available there – Loewen Riesling Kabinett Longguicher “Herrenberg”, Mosel Germany 2017. This wine is created from ungrafted vines that are over 100 years old. It pairs delicately with the ahi tartare. I would be remiss if I did not point out a Tempranillo that is extremely noteworthy – Domino de Pingus, PSI, Riberia Del Duero, Spain, 2017. Peter Sisseck, the founder and winemaker, started making PSI with one intent – to produce the most coveted wine from Spain. While a big Bordeaux or California Cabernet Sauvignon is the obvious choice for aWagyu Tomahawk steak, this pairing exceeds expectations.
Mr. G’s Peninsula Kitchen & Bar | Local Chef Owned and Operated
Italian wine is the Achilles heel of most Sommeliers. Which is why discovering Brunello Di Montalcino Villa Le Prata, 2012 was heavenly. This deep, reflective ruby red moves to garnet at the rim, with fruit and florals getting equal billing with underbrush, earth, and oak at the nose. This wine alongside Mr G’s Rigatoni that is rich with beef and sausage ragu plus tomato pecorino was an incredibly savory and memorable Italian meal. Finally, another enticing find is the Barolo Rinaldi 2015. Light, gentle and elegant, this paired with the Australian Lamb Chops served with cauliflower, cherry tomato, mushroom and lime butter sauce was heavenly.