Pinot Pig-Out

Renown chef Charlie Palmer invited a few of hundred friends, cooks and wine lovers over to his restaurant inside the Hotel Healdsburg for a pork and pinot blow-out this weekend.

It was the fifth annual Pigs and Pinot event, with proceeds going to the local school system and Share Our Strength, a charity that helps feed poor kids.

Click here for a KTVU video of the event or enjoy our slideshow from the Pigs and Pinot competition.

The field was heavy with California wines, especially from the Russian River Valley region, which produced the winner of the coveted Pinot Cup and also the runner-up.

Best Swine Wine

Woodenhead Winery’s 2007 Buena Tierra Vineyard pinot noir won the blind tasting by three celebrity judges — Ray Lisle (wine editor for Food & Wine magazine), Virginie Boone (wine writer for the Press-Democrat) and Rusty Gaffney (founder of The Pinot File).

Williams Selyem placed second with its 2007 Westside Road Neighbors bottling, a wine made from grapes from several Russian River area growers .

Both of the top wines were great.

The Woodenhead ($55) provided a mouthful of restrained red cherry fruit with a hint of spice (cinnamon?). The Williams Selyem ($100) was smooth from the first taste to a long, lingering finish that featured bright cherry fruit with a pleasant hint of earthiness.

Domestic Dominance

California and Oregon were well represented in the wine competition, which  included entries from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and France. I was disappointed by most of the overseas entries, but there was a lot to like in the Dujac 2007 Morey-St.-Denis,  a solid village wine from Burgundy’s Cote de Nuit.

The food at this event was outstanding, if you like pork, which was an ingredient in just about every dish from appetizers to desserts.

Palmer’s barbecued ribs were sweet and juicy, a fine foil for most of the pinots poured during the first night of the weekend that also included a gourmet dinner on Saturday with guest chefs trying to out-do each other with signature dishes along with seminars on pinot noir.

Palmer can cook anything with flair, but he showed a special talent with pork, illustrated by a dish of crisp skinned porchetta with chimichurri sauce.

Guest chefs included Bryan Voltaggio and Kevin Gillespie from the Top Chef television competition plus Roland Passot (La Folie in San Francisco) and celebrity chef Tyler Florence.

Barndiva's decadent dessert

Pork for Dessert?

I found especially creative the dessert concoction presented by Barndiva, a Healdsburg restaurant featuring “progressive” California cuisine. The dense fudgey cubes of decadence blended peanut butter, banana and chocolate flavors. Crowning each bite was a spun sugar tuile speckled with fried prosciutto.

Florence, Fan Favorite

One of the biggest lines formed to meet Florence and sample his cooking. The handsome chef, well known for his work on the Food Network, took time to explain each facet of his porcine creation as admiring attendees queued up for a taste.

“I call it ‘Relationship’ because it reunites the pig with elements of its life,” Florence commented.

Tasty roast pork was laid over a bed of whey flavored with white truffle oil and slivers of earthy black truffle scattered across micro greens. The pigs used in the dish were fed a diet of whey and other organic materials. And, similar pigs are used to hunt for wild truffles in Europe.

Florence makes his own excellent pinot noir (TF, 2008, Split Rock Vineyard, $60), which he poured to complement his dish. Although it wasn’t an official entry in the competition, it was a great match!

The Mill Valley chef will introduce a wider lineup of wines later this year.

When he’s not expanding his empire in food-oriented directions, Palmer is also a winemaker with a $65 pinot noir called “Charlie/Clay.” His partner in the winemaking venture is Dry Creek Valley’s own award-winning winemaker Clay Mauritson.

Click here to read my blog about Mauritson wines.

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