Wineaux: Don’t miss the Winkler Dinner — great food, great wine

By May 31, 2011

Every year, the student group DEVO (Davis Enology and Viticulture Organization) puts on a fundraising gala, the Winkler Dinner. It used to take place under the famous Winkler vine that at one time covered 3,600 square feet and produced 150 pounds of fruit a year.

Named for the late Professor of Viticulture Albert J. Winkler, who was instrumental in developing the enology and viticulture department at UCD, it succumbed to disease in 2008, so can no longer shelter either enology seminars or Winkler dinners.

This year, my first, the weather didn’t exactly cooperate for the outdoor event, so I was relieved to sit under a sturdy tent — with some well-placed heaters — instead of a vine.
For the annual, student-organized dinner, several winemakers contribute their best bottles and and several chefs contribute their best culinary efforts.

The result is a six-course feast that supports student events like immersion trips to wine-growing regions and scholarships to provide travel to internships outside the United States.

I could regale you with details of the uniformly excellent courses and their accompanying wines, but I’ll just whet your appetite for next year’s dinner with my own favorite pairings.

First, the seared sea scallop (with roasted fennel, spring onion, perilla and basil — by Ed Roehr of Magpie Cafe in Sacramento), served with 2009 Breggo Cellars Anderson Valley Riesling, a dry, fruity, minerally example of this versatile varietal, which worked perfectly with this course.

I also thought it worked well with the following course — a lovely piece of halibut that got paired with a (to my mind) too heavy, too oak-y chardonnay.

The Riesling winemaker, Ryan Hodgins, studied at UCD and there met and married a fellow vintner. Ryan not only makes acclaimed Breggo wines but he and Molly now have their own Napa label, M. Autumn.

Second was the herbed pork loin with polenta (done by local chef Tony Gruska of Monticello), which a 2008 Sangiovese complemented beautifully. This wine came from D’Argenzio, a family-owned winery in Santa Rosa.

Winemaker Ray D’Argenzio attended the dinner, accompanied by his daughter Brianna. She, Ray proudly admitted, was, in fact, the winemaker of this vintage — her first. The wine started out a little too fruity for my taste, but with air and food became our whole table’s favorite pour of the evening.

Ray invited me — and “Wineaux” readers — to come sample the D’Argenzio line at the Santa Rosa tasting room (1301 Cleveland Ave). I’m especially eager to try his Tocai-Fruilani, which I suspect would have worked better than the chardonnay with that halibut. Maybe next year.

Because I have such a sweet tooth, I also have to mention the fabulous dessert — an apricot-studded yeast cake served with a marzipan medallion and whipped cream — made by Janine Weismann of Bouchon Bakery. The Beringer Nightingale that accompanied it seemed like sugar overkill, but you already know I’m not a good appreciator of sweet wine.

DEVO members not only organized this feast but also served as assistant chefs and wait staff.

And after dinner, this year’s three recipients of the DEVO travel grants spoke briefly about their plans to study winemaking in France and Italy. What struck me about the students was their passion for grapes, their obvious pride in the program, their delight in the new facilities and their appreciation for their professors, who teach them in the classroom and labs, of course, but who also spend many hours working alongside them in the vineyards — no matter how cold and rainy the days.

The event seemed to me a great tribute to the entire department.

Save your pennies or your 2011 tax refund (the cost this year was $175 a person) and try to attend next year’s dinner — you’ll have an excellent evening.


Several readers have stopped me around town to tell me that they’ve tried and liked two of my recent recommendations: the Mason “Pomelo” (Sauvignon Blanc) and “Three Pears” (Pinot Grigio), available at Nugget for around $10, and the Santa Julia wines at the Co-op for $8-$10.

(I’m still working my way through the latter. So far, I like most the Malbec and the Pinot Grigio, but all have been very drinkable, food-friendly and clean-tasting wines.)

In case you missed the Putah Creek tasting in May, you can stop by the winery Saturday or Sunday, June 11-12, to sample their wares. They’ll be releasing their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc that weekend.

And by the time you read this, Rominger West’s Tailwind Red and White will be available. Head over there this afternoon for Happy Thursday (5 to 8 p.m. — note the change of hours) with free tastes, wine by the glass, pizza and classical guitarist Elizabeth Busch accompanied by flutist Sue Sheya.

If you haven’t yet heard this duo, you’re missing out on a real treat.

— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Susan Leonardi

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