A couple weeks ago I attended the Livermore Valley’s “Taste of Terroir” weekend to experience the tasty food and wine of this special sometimes forgotten wine country region in Northern California. I was personally invited as a media guest by the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association and was quite honored they thought of me. I was able to take hubby with me and he is always thrilled when he can be part of my blogging events.
If you have not ventured out to the Livermore Valley, you are missing a hidden gem in Northern California with over 50 wineries to visit and a revived downtown that boasts restaurants that reflect this beautiful region. It is less than one hour from San Francisco and has a different aesthetic than Napa or Sonoma, with a certain rustic charm that wants me to return again and again. Hubby and I actually have an affinity to Livermore, since 19 years ago this September we got married at Murrieta’s Well.
Our first event was a progressive dinner that began at Garre Winery with a Black Tie limo picking up almost 35 folks to enjoy this moveable feast of sorts. The beginning course of appetizers was enjoyed at Steven Kent Winery. There was unlimited tasting of spectacular wines with an abundance of appetizers. I must say the bacon wrapped dates with blue cheese was a personal favorite and went beautifully with the rich Cabernet Sauvignon from Steven Kent.
We were now on the road again and heading back to Garre for our main course dinner where chef Abe personally came out to share the details of the meal and what to expect. We enjoyed a fresh watermelon salad with pine nuts, feta, mint and an orange vinaigrette that was paired with a Sauvignon Blanc. Both were crisp and refreshing. Next came the main event – a lamb Osso Bucco with polenta and veggies that was paired with a Sangiovese. A rich and decadent dish for sure. It was a typically warm day in the valley but when the sun began to set, the air lighten up and the temperature was just about perfect.
We were now stepping into our last stop of the evening for a bit of dessert and zinfandel at Charles R Vineyards. We whisked down a long windy road to arrive at this rustic family winery that was so charming. As you enter the arched gates, you get a sense of what type of experience you are in for. The owner, Charles Bartlett gave a brief history of the winery to all of us and we had the pleasure of him joining us at our table along with Bob Molinaro and his daughter Gina from Garre. All three were genuine people who have a true passion for the wine business and we were grateful they opened up their wineries to all of us. We enjoyed a torte cake and a supremely rich vanilla ice cream with a port sauce drizzled over the top and of course, a glass of zinfandel and port.
(Left to right: Charles R, Gina and Bob from Garre)
After three hours of indulging in wine and food, it was time to head back to our hotel and rest up for the next day. The morning came pretty quick and we were off to a brunch in the vineyards at Retzlaff Vineyards with Chef Matt Greco of Salt Craft. The Taylor family has had this winery since 1976 and are certified organic along with having many award winning wines being produced from this charming winery. The winery is rustic, quaint and we simply loved the entire brunch experience.
I spent time with Chef Matt and was excited to learn that he migrated from the East Coast and his food philosophy is to use farm fresh ingredients add a twist of flavor along with giving a remarkable presentation all at the same time. The brunch menu he created was tasty, fun and whimsical. He cooked everything onsite and we enjoyed Peach and White Corn French Toast, made to order Baked Eggs and Summer Corn Polenta with Squash Blossoms and Grilled Chicken Kale Sausage. He created a trio of crostini sandwiches that were my personal favorite and so creative to serve for breakfast. It was the inspiration for the recipes below of three different crostini. For the crostini, he offered up a Olive Oil Poached Tuna with Nicosia Garnish, a Lamb Pastrami with pickled onions, coriander and secret sauce and last was a Tomato and Burrata with Summer Herbs.
We enjoyed a Rose and a Cabernet Merlot Blend from Retzlaff and they were both wonderful. I can certainly understand why they have award winning wines. We sat across from Heather and Ginger McGrail and they could not have been more down to earth and passionate about the Livermore Valley. I shared with Heather that McGrail Winery just followed me on Instagram the day before and that after brunch we were headed there to check it out.
(Hubby and Me)
Being satisfied with a magnifient brunch and tasty wines, we headed down the road to McGrail Winery. A beautiful winery that is modern but classic set in the heart of the Livermore Valley. With my media status, I had a V.I.P. tasting pass and I was incredibly happy with all of the wines we tasted. In particular the Cabernet Sauvignon called the Graduate caught my fancy and had to purchase a few of those along with a buttery Chardonnay. I will definitely return here – the wine and hospitality was second to none.
Our last stop of the day was to Murrieta’s Well where hubby and I got married 19 years ago this September. We had not been back in a few years and heard that they “revamped” everything. Some of the rustic charm left but overall it still remained. They modernized portions of it but it still evoked great memories and felt like we just got married the weekend prior – how time flies when you are having fun. We always say that “we are little kids in adult bodies with jobs” – I think this philosophy keeps us young (although we are not that old, I always say, when I am 95, then I am old).
After a perfect weekend in wine country, it was time to head home. As any long time reader knows, you know I love a great crostini and with Chef Matt’s brunch I was inspired to create 3 unique crostini recipes to share with all of you. The first is a Smoked Trout with a sprig of dill and radish. The second is a white bean puree with garlic, genoa salami and a garnish of olive and tomato. The third is a mozzarella, pesto and tomato crostini – simple and tasty.
If you have a chance, plan a weekend in the Livermore Valley, you won’t be disappointed. Thank you again Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association for a spectacular weekend we won’t soon forget! Hubby and I enjoy our Friday Night Bite tradition of a great bottle of wine along with appetizers and will be adding these little delights below to our repertoire. Check out my trio of Crostini recipes below that are a Friday fave for us and can soon be for you too. Cheers Peeps!
Smoked Trout Crostini
8 oz. Package of Smoked Trout
4 T. Creme Fraiche
3 T. Mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Fresh Lemon Juice
1 medium Shallot, finely diced
6 Grinds Pepper
1 Tablespoon fresh dill, minced
Remove the smoked trout from the package and take off the skin. Flake the smoked trout into a medium sized bowl. Add the creme fraiche, mayonnaise, lemon juice, shallot, dill and pepper. Mix well together. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Toast 12 pieces of 1/4 inch baguette and brushed with olive oil in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until light brown. Once they are cool, add the desired amount of the smoked trout mixture onto each crostini. Garnish with a couple thin slices of radish, three capers and a sprig of fresh dill.
Garlic White Bean and Genoa Salami Crostini
15.5 oz. Can of Small White Beans
3 Cloves of garlic, minced
5 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup of thinly sliced Genoa Salami
6 Green Olives with pimento
6 Yellow Cherry Tomatoes
Fluer de Sel
Open the can of white beans, drop into a colander and rinse and drain well. Add to a medium bowl. In a small saute pan add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the minced garlic. Saute for 3 to 4 minutes over medium heat until soft. Let cool, then add to the beans along with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Mash with a fork until semi smooth. Adjust seasoning as desired.
Toast 12 pieces of 1/4 inch baguette and brushed with olive oil in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until light brown. Once they are cool, add the desired amount of the bean mixture onto each crostini. Garnish with the thinly sliced salami, half of a olive with the pimento side up and a 1/2 yellow cherry tomato. Sprinkle with a bit of fluer de sel.
Mozzarella, Pesto and Tomato Crostini
12 Ciliegine (Mini Mozzarella Balls
Pesto (click here for the recipe)
Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes
Fluer de Sel
Rinse and pat dry the ciliegine. Cut each one into four slices.
Toast 12 peices of 1/4 inch baguette and brushed with olive oil in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until light brown. Once they are cool, place 4 slices of the ciliegine onto each crostini. Top with a teaspoon of the pesto and garnish with a three halves of different colored cherry tomatoes. Add a bit of fluer de sel to each one.