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Tuesday, 15 May 2018 22:52

Four Fires Burn in Amador County

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Barbera and Sangiovese tasters eye whole roasted pig they'll soon be tasting.in Four Fires' Italian area. Barbera and Sangiovese tasters eye whole roasted pig they'll soon be tasting.in Four Fires' Italian area.

By Dan Clarke

After a while, most wine events begin to seem much the same.

Participants pick up a stemmed glass bearing an etched logo and embark on a series of little tastings poured by folks who might, or might not, be able to offer some background about the wines. These events may differentiate themselves by narrowing the focus to just the wines produced from a specific region or maybe limit the offerings to just one variety. Still, it’s difficult to stand out among so many such wine gatherings.

Amador 4 Fires Sylvia with temp tatoo PicmonkeySylvia applies a (temporary) Terra d'Oro tatoo

That’s why Amador Four Fires, held earlier this month at the County Fairgrounds in Plymouth, is such an interesting concept. Other writers had attended on behalf of Taste California Travel in prior years, but this was my first time to experience the event. My understanding is that the name refers to the rustic cuisines--presumably cooked over open fires—from four separate parts of the world. Three of these regions could be called Mediterranean—Italy, the Rhône Valley of France and the Iberian Peninsula, comprised of Spain and Portugal.

The Amador festival showcases foods typical of these Mediterranean areas, along with wines made from grapes native to the regions, but now grown and vinified in Amador County. Such a case would be Barbera, a staple in Amador County for years, or Sangiovese. Both of these red varieties would be appropriate accompaniments to the roast pig served by the Sutter Hotel kitchen which was preparing food in an Italian manner. Tempranillo was poured in the relatively-smaller section of wineries pairing Spanish and Portuguese-influenced wines with wild boar sausage from Gypsy Bistro. Syrah is the dominant grape in France’s Northern Rhône and several Amador wineries poured their interpretations of this variety, which was among the suggested choices for the grilled lamb prepared by Chef Mark Berkner and his Taste restaurant staff. A few of the Amador-grown varieties could be attributed to different homelands. Grenache, for instance, is the name given to a winegrape popular in the Rhône Valley of France. When grown in Spain and Portugal, the same grape is Garnacha. It’s the general idea that’s important. Precision isn’t required.

The food and wine cultures of three parts of European geography have been identified. What about that fourth fire, you might ask?

As defined by the organizers of this event, the fourth segment is “Heritage California,” which seems to refer to that part of California settled by prospectors and pioneers in the middle to latter part of the 19th Century. This foothill region is often called “Gold Country” and Amador County is right in the middle of it. Grapes here were planted shortly after the days of the gold rush, though perhaps more for distillation into brandy than for wines to accompany meals at table. Nevertheless, the grape varieties planted in that era were suitable for wine production and included Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouchet and Carignane. Even the Mission grape, a holdover from the Franciscans’ colonization of early California, saw some Amador County plantings in those very old days. By far, Zinfandel is still the dominant grape variety in the region and it couldn’t have been excluded from this party.

Amador 4 Fires Pasta with Fire Roasted Tomatoes PicmonkeyPasta with Fire Roasted Tomatoes is Heritage California dish from Off the Vine CateringHeritage food is a category open to broad interpretation and two catering companies prepared their versions of it. Chef Carolyn Kumpe of Vendange & Co. prepared hot dogs to be inserted intp brioche buns and ready for a do-it-yourself condiment bar. Another offering was her ash-roasted potatoes with lavender.

Also in the Heritage California area was Matt Carmell, who was grilling flank steak while tending an adjacent giant paella pan situated over a bed of charcoal. That pan contained not paella, but penne pasta prepared with grilled asparagus, garlic, onions and fire-roasted tomatoes. Chef Dave Hanson, the owner of Off the Vine Catering, told me later that fire-roasting the tomatoes gave the dish a nice, smoky personality, which complemented the Zinfandel he’d included in the preparation. To smooth out the dish and give it a richness, he added cream and then just a touch of Sriracha sauce. No doubt, a very appropriate pairing would have been one of the many Zins being poured nearby, but who’s to say that this dish wouldn’t have also tasted great with a Barbera from the Italian tent or maybe one of those GSM (Grenache/Syrah/Mouvèdre) blends from the French Rhône section?

You might say exploration was the theme of the day. On this Saturday you could explore wines whose heritage was of another part of the world—say Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Chianti--with food you might have been served were you there instead of 40 miles east of Sacramento. Or, you could be doing a deeper exploration of all those Amador foothill wines you’d liked before but hadn’t had access to in such variety.

Food and wine were reasons for attending Four Fires, but the activities weren’t limited merely to active eating and drinking. There was live music to hear and peripheral attractions that could add to the day for Four Fires fans. These included seminars led by the likes of wine educator “Pooch” Pucilowski (sensory evaluation of wine) and Edible Sacramento Magazine’s Shannin Stein (a farm-to-fork panel comprised of chefs and other food professionals). A “Beer vs Wine Tug of War” was offered, as well as an all-day “Stogies Lounge” for pairing Zinfandels with cigars. There was even a VIP admission at a higher price that gave access to tasting harder-to-find wines in an environment with more elbow room and special hors d’oeuvres prepared and served by Dr. Brian Knirk’s Culinary Arts & Hospitality students from American River College.

In all, the day was a worthwhile experience. Everything appeared to run smoothly. Those pouring and those prepping and serving food seemed friendly and so, too, were those who’d bought admission. Four Fires seemed well-attended, yet not too crowded. We hope this event just keeps on going. If you’re thinking of attending next year,we suggest you visit Amador Wine..

Read 355 times Last modified on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 00:20

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