It's not every day that you get invited to a seven course dinner where every dish is paired with beer, and it's even less often that those beers were made by one of your brewing heroes. Let's just say that when the invitation arrived asking if I'd be a guest at the sixth annual Mushroom and Beer Dinner at Mendocino's Little River Inn, I accepted pretty much before the email had fully downloaded. And that was before I knew that I'd get to sit right next to Russian River's Vinnie Cilurzo.
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I didn't expect to eat the best gelato of my life in Gualala, California, a tiny seaside town that hugs the Sonoma-Mendocino border. But I did.
The wines we tried were impressively smooth, silky and luscious, often luxuriously textured, but with much more fruit than earth, robustly savory but almost never rustic. When I hear pinot, I often think of delicate black fruit that lets lavender and eucalyptus peek through. I expect subtle mushroomy flavors, herbs, black soil. Though some were complex and detailed, many of these wines were dominated by bold red fruit, leaning toward ketchup and sundried tomato flavor, with bombastic oak treatment and alcohol levels soaring into the 14.5% ABV range. For California, this may be cool-climate. But for me, these wines were sometimes hot.