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A wine lover's guide to matchmaking

Pikes Peak Community Foundation pairs more than food and wine

Winemaker Rick Longoria tempted palates with a bright - cherry and musty Pinot Noir. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Winemaker Rick Longoria tempted palates with a bright cherry and musty Pinot Noir.

On Friday, April 29, the Pikes Peak Community Foundation kicked off its annual Wine Festival of Colorado Springs at The Broadmoor Hotel. More than 500 people donned their finest and stretched their elbows in preparation for an evening of eating and drinking, as area restaurants and wine wholesalers laid their long, white-clothed tables thick with food and enough wine to challenge even the sturdiest of livers.

Although the crowd had gathered to socialize and imbibe, the soiree counted for more than satiation and intoxication. Since 1928, the Pikes Peak Community Foundation has been committed to building a permanent charitable endowment that serves as a regional resource. In this sense, PPCF has taken a leadership role in promoting area philanthropy, making gifts of its own as well as connecting donors to causes and helping countless individuals and businesses make the transition from concerned citizens to benefactors.

Those attending PPCF's annual fund-raising weekend have the distinct privilege of being both benefactors and beneficiaries. More than 300 wines were poured and at least 50 food selections offered.

Each year the festival has a theme. So, with the film Sideways in mind, PPCF invited elite winemakers from California's Central Coast to share their treasures.

Winemaker Richard Longoria brought his esteemed Pinot Noir, with its bright aroma of cherries and a hint of Old World must, from the Santa Rita Hills. Equally well received were Talley Vineyards' trio of Pinot Noirs, which evoke the Old World while being clearly situated in the New. Talley generously offered tastes of its finest efforts, specifically the Rincon and Rosemary's Vineyard selections. Rincon shows great texture, acidity and minerality. Rosemary's is more powerful, with an opulent nose, showcasing minerals, earth, stone fruits and candied violets. A sip of this uncharacteristically dark beauty coats the palate and lingers for close to a minute with layer after layer of flavor.

As hedonistic as the opening tasting and the closing dinner and auction, the Saturday seminars provided the unique opportunity to learn about wine from the people who make it. In the morning, Pinot Noir experts gathered to share their knowledge of and experiences with one of the world's most finicky grapes. (Lest you be overwhelmed by Pinot, you should know that before Sideways, the Central Coast was better known for its success with Syrah and Zinfandel.)

Makers of the region's finest bottles joined Chef Victor Matthews at the Paragon Culinary School for a seminar on properly pairing food and wine. Fred Holloway of Justin Vineyard, Eberle founder Gary Eberle, and original "Rhone Ranger" Bob Lindquist of Qup Wine Cellars each offered two wines. Chef Matthews countered with six dishes.

Eberle joked, "A wine's first responsibility is to be red. Its second responsibility is to make food better."

But how?

Matthews, as always, was prepared to answer. According to him, you have two choices: compare or contrast. Comparing purports to pair a wine with a similar food. Though simple enough, this won't necessarily improve the food or the wine. Doing that requires "contrast": setting the wine against the food so their differences are complementary.

For example, Asian dishes, often built around soy sauce, go well with wines that have some mineral flavors to balance the salt. With fish, try a wine with fruit and good acidity to emphasize the ocean freshness and sweet meat. To cut the heat and bring out the nuances of spice, choose a wine with fruit but low acidity.

Matthews points out the real challenge of matching layers of food with layered wines. His Pate Forestiere, for example, has a good deal of fat but earthiness from the forest floor as well. Qup's Bien Nacido Cuve, a stunning blend of Chardonnay and Viognier made the perfect match: The acidity in the Chardonnay cut the fat, while the heavy floral notes of the Viognier harmonized with the earthy flavors.

The layering culminated with Justin's brooding Cabernet, wound like a vine around braised buffalo in a pastry cup, sweet and fat meeting tannin, earth and endless dance. This captured the essence of the chef's lesson: Find a matching element in your food for each in the wine.

Although you'll have to wait until next year for more helpful lessons, you can purchase many of these wines now from area shops. So pick up an Eberle Zinfandel; pour a glass, swirl and inhale. That's what the dirt smells like on a hot summer day in Paso Robles. Ahhhh ...

--David Torres-Rouff

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