Dusting off the propane lamps and heading for the great outdoors is a time-honored ritual of summer for many Americans. The draw of our cherished state and national parks is primal and the camping tradition touches us in a visceral way. Pitch a tent, stoke a roaring fire and you’re reminded of how critical it is to periodically rediscover your place in the natural world. So, in our annual search for soul food, multiple families once again descended upon one of California’s spectacular, state parks known as Sugarloaf Ridge.
The group’s inescapable Gallic demeanor always transforms “dig in” to “bon appetit” thus making for certain vinous and culinary exigencies. Let’s face it, when food is addressed with reverence and in need of lengthy introductions and when light beer and soft drinks respectively give way to wines from the Loire and Rhone valleys and Champagne, you know that you’re not in Kansas anymore.
I EAT THEREFORE I AM!
This is the mantra by which any self-respecting francophile lives.
While the children dashed off to domesticate the local lizard population as parents reminded them to step gingerly past the occasional, juvenile rattle snake (these are the California foothills after all!), the adults began staging the communal buffet – a collective display of culinary heft and logistical ingenuity that would coalesce to produce a feast of Eiffelian dimensions!
Many wines came to this summit as well, each with their own distinct message and sense of place, shuttling from one end of the table to the other in search of just the right culinary soulmate. One such bottling was the lovely 2009 Sancerre from Hippolyte Reverdy which retails for around $24 per bottle. The bright and focused green apple and lemon/lime-zest of this well-built Loire valley, dry white played generous host to the plethora of appetizers gracing the table. The wine’s wonderful, mineral/flint character and refreshing acidity championed exotic salads like the Israeli couscous, shallot, red pepper and cilantro offering or the orzo pasta, feta and toasted pine nuts with sun-dried tomatoes. Another lovely dinner guest was the 2010 Vietti Roero Arneis from the Piemonte district in northern Italy. The wine offered up soft, acacia honey and white peach aromatics combined with delicate floral notes of almond blossom connected by a subtle, mineral thread reflecting the sandy soils of the hills from which it hails. It showered compliments over more than one dish, first when paired with the Afghan, crooked-neck squash ragout with its slightly curried/nutmeg flavors and carmelized onions, making the two seem like old friends. Also waxing poetic in the wine’s presence were an assembly of succulent grilled peaches topped with prosciutto and a dollop of Mozzarella di Bufala that drove some campers to verse!
Not to be upstaged, a host of grilled meats joined the procession with entries like soy/sesame-marinated ribeyes, tea-smoked duck breast (thinly sliced and seemingly confected to dissolve gloriously upon palate contact) and blackened, cajun-spiced, garlic pork tenderloins with pure Dijon mustard thinly spread to maximize sensory awareness. A host of plump and succulent lamb and pork sausages were added to the mix for good measure.
Several different red wines spanning multiple continents were uncorked, each making its own triumphant statement. There was the richly-textured, blackberry, licorice and soft pepper 2008 Xiloca Garnacha from the Ribera del Jiloca district whose bold fruit lit up the grilled assortment! It worked extremely well with the sweet and salty soy/sesame marinade. This wine retails for around $11 per bottle and rocks! The duck fawned over the 2007 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir from Oregon with its beautiful dried cranberry, strawberry and pomegranate notes, coupled with a nice texture, medium weight, clean and lively acidity and persistent finish. This wine can be had for around $25 and is a great value! The 2009 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage from the northern Rhone valley with its violet, soft white pepper and provencal herb aromatics girded by a lush combination of plums, black raspberries, smoke and refreshing acidity finished with clear focus and good length. It worked with all the meats but resonated particularly with the pork tenderloin stepping up to this entree’s intense flavors with decided assurance! This wine is currently to be found for around $40 per bottle retail.
SO MANY PAIRINGS, SO LITTLE TIME!
At Sugarloaf Ridge on a clear day, visitors can see the Sierra Nevada and the Golden Gate bridge from the 2729-foot summit known as Bald Mountain! The park sits in the heart of Sonoma valley’s prized wine country encompassing some of the more celebrated domains in North America. There is an on-site observatory where local societies of stargazing, planet-seeking sleuths converge to witness the dramatic, celestial choreography that only nature can inspire.
You see, this writer is on a mission to motivate! It was recently announced that Sugarloaf Ridge, along with 70 other state parks, is on the chopping block due to budget cuts. I believe that if our heritage is to be slowly taken from us then we begin to unravel as a society. We cannot let this happen!
ARE YOSEMITE AND THE GRAND CANYON NEXT!?
This park is worth saving and it is a good place to start to draw our collective line in the sand and let our legislators know that we won’t stand for this. You can help by going to: http://my.calparks.org/site/PageServer?pagename=2011ParkClosures.
If we are to continue to enjoy the essential, soul-quenching experience of dining with the stars we all need to guarantee that setting the table under mother nature’s celestial tapestry is not taken from us and lost forever.
Slave to the grape – worse fates there have been!