Malibu winemakers match-up

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Saddle Peak Lodge had its second annual Malibu Wineries Showcase Dinner, where Managing Partner Gerhard Tratter and Executive Chef Warren Schwartz (above) devised food and wine match-ups that showcased the talents of local vintners.

Malibu wine pairing dinner at Saddle Peak Lodge

By Jody Stump/Special to The Malibu Times

It doesn’t get much better than this! As the sun sank into the dim notch between two mountains that gave the restaurant its name, Saddle Peak Lodge celebrated the second annual Malibu Wineries Showcase Dinner with a festive pairing of course to grape. News of the success of last year’s event must have spread since the guest list swelled to almost 150 with an impressive gathering of writers representing the nation’s most popular food and wine publications.

The evening’s menu was a testament as to why Saddle Peak is on the “short list” of many “best list” restaurants. Starting with hors d’oeuvres passed among mingling diners, a subtle pheasant mousse so surpassed chicken liver pâté that it would be hard to go back, and the house-cured salmon was smoky and delicate. Depending on how one counts, there were six, seven or eight courses at dinner, beginning with a richly pungent heirloom tomato soup and ending with heavenly pockets of apricot and mascarpone wrapped in beignets.

Saddle Peak’s Managing Partner Gerhard Tratter and Executive Chef Warren Schwartz were imaginative in devising food and wine match-ups that showcased the talents of local vintners. Once again, the meal led off with the eminently drinkable second-label from the Semler family, Saddle Rock Chardonnay and Merlot. Both are light versions of the varietals with a nice, round easy finish-just the thing for a summer sunset in the mountains.

Later we had more robust, assertive offerings from the Semlers-a big, jam-my syrah paired with grilled quail and a sage cream sauce. The wine’s rich fruit merged with the quail’s crust to create a fresh taste, almost like caramel. There was one other wine from Semler, its noteworthy 2000 Semler Malibu Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, which stood up well to the pickled onions and aged vinegar that dressed a Snake River Kobe beef carpaccio.

Many in Malibu are familiar with the beautifully balanced Newton Canyon Cabernet Sauvignons from Rosenthal. George Rosenthal was a pioneer in the region up Kanan Road and you may have noticed his vineyards on your right after you pass through the first tunnel crossing into the Valley. His wines are classical in the Burgundian tradition, with complex flavors that develop real depth when paired with fine food. Dinner began as it did last year, with the 2001 Rosenthal Chardonnay matched to the tomato soup and followed up with the evening’s big hit-Peekytoe crab salad with sweet white corn and smoky bacon.

The 1999 Founder’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was served with roasted Rocky Mountain elk in a foie gras sauce, a perfect pairing. In fact, foie gras seems to go so well with Rosenthal wines; we had the smooth, almost supple 2001 Merlot with a foie gras mousse on mache lettuce dressed in fresh cherries, a delicious blend of flavors and textures.

Once again, the Malibu match-up was a masterpiece for vintners and chef. It showcased the extraordinary talents hidden in the hills. Tratter is said to be already planning a reprise, but if you cannot wait until next year, the wines and most of the dishes are available at Saddle Peak Lodge this summer. Spend an unforgettable evening dining, as we did, al fresco under the stars. Dining really does not get much better.