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Vintners John Conover of Cade and Plumpjack and Carl Doumani of Quixote joined in a little friendly wine combat this week pitting Cabernet Sauvignon against Petite Syrah as the top pairing for grilled lamb.  KCBS Radio’s Narsai David armed himself and donned full Western regalia for the wine country picnic including a badge that mysteriously read, “Merlot.” (Photos by Drew Altizer)

June 18, 2008

Cab vs. Petite: A Different Sort of Rivalry

By Hank Shaw

A sunny day, good wine, good food and lots of good conversation. I’ve been here before. For the better part of two decades my life has revolved around the world of politics, and the setting at the Plumpjack winery Monday looked like any number of high-dollar political fundraisers I’d attended over the years. But looks can be deceiving.

For starters, the mere presence of the grilled leg of lamb and rapini greens served at lunch set this event apart: Both were better prepared than what you’d get at a typical buck-raking event. And the rapini greens? They would never be served at a Republican event (too foreign), and rapini’s bitter tang typically banishes them from Democratic menus as well. On the tables of politics, nothing should be too challenging: Political food is cheap, merely fuel for the conversation.

Good wine, however, does grace the tables of the political elite; just ask former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, who got himself in trouble recently for buying too much expensive French wine. He’d have done better to spend his money on the Plumpjack cabernet sauvignon or the Quixote petite syrah, both superb wines served with the lamb.

Monday’s luncheon pitted the Quixote petite syrah against a pair of cabernets: the Plumpjack and its sister winery, CADE. Which paired better with the lamb? There were even cards for the guests to cast their vote. (No hanging chads here, though) I knew I’ve been in politics too long when I started thinking that with two evenly matched cabernets duking it out on one side, and a lone petite syrah on the other, there was a whiff of this year’s presidential race in the day’s contest. Is Obama a cab?

I never found out how the vote went, but it was something of a Florida-like field: All three wines were excellent, but cabernet is more typically paired with beef or venison than lamb, leaving the petite syrah as the better match.

Friendly rivalries between red grape varietals are a far cry from the rough-and-tumble undercurrent of the political luncheon, however, and I don’t just mean Democrats and Republicans. Attend any event and you’ll see factions form into their respective clutches. Cultlets of personality often develop around regional capos, who compete against one another for dominance; they’ll stand at opposite ends of the room. Other rivalries are more amusing, at least to outsiders: For example, you will rarely see a group of optometrists chatting over canapés with a group of ophthalmologists. They’ve been fighting each other for years over who gets to do what to your eyes once you enter their office, and each has cultivated champions at the Capitol. Rarely do they mix.

Contrast that with the conversation at Plumpjack, where food, wine and the happy talk of good times dominated. Politicos are rarely able to resist talking shop, but here even the winemakers weren’t talking brix or arguing over French versus American oak. It was just…relaxing. As a lunch should be.

Click here to view photos from the Plumpjack and Quixote Shoot-out.

A former line cook and commercial fisherman, Hank Shaw covered state and federal politics in five states for nearly two decades, most recently for the Stockton Record. He is now a freelance food writer who runs the blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook (www.honest-food.net). He lives outside of Sacramento.

Posted by Pamela at June 18, 2008 3:50 PM| Share on Facebook | Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley Dining, Napa Valley Wines, Organic, Petite Sirah, Quixote

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