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Nickel & Nickel Wine Dinner Finale at bluEmber Restaurant at Rancho Las Palmas

Wine dinner pairings with beautiful surroundings
Wine dinner pairings with beautiful surroundings

The bluEmber Restaurant in the Rancho Las Palmas Resort in Rancho Mirage Ca.


When an esteemed Napa Valley winery comes to town to share their wines with esteemed chefs at a beautiful resort restaurant--well, almost every wine enthusiast takes notice. This week at the famed Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa located in Rancho Mirage, Ca., one of the most respected wineries in California wine country, Nickel & Nickel along with their sister wineries, Far Niente and EnRoute, will provide their stellar wine to the Resort's final wine dinner of the season.

The last time we spent time with Chef Robert Nyerick (the Mind of the Chef series) he was concluding his wonderful tenure at the Miramonte Resort after seven years. He is now the Executive Chef at the bluEmber Restaurant, the resort’s signature eatery, where we find an inventive spin on California New American cuisine.

Chef Robert loves his new resort environment. "It's an Omni Hotel & Resorts operation--it's five stars! and I love our restaurant with its chic-designed dining room that overlooks an award winning dining patio where one can cozy up by the fire pit and admire the spectacular mountains and lush fairways. This winemaker's dinner will be a delight for all five senses!"

Marketing Manager Denise Harnett says, "bluEmber embodies the Palm Springs experience with an exquisite menu, variety of fine wines and unmatched hospitality."

I popped into the resort to pick the chef's his brain about the final up-coming wine dinner to be held Thursday March 20th at 6pm. Most of you wine lovers know well about the fabulous quality of Napa Valley’s Nickel & Nickel wines. And for those new to wine—well, after this week’s wine dinner, you’ll not forget them.

Established in 1997 by the partners of Far Niente, Nickel & Nickel is based on a philosophy of producing 100 percent varietal, single-vineyard wines that best express the distinct personality of each vineyard. It is from some of the most coveted vineyards in the Napa and Sonoma valleys where the Nickel & Nickel wines are produced.+

Fortuitously, Chef Robert was still in a meeting when I arrived so I got to spend time with Chef de Cuisine Brandon Testi. He’s on-point with the wine menu as he, Chef Robert, and the wine representative planned it out some weeks ago.

Interesting enough, Chef Robert welcomed young Chef Brandon on board early on at the Miramonte, so good to see the guys back together again planning & creating dishes. And as Chef Robert is always quick to point out that these winemaker dinners are truly a collaborative effort and he’s always shared the spotlight & accolades with his staff.

The cuisine savvy Chef Brandon opened up on the team’s pairing ideas for this dinner. I like his talent; he’s bright, energetic, and pursues excellence, as with his vigor to match flavors and textures to the excellent line of featured wines.

So here is the meat & potatoes of this up-coming grand dining experience:
The Reception will feature Nickel & Nicklel 2012 Medina Vineyard Chardonnay to be paired with Pacific Oyster with Apple Mignonette and fried leeks. And look for Fontina Fritti with Apricot Pomodoro and young basil.

The Chardonnay is from Sonoma’s Green Valley AVA by the Russian River which means the grapes have gone through a slow ripening process—therefore look for fantastic balance of fruit and acidity. Pear, lemon, and fig blended with stone and mineral elements will be great company to the appetizers.

On the 1st Course, both chefs said the sky-was-the limit (or shall we say the vast ocean was the limit) when it came to putting together the “Seafood Display”. Locally fresh scallops, clams, and shrimp along with the freshest catch of the day will appear in a rich brodo along with baby vegetables and micro cress.

This time the sister winery, Far Niente, will showcase its Napa Valley 2010 Cave Collection Chardonnay. This wine opens with delicate aromas of citrus blossom, honeydew melon, pear, flint and toasted almonds. The entry is silky with pear and citrus flavors. Look for the refreshing cleansing acidity that leads to a juicy finish, layered with toasted oak.

The 2nd Course presents the famed Roasted Breast of Pheasant. As the chefs pointed out, everyone has heard of this dish but when was the last time they had it? And everyone, in and out of the cooking world, knows that there is just a tiny window of time to cook that bird to perfection. The chefs are up to the challenge: Prosciutto Wrapped & Roasted Crispy, served with Soaked Cherries with Shallots and Valley Field Greens

And the consummate pairing will of course be the stellar 2009 “Les Pommiers” Pinot Noir from yet another sister winery EnRoute. With a “passion for the Pinot” EnRoute is devoted to Russian River Valley grapes; it’s considered one of the best terroirs for Pinot Noir this side of Burgundy.

The classy Les Pommiers has uncommon depth and persistence, while also being extremely aromatic. There is an abundance of cherry, plum, and raspberry aromas progressing into floral and mineral notes with tobacco leaf and toasty oak. On the palate, layers of black and red fruits weave around beautifully integrated tannins. Mixed with refreshing acidity of the wine, it carries great complexity and will evolve in the glass. A magnificent match for the meal.

Amazingly, there is still the 3rd Course: What the chefs name “A True Charred Rib-“eye”. In other words, they’re cutting out all the surrounding fat leaving the “true marbled eye of the Prime Rib steak." Chef Brandon quietly quipped, “‘think Kobe’ on this one!” The Nickel & Nickel 2009 Kelum Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is the masterful call for this dish. It’s a world class pairing with Bordeaux-like qualities of berry and cassis mixed with notes of cigar, bay and herb—with a long finish.

The Dessert Course is prepared by one of the valley’s best patisserie chefs, Tibico Neri. Thirty years at this resort, he is presenting a Desert Honey Poached Pear with Brie Brûlée along with Far Niente’s 2006 Dolce Late Harvest Wine. Talk about sweet dreams! This wine scored 98 points by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. And check out the commentary: "Devastating in apricot, orange, pear, honey, vanilla and créme brûlée flavors, in an unctuous, viscous texture, with wonderfully clean acidity, it’s certainly one of the greatest sweet California wines in memory."

Bon Appétit! & Cheers!

Needless to state, this Winemaker's Dinner event is selling out quickly. Reservations: 866.423.1195


Rick Riozza wittily titles himself the "sommelier-about-town" in the desert publication CV Weekly wine and food column: the Vino Voice where his beat is to eat, drink, and cover the environs of Palm Springs. A freelance writer, a contributor to Tasting Panel Magazine, and the Brand Ambassador for the historic Galleano Winery, you can find him conducting wine tastings, food & wine pairing events and fun wine seminars. Contact

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