Review – Wine and Salami Paring

I’ve been to a lot of different wine parings, but usually it is in the form of a wine dinner or wine and dish paring at a winery. However, paring wine and salami was new to me – very new – so, always looking for a new experience, I took the opportunity to try it last weekend. After all, the salami I am most familiar with comes in one style: a bit greasy with white mold on the outside. Boy did I learn something new.

To back up a bit, a couple of years ago I, quite by accident, ate a piece of salami at a local winetasting, while sipping on a pouring of Pino Grigio, a white wine often paired with seafood because of its acidity. Much to my surprise and delight, the wine immediately removed all of the fattiness, in the same way as tannins do, and the deeper flavors of the salami came through. With this experience I was anxious to try the pairings.

This paring event event took place last weekend in the shaded garden at Holly’s Hill Vineyards, an acclaimed winery that specializes in Rhône style wines and is located in the Pleasant Valley area of El Dorado County.

The parings were created by Carrie and Josh Bendick, co-winemakers at Holly’s Hill. Both of them have excellent palates and I was quite complementary of their choices.

Dedrick’s Cheese in Placerville, provided the seven kinds of salami, all of which came from Seattle’s Salumi Artisan Cured Meats, a business owned by the parents of celebrity chef Mario Batali. They are a small business, hand-creating their product for national restaurants, delis and specialty shops, such as Dedrick’s.

These are not your grocery store salamis, they are carefully made unique products with flavors you may never have imagined in cured meats. The wines, of course, were selected for paring from Holly’s Hill’s inventory of what I consider some of the finest wines in El Dorado County (I know, I am a bit of a Rhône fanatic).

The universal pairing principle is that wine and food can complement or contrast each other, as long as they do not mask each other’s unique flavor and characteristics. This is a difficult thing to do, but a trained person can accomplish it. However, we all have different palates and may not feel the same way about the paring as the parer. But then, it is fun and always a learning experience.

The first pairing was a salami called Agrumi, which is a relatively new product of theirs, cured with citrus and cardamom. It was paired with their 2010 Patriarche Blanc, a white blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier. The crisp acidity of the wine did as expected and the palate was met with the bold flavor of the salami and cardamom, followed by a lemony finish.

Next came a salami known as Salumi Salami, which is their signature product. It is a mild salami with a touch of ginger and a slight tartness. The wine for the paring was their crisp 2011 El Dorado Viognier. Again the taste of the salami was enhanced and the slight bite of the ginger came out, but not so much that the wine lost its fruitiness.

The third paring was with their Oregano Salami, paired with the 2010 Grenache. As far as I am concerned there is no better wine for food paring than Grenache.

One of the most planted grapes in the world, Grenache is mostly used for blending, but by itself is a very underrated grape that produces a varietal that just seems to like to be sipped with most any food.

The wine and salami paired well, enhancing each other quite well and producing a wonderful, palate pleasing combination of flavors.

That was followed by a salami known as Finocchiona, which is flavored with cracked fennel, black pepper and a touch of curry. The wine selected for it was another of my favorites, their slightly earthy 2010 Mourvedre.

I always search for the anise or licorice flavor of fennel and fennel seeds, and I found it in this combination, although it was quite subtle. The peppercorns added a bit of heat, which was also pleasant and did not overpower the wine.

Hot Sopressata was the next salami. It is spicy salami made with garlic and has, in their words, a “slight bite.” With it we had the 2010 Petit Patriarche, a Mourvedre based red blend with Grenache and a touch of Syrah. It was a good combination, although the heat and spiciness of the salami, which I liked, might not appeal to all people. The wine handled it well, the tannins clearing the palate quite nicely.

The next to last pairing was their Smoked Paprika salami paired with 2008 Wylie-Fenaughty Syrah. This unique salami is cured with salt and flavored, as its name indicates, with smoke paprika

The Syrah grape naturally produces a wine with a bit of smokiness. That is one of its basic characteristics. It may also pick up some smokiness from the barrel in which it aged. A complementary paring of it with something smoky can produce fantastic, mouth-filling results, as it did in this case. This was my favorite of the parings.

The final paring involved a salami called Mole (mo-lay), which was flavored with chocolate, cinnamon, ancho and chipotle peppers. It was accompanied with a small piece of St. Agur cheese and a similar piece of dried Turkish apricot. Paired with it was their 2010 Patriarche, a Mourvedre based red blend with Syrah, Grenache Noir and Counoise.

Chocolate and heat both go well with a rich red wine such as the Patriarche and the paring was very good.

As I was turning in my glass, Carrie Bendick told me that they had tried another wine with the Mole, their 2009 Petite Sirah, and that I should also try it.

Petite Sirah is not one of my favorite wines and is often overpowering when paired with food. Their’s was not and I really liked the pairing with just the salami, less the cheese and apricot, even better than with the Patriarche.

Holly’s Hill Vineyards is located at 3680 Leisure Lane, off Pleasant Valley Road, in the Pleasant Valley area. The tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and can be reached at 530-344-0227. You can also visit them online at

Dedrick’s Cheese is located at 312 Main Street, Suite 105 in Placerville. There you will find 300-400 different kinds of seasonal cheese, along with bread, crackers, deli items  and more, including the tasted salamis. The hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m, Saturday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. They also have cheeses in many of the local winery’s deli cases. For more information call 530-344-8282 or visit them online at

Review – Olive Oil Class with Orietta Gianjorio

“Every meal should be a memorable experience. A burst of pleasure for our senses. A bonding activity, consumed leisurely and together as an overall event”
Orietta Gianjorio

Because of my interest in olive oil and the growing number of domestic olive oil producers, I was invited to sit in on a class on the subject of olive oil taught by Orietta Gianjorio at Miraflores Winery.

Gianjorio is not only a member of the UC Davis Olive Oil Taste Panel and the Sacramento Delegate for the Accademia Italiani della Cucina (Italian Academy of Cuisine), but also holds a diploma of Sommelier from the Associazione Italiana Sommeliers.

She was born and raised in Rome, Italy, is particularly passionate about food and wine and is serious about transferring her knowledge to the beautiful Country which adopted her.

She moved to California in 2008, conveniently close to great wine, food and olive oil production.

The class started at 1 p.m. in Miraflores Winery’s  magnificent tasting room where 20 guests were seated at two long tables and provided with notes and a checklist on olive oil characteristics (good and bad).

Gianjorio opened with an explanation of how olive oil is made, from the picking of the fruit, through the milling process, pressing and storage..

“The oil is made in November and December,” she said, “and from that day it starts going downhill. The most important information on the bottle of oil is not the calories, but the date of production. If properly stored, it is good for 12 months. Once it is open, you should use it up as soon as possible. Oxygen, heat and light are its enemies. Because of the light problem is why good oil comes in dark bottles.”

She then continued with a discussion about  the different kinds of olive oil, the different varieties of trees and how some olives for oil are picked green, some purple (partially ripe)  and some black (fully ripe). “Like with winegrapes,” she said, “olives are affected by their “terroir” (total environment) and will taste different if grown in different regions.”

The discussion then changed to how olive oils is graded in both the United States and Europe.

“In California olive oil can be rated “Extra Virgin” by either a laboratory, based on the acid, or by a tasting panel,” she said. “Some producers do both and indicate that on the label. The COOC or California Olive Oil Council has set the standards.

“In Europe they have a different organization that rates olive oil. It is called the IOC, or International Olive Council. Twenty-three countries belong to it and they set the standards for their oils.”

Primed with all this information, the class was then presented with samples of olive oil to evaluate for aroma, taste, mouth feel, etc., paying attention for flaws.

“Ignore the color (official tastings are done with blue or green glasses for that reason) and after you have warmed the sample in your hand, take off the lid and put your nose directly above it for three seconds,” she said. “Once you have determined its general aroma, go back and do it again, looking for hints of other flavors.

“Like with wine, you may find little hints of fruit, mint or other nice flavors. You may also find off aromas such as dirty socks, vinegar, or mustiness.

The undesirable flavors are often the result of mold, fermentation and other problems with the olives before they are pressed. Oxidation, which causes the oil to smell and taste rancid takes place after the oil is produced and is a very common problem with poorly stored oil.

“Olive oil made from green fruit may have a grassy aroma, while that made from riper fruit will have aromas and tastes of tropical fruit. These flavors and aromas determine what kinds of foods they will best work with.”

Our first mystery oil had no noticeable faults and was very grassy. When tasted, it exhibited the same general flavors and had a slight bitterness and some greasiness.

After watching the class taste the sample of olive oil, she added, “To properly taste it,” she continued, “you have to take some in your mouth and suck air across it, like you do with wine. But, it is thicker than wine and you have to do it harder,” which she demonstrated. sucking air into her mouth in large noisy gulps, which brought a laugh to the class.

“Then swallow the oil,” she remarked. “your throat will tell you about its acid and density.

“Most places that have olive oil to taste, give you bread, which affects the taste because it is sweet and is detected by some of the same sensors in your mouth as the oil,” she warned. “When you go tasting olive oil, ask for a small cup or take along your own glass so that you can really taste the oil. “And, between tastings,” she added, “rinse your mouth out by gargling a mouthful of water,” which she also demonstrated loudly.

“Your first sample is a good extra virgin oil but remember,” she remarked as she showed the class a dark green bottle of California oil,“it is September and this oil was bottled late last year, so it is not as good as it was.”

The second sample was more floral and fruity, with hints of pineapple and other tropical fruits. It too was a good extra virgin oil, but made from riper fruit. It was in a clear bottle, which explained some of the slightly off taste of oxidized oil.

The final sample had an aroma of an automobile garage with an emphases on lubricating oil. It brought groans and frowns from the class members, several of whom wouldn’t even taste it, even though many remarked it smelled like the olive oil found on the table in some restaurants.

It was (“sadly,” she said)an Italian import, one found in most markets. It had no date of production and, as she said several times, could contain many different oils other than olive, oils that could have been produced in any number of countries. “This is not a good olive oil,” she said.

“Buy locally,” she concluded. “We are lucky here in California to have a lot of good olive oil producers and the product is fresher. Check the date, buy in small quantities so you can use it up while it is still good and store it carefully, away from heat and light. Like with wine, buy the best you can afford and use the best oil on salads, in dishes and for cooking. It will be worth it.

To end the class, the students were provided with samples of locally produced ravioli, to try with the oils, along with glasses of Miraflores tempranillo.

I have been studying olive oil for several years and I learned a lot more about it just a couple of hours with an expert on the subject. A hands-on lesson with someone well versed in the subject is an experience that you cannot get from just reading or attending lectures.

Every class I have attended at Miraflores has been excellent and mind expanding. This was one of the very best.

Check out Orietta Gianjorio’s webpage at for more information on her classes, her background and her books.

Check out Miraflores’ webpage at for information on their upcoming classes and events. You can also call them at 530-647-8505.