The Valley Line: A night of fine food, great wine

Oh, what a night it was! The grand kickoff dinner for the fourth annual Pasadena PinotFest was held Sunday, with proceeds benefiting the in-need children and families served by Hathaway-Sycamores. The event was sponsored by Noir Food & Wine and Pasadena Magazine and was held at the Altadena Town and County Club.

It was a dream come true for foodies and wine aficionados, as nearly 100 guests enjoyed a six-course dinner presented by six top Pasadena chefs, with wine pairings by six of California’s finest wineries.

This PinotFest kickoff dinner was just a warmup for the presentation of the PinotFest Grand Public Tasting event that will be held at the Altadena Town and Country Club on Saturday, Feb. 11, when more than 100 wineries and the cuisine of five restaurants will be represented.

The Fest’s feast on Sunday evening began with comments by Rob Myers, executive vice president of development at Hathaway Sycamores, who served as master of ceremonies.

Rob, who grew up in La Cañada Flintridge, then introduced Mike Farwell, owner of Noir Food and Wine in Pasadena. Farwell and his executive chef, Claud Beltran, are the masterminds who coordinate the PinotFest.

Farwell then introduced the six winemakers that were making the perfect pairings of the wines to the cuisine. First up, to introduce the only white wines of the evening, was 1987 La Cañada High School graduate Wes Hagen, whose father, Don Hagen, was principal of LCHS.

Wes Hagen has been the vineyard manager and winemaker for Clos Pepe Estate Winery since 1998. He is passionate about his life’s goal: producing and celebrating world-class Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. His wife, Chanda, is co-winemaker.

Hagen paired his 2009 barrel-fermented Chardonnay and 2009 Homage to Chablis Chardonnay with Chef Onil Chibas’ salad of Clos Pepe olive-oil-poached loup de mer with forbidden rice with apricots, pistachios and preserved lemon. Chiba is with Elements Kitchen.

AKA Bistro’s chef, James Lambrinos, prepared the second course of seared Arctic char over red lentil/pinot noir fondue and baby spinach with a Fuji apple compote. Enhancing the dish were two Pinot Noir wines by Hartley-Ostini Hitching Post Wines introduced by winemaker Gray Hartley.

Hartley grew up in neighboring La Crescenta. He talked sweetly about the first kiss he shared with his wife of 40-some years when they were both 16 years old. A very poetic fellow, he said the two wines he was serving Sunday night were almost as perfect as that first kiss.

Gray said that he and wine partner Frank Ostini believe that great wines are made in the vineyard. Their philosophy of winemaking is that they are caretakers who guide the wine into the bottle, preserving the essence of the grape for you to enjoy when you open the bottle.

The third course of the evening was by chef John Angelopulos, of Altadena Country Club. It was veal sweetbreads and pork belly with Kabocha puree, foie popped milo root, vegetable hash and Nostradamus ale. The wine was Pinot Noir by Richard Sanford. Sanford had just undergone emergency surgery and couldn’t attend, so Bruno D’Alfonso stepped in to talk about Sanford’s winery, Alma Rosa Vineyards & Winery.

Course No. 4 was by Chef Tim Guiltinan of The Raymond Restaurant. He prepared an exquisite American Wagyu rib eye cap served with liquefied potato, handpicked mushrooms from Oregon, flowering herbs and barrel aged soy.

The Pinot Noir wines served with this course were by D’Alfonso-Curran and Badge by Kris Curran and Bruno D’Alfonso. D’Alfonso is another local, having grown up in Glendale.

Bruno was winemaker for 20 years at Sanford and has spent the past few years developing his own labels. He and winemaker Kris Curran decided to tie the knot in 2007, forming an official family for their growing brood of wines and naming their winery D’Alfonso-Curran Wines.

After the diners took a deep breath and walked around a bit, the fifth course was created by Beltran. His presentation was a smoked venison loin with crispy cheese grits and burnt scallion oil.

The wines served with this course were from the library collection of a 2005 Pinot Noir by Williams Selyem and a 2005 Williams Selyem Rochioli Riverblock Pinot Noir.

Jeff Mangahas, who was born in Washington state, was recently named winemaker at Williams Selyem winery in Healdsburg. He is a true student of Pinot Noir and credits the 1996 Williams Selyem Allen Vineyard Pinot Noir as an eye-opening wine that sparked his passion for this grape. Before he became a winemaker, he graduated from the University of Washington with a B.S. in cellular and molecular biology. He began his career as a cancer research scientist in Seattle. It was then that he began exploring the wine regions of the world. The rest is history, as he jumped from the world of medical science to the science of making superb wine.

The dessert course, a chocolate soup with cardamom ice cream and a dark chocolate sauce, was created by Bistro 45’s pastry chef Felix Noyola. This amazing dessert was accompanied by a fabulous 2004 Williams Selyem Mistral Vineyard Port.

Robert Simon, owner of Bistro 45 and AKA Bistro, was in attendance that evening. He made great conversation as he flitted from table to table to chat about what an incredible gourmet evening it was.

I had great table mates in Bob and Barbara Fisher. Bob is the owner of the Ice House comedy club, so he had many tales to tell of the amazing list of comedians who come to entertain over the years.

This dining experience will be recorded in the diaries of many of the people who attended — certainly a gourmet night to be remembered.

JANE NAPIER NEELY covers the La Cañada social scene. She can be reached at


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