A Special Evening with Sommelier Rajat Parr at 32 East

The term terroir refers to the way a region’s climate, soil and winemaking techniques converge to express themselves in your wine glass. Terroir-driven wines reflect a region’s unique characteristics, meaning even wines made from the same grape variety can look, smell and taste very different depending on where they’re from. While it’s one thing to explore this concept by reading wine magazines, books or your favorite blog, it’s another to have a world-renowned Sommelier and winemaker come to town and demonstrate it for you. Using his own wines.

Such was the case recently, when one of the world’s most celebrated Somms hosted a wine dinner for lucky wine lovers at one of our favorite local restaurants here in Delray Beach. The multi-course meal at 32 East featured two-time James Beard Award winner and author of Secrets of the Sommeliers, Rajat Parr, and wines from two of his latest vinous projects, Evening Land Vineyards and Domaine de la Côte, hailing from Oregon and California respectively.


The sold out dinner featured a selection of Parr’s Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs paired with the cuisine of 32 East Chef, John Thomas. During the course of the evening, Parr shared details of his own personal journey. Born and raised in Calcutta, Parr was first introduced to great wines at the age of 20 by his Uncle who lived in London. He later made his way to the United States and studied at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America’s Hyde Park campus to become a Chef. After graduation, however, his love of the cellar prevailed and he proceeded to learn from the best. Parr honed his vinous acumen and tasting skills under the tutelage of Master Sommelier Larry Stone at his iconic San Francisco restaurant, Rubicon.

Parr later joined forces with Chef Michael Mina as Wine Director of what would become The Mina Group’s eponymous culinary empire, consisting of over 20 restaurants across the country. During this time, Parr’s travels to European wine regions and work as a Somm gave rise to a curiosity about winemaking. He developed a particular affection for the wines of Burgundy and its hallmark grape varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Santa Barbara winemaker Sashi Moorman shared Parr’s love of balanced, food friendly wines and in 2011, the two partnered on their first of many winemaking ventures, Sandhi, which focused on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from select vineyards in California’s Sta. Rita Hills.


While the Sandhi wines were crafted from purchased grapes, in 2013 Parr debuted the wines of his new estate vineyard, Domaine de la Côte, located in California’s western Sta. Rita Hills. In 2014, he and Moorman also took control of the acclaimed Seven Springs Vineyard in Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills. Riding on the momentum of these projects, and the desire to focus on making wine, Parr recently made two major life adjustments.

In March he quietly (and amicably) parted ways with the Mina Group, sharing, “I’m officially retired from the restaurant, but they know they can call me any time.” Parr is also winding down the trend-setting, controversial, non-profit wine group, In Pursuit of Balance he co-founded with Jasmine Hirsch in 2011. As set forth in their Manifesto of Balance, IPOB favors,  “balanced, non-manipulated incarnations of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.” By eschewing the syrupy, high octane versions currently being marketed to US consumers, some acclaimed wine critics viewed the group as “elitist” which made some waves in the wine world. “We started it for fun and it was supposed to be a small intimate tasting but it became this big thing,” he reflected. “It’s just too much work now, but it definitely showed people the different styles of wine.” The group’s final tasting will take place in mid-November.


After being introduced by 32 East Manager John Bates, Parr began the evening by reiterating his preferred style of wine, “I prefer crisp, clean, fresh and energetic wines,” while acknowledging, “I know the style in California is not necessarily that, but we make wine in a more European style…that’s the path we follow.”

We started with Parr’s Oregonian wines, specifically the enchanting 2012 Evening Land Vineyard Seven Springs Chardonnay which was lithe and crisp with a bright acidity. “2012 was an epic vintage in Oregon, but we made very little Chardonnay,” Parr stated. “We took over while the 2012’s were still in barrel, 2014 is the first vintage we had full control.” Chef’s Oak Roasted D’Anjou Pear with Whipped Goat Cheese, Spiced Pecans, Lemon Honey and Upland Cresse complemented the Chard beautifully, harmonizing with layers of citrus, stone fruit and pineapple accentuated by a kiss of toasty oak. The lovely white continued to evolve in the glass over the course of the next hour when I begrudgingly took my last sip.


Oak Roasted D’Anjou Pear with Whipped Goat Cheese, Spiced Pecans & Lemon Honey

We continued with a duo of Evening Land Pinot Noirs from Oregon’s Eola-Amity Hills which Parr described as, “A beautiful place with rolling hills that looks like the southern part of Burgundy.” We began with the ’13 Eola-Amity Hills Pinot paired with Coriander Spiced Yellowfin Tuna with Chickpea & Grilled Onion Salad, Tahini, Pomegranate and Basil. The wine was bright and lively with ebullient notes of ripe red cherry, pomegranate and spice. While it paired nicely with the spiced tuna, this wine’s versatile acidity and medium body made it an equally good pairing with the bright fruit flavors of the next dish as well.

The ’13 Seven Springs Vineyard Pinot was paired with Roasted Long Island Duck Breast with Parmesan Polenta, Pinot Noir Reduction, Poached Plum and Local Greens. The single vineyard Pinot was more angular than the previous wine, exhibiting more minerality and tannin structure accompanied by similarly lovely notes of ripe red fruit, cherry and raspberry. It stood up nicely to the richness of the duck while synergizing with its delightfully fruity flavors.


Coriander Spiced Yellowfin Tuna with Chickpea & Grilled Onion Salad, Tahini, Pomegranate & Basil


Roasted Long Island Duck Breast with Parmesan Polenta, Pinot Noir Reduction & Poached Plum

Next were the two Domaine de la Côte Pinots from California’s Sta. Rita Hills. “The name means ‘State of Slopes,'” Parr explained, “and we have five different vineyards planted on different soils in an amphitheater setting right on the coast of Santa Barbara, 8 miles from the ocean.” When it comes to making wine, Parr stays true to his belief of minimal intervention in the vineyard and cellar, “We make the wines in a very traditional way, everything is fermented in whole clusters in large concrete tanks. The vines are all planted on virgin soils and grown organically with no additives.”

We enjoyed both Domaine de la Côte Pinots paired with Chef’s Grilled Filet Mignon with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Wilted Greens and Wild Mushroom Jus. The ’12 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot is a blend of different estate parcels, while the ’13 Bloom’s Field is a single vineyard offering. Parr explained, “2012 was a warmer vintage, while 2013 was cooler,” which was readily evident when tasting the wines. The warmer temperatures of 2012 resulted in a wine with more perfumed aromatics of black cherry, cola and cassis and riper fruit, while the cooler 2013 vintage Bloom’s Field single vineyard wine was more reserved with notes of spiced cherry, rose petal, earth and plum.


The opportunity to sample Parr’s wines from Oregon and California side by side revealed differences between the two terroirs, ‘The [Sta. Rita Hills] Pinots are lower in alcohol than the Oregon wines, yet they have more body, texture and aromatics. Oregon’s volcanic soils result in more jagged tannins with smokier flavors while the marine sedimentary soil of California’s Sta. Rita Hills results in wines that are velvety and fruity with notes of cola and Asian five spice that have lower tannins.”

When asked about aging these wines, he added, “The Sta. Rita Hills Pinots are probably best enjoyed when 5-7 years old, while Oregon Pinots are best 10-15 years old.”


Oregon (left) & California (right) Pinot Noirs even look different!

Each wine we sampled during the course of the delightful evening, both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs, revealed its own distinct terroir reflecting its unique place of origin. Lucky dinner guests also got to enjoy a guided tour of these wines full of wonderful details and insights straight from the Somm’s mouth.

For more information on Raj Parr’s wines, please visit the websites of Evening Land Vineyards and Domaine de la Côte.

Bon appétit,



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Gnocchi Cooking Class with Chef Nick Morfogen

Despite my passion for cooking foods of all kinds, there are a few things I’ve never tried to make. Simply because certain dishes, usually beloved regional specialties, require great skill, technique and time to perfect. Out of respect for those who have mastered these skills, and also a little laziness on my part, I usually only enjoy these dishes when dining out. Until recently, gnocchi was definitely on that list. Lucky for me, however, Chef Nick Morfogen of 32 East here in Delray Beach kicked off his Summer cooking class series with these iconic Italian dumplings. Over the course of the evening, he gave a whole new spin to this previously daunting dish.


The demonstration-style cooking class was held in the restaurant’s upstairs dining room. In addition to observing Chef’s mad gnocchi skills, he also shared some insider culinary tips and tricks. First, he explained that gnocchi is not really pasta. It is more of a “dumpling” since it’s made from a mixture of potatoes, eggs, flour and cheese. There are also many regional variations in Italy as well as other countries including France (gnocchis à la parisienne), Croatia (njoki) and even South America (ñoqui).


The gnocchi paddle gives these potato dumplings their hallmark, groovy appearance


Chef also stressed the importance of using the best quality, freshest ingredients available. His favorite Parmesan cheese is the Vacche Rosse Parmigiano Reggiano. “Vacche Rosse” literally means “red cow,” and refers to the special breed of Italian cow whose milk is prized for its high butterfat and protein content. The Vacche Rosse Parmigiano is also aged for a minimum of 30 months, compared to only 24 months with other Parmesans. Chef also clarified that buffalo mozzarella is a fresh cheese made from the milk of the Italian water buffalo. And much like Italian wines, certain high quality foods including these cheeses carry a DOP classification (“Denominazione di Origine Protetta,” or “Protected Designation of Origin”) which ensures they are from a specific region and have met certain strict production criteria.


Chef also suggested baking the potatoes on a bed of salt to prevent the bottoms from burning (brilliant!). After divesting the pre-baked potatoes of their skins, he deftly worked them through a food mill. This broke them up while also imparting a light, airy texture. Either a food mill or potato ricer can be used for this task and I’m a big fan of the ricer. I’ve used mine to make heavenly mashed potatoes for many years and I especially like this one. While incorporating the flour into the potato and egg mixture a little at a time, Chef stressed the importance of not overworking the dough. This will make it tough and could possibly ruin the finished product. Once the dough has been rolled into “ropes” and cut into the classic bite-size pieces, each gnocchi must be rolled over a “gnocchi paddle.” This essential piece of equipment gives the gnocchi their hallmark, groovy appearance. At under $10, this is a worthwhile investment for the gnocchi lover.


After boiling the gnocchi in a large pot of salted water (when they float, they’re done!) our lesson was complete. We then had the pleasure of sampling Chef Nick’s Gnocchi all Sorrentina. The dish featured the freshly prepared gnocchi in a flavorful marinara sauce dusted with grated Vacche Rosse Parmigiano. It was pure heaven and we enjoyed the dish with a bottle of Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico Riserva. This Sangiovese-based red wine from Tuscany paired perfectly with the gnocchi and savory red sauce.

Inspired by Chef Nick’s class, I recently made plans to have some friends over for gnocchi. Perfecting any recipe takes time and you have to start somewhere, right? I’ll also have lots of Chianti on hand just in case.

Bon appétit,



"Chef Nick Morfogen's Potato Gnocchi"
Cuisine: Italian
"Potato Gnocchi" Author: Chef Nick Morfogen | 32 East Cuisine: Italian
  • 3 Russet potatoes, scrubbed
  • ¾ Tablespoon Kosher salt
  • ⅛ Tablespoon black pepper
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup flour, plus extra for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Poke potatoes with a fork and bake on a bed of Kosher salt, about 1½ hours, or until done. When cool enough to handle, cut in half and scoop out into a food mill or ricer.
  3. Place in a bowl and make a well in the middle, and add salt, pepper and egg yolks and stir. Sprinkle in half of the flour and fold until incorporated. Add remaining flour and form into a dough. Wrap dough in a towel and let rest for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Divide dough into 6 equal pieces and roll into ropes using extra flour. Cut with a bench scraper and roll with a gnocchi paddle. Place on a towel lined sheet pan and cook in boiling, salted water until they float.

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Camp Schramsberg Part Three: Riddling, Blending & Disgorging – Oh My!

Following a fabulous evening at the Library Wine Dinner at Meadowood the night before (read more about that by clicking here), it was nice to get a slightly later start the following day. After breakfast we hopped back on the buses and headed towards the winery in Calistoga.

Day two began with a tour of Schramsberg and its caves given by Hugh Davies himself. He explained that the estate, a registered historic landmark, has been painstakingly restored by his family when they purchased it in 1965. The Victorian house, the lower winery, the barn and the caves remain largely unchanged since Jacob Schram’s days. He also informed us of Schramsberg’s sparkling wines at historically significant Presidential functions including President Nixon’s “Toast to Peace” in 1972 with China’s Premier Zhou Enlai in Beijing China which featured their Blanc de Blancs. Schramsberg’s sparkling wines have also been served at official State functions by every U.S. Presidential administration since. As we entered the caves at the winery he explained they were dug mainly with pick axes and shovels in the 60′s. He also shared the details of a harrowing incident immediately prior to the release of the Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs. The press broke and his parents Jack and Jamie Davies had to stomp the grapes with their feet in order to keep production underway to meet their deadline!

As we made our way deeper into the caves, we reached an opening with multiple rows of riddling racks full of inverted sparkling wine bottles (above right photo). Here, Hugh introduced us to a gentleman by the name of Jesus who’d recently took over as Chief Riddler for Ramon who’d been working at Schramsberg since the 1970′s. Of Schramsberg’s total production of sparkling wines 80% is riddled mechanically using a gyropalette and 20%, consisting of their more expensive cuvées, is done by hand. Riddling is a very labor and time intensive process which is very important in the production of sparkling wine. By gradually displacing and inverting the bottle, the dead yeast cells generated by the wine’s secondary fermentation move towards the neck of the bottle where it is later removed via a process called disgorgement (see video below). Jesus was kind (and patient!) enough to give us all a lesson on how it’s done. He had a way of making it look effortless however upon trying it myself I realized it definitely took years of practice to master.

After Riddling 101 we sat down to a Blanc de Blancs Progression Tasting with Schramsberg winemakers Keith Hock, who specializes in sparkling wine, and  Sean Thompson, who makes Schramsberg’s still wines. During the tasting we had the opportunity to sample a variety of wines in various states of evolution ranging from a 2012 Base Wine to a 1990 Library Wine. The exercise was very enlightening and beautifully demonstrated how these wines evolve and develop over time. At the beginning of the spectrum, the 2012 Base Wine exhibited aromas and flavors of tart green apple and citrus while the 1990 Library Wine was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum featuring notes of hazelnut, pastry dough and honey. It was a valuable lesson in what time can do to sparkling wines and the complexity that can be achieved through proper aging.

This exercise led up to perhaps the most exciting and hand on exercise of the trip: we got to make our own unique bottle of Schramsberg sparkling wine to take home with us. Well, maybe not from the very beginning but were able to disgorge a bottle of Blanc de Blancs and select the dosage level, which determines the final level of sweetness of the wine, to suit our own personal taste. We donned our protective goggles for the disgorgement process but thankfully we had winemaker Keith Hock supervising us so nothing went wrong. I am happy to report my disgorgement went smoothly and when it came time to select the dosage level I decided to attempt to approximate the wine Schramsberg custom produces for the The French Laundry, a low dosage sparkler meant to pair perfectly with oysters and shellfish. After adding the dosage to the wine, I got to cork and label my very own bottle: I’m really looking forward to enjoying the one and only bottle of Cuvée Miskew!

After lunch we explored the Future and Sparkling Wine on our Tables led once again by the fabulous Holly Peterson which expanded on the pairings we had studied the day before. The wines featured this time were the Schramsberg 2009 Brut Rosé and the 2005 Schramsberg Reserve. To pair with our wines were samples of Beef tatake with a variety of sides and sauced including lime wedge, ginger beurre blanc, tomato concasse, yozu koshu spicy sauce, marjoram infused olive oil and Béarnaise sauce. Some surprising favorites of this class included the brut rosé paired with the beef and lime wedge as well as the tomato concasse and basil. My favorite with the 2005 Reserve was the beef and ginger beurre blanc and the Béarnaise sauce. Prior to this exercise I had always personally enjoyed sparkling wine with beef but it was interesting to take the time to figure out which combinations make the best pairings.

Once we had completed this tasting we were faced with a challenge! We were divided into teams and each one had to come up with a 5 course tasting menu to pair with a selection of Schramsberg wines. We had alot of fun in the process and their were some extremely creative pairings and when it came time to reveal the winning team – I’m happy to report we came in second place!

Following the competition, our last official Camp activity, we all said our goodbyes as some Campers headed to the airport and others headed to other vinous destinations. Camp Schramsberg was an amazing experience I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys sparkling wine. 2013 marked the 18th year they have been hosting the Camp and they’ve really developed an excellent program that can accommodate any level of wine knowledge – just come hungry to learn! For those of you who live in South Florida I’m also happy to report I’ll be hosting a dinner with Hugh Davies at 32 East in downtown Delray Beach on Tuesday, November 12th. Come enjoy a selection of Schramsberg’s  sparkling wines as well as their critically acclaimed J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon paired with a mouth watering menu prepared by the fabulous Chef Nick Morfogen. For more information or to make reservations please click here.