Terre Rouge Wines

New Cuisine & Wine Pairing

Terre Rouge Wines

Many people are eating differently now than they did ten to 15 years ago, emphasizing greens and grains in their diets at the expense of meat. Whether this way of eating is called Nouveau Cuisine, California Cuisine, or New American Cuisine, or simply a determination to frequent farmers’ markets and eat fresher, better locally grown vegetables, the label becomes less important as the practice becomes more pervasive. Chef and cookbook author Jane O’Riordan is co-owner of Terre Rouge with her husband, winemaker Bill Easton. They were part of a new wave that established wineries in the Sierra Foothills in the 1980s, and today Terre Rouge is one of the most prestigious in Amador County, specializing in the Rhone varieties along with Zinfandel and Barbera, among the traditional varieties of the area since the Gold Rush. So the old adage “drink red wine with red meat and white wine with white meat” no longer serves as an adequate food and wine pairing guide when vegetables and grains are the focus of the meal or when Latin American, Asian, or Indian flavors infuse a main course. Jane O’Riordan enthusiastically embraces the new pairing challenge and simplifies the issue for the rest of us in this conversation, slightly edited for clarity.

How did you train to become a chef?

I traveled to France and then worked in restaurants here in California. But I got real hands-on experience when we opened Solano Cellars and Bistro Solano Cellars in Berkeley 30 years ago. It was a combination of retail, wine bar, and food. There are a lot of places in California and other cities in other states like that now, but at the time, it was unique. It was styled after Parisian wine bars, 14 stools at a big mahogany bar and three side tables. I did small plates that changed every week, depending on which wines Bill featured at the wine bar. When we moved up here to start the winery, I started a catering business that I’ve had for many years, lots of weddings and winery events. Then some friends opened Café d’Oro in Sutter Creek, and I helped to get it opened, but not as a permanent thing. For the first eight months, I developed their menu and trained people, and then they hired a chef. That was fun. I enjoyed doing it.

Where does red wine fit for people who are eating more vegetables?

There are lots of different issues here. Barriers have broken down with traditional wine and food pairings. I think it’s more about picking out and matching flavors in the wine to flavors in the food. It’s more spice oriented, not so much about meat but whether you’re doing Moroccan spices, or olive tapenade, or going with curry, something with spice. So that’s what I play with a lot. Many of our Syrahs have what I call the Moroccan/Mediterranean spice box, a lot of cumin, paprika, and chili flavors. And those wines work really well with ratatouille that’s made with grilled vegetables, or vegetable tangine with couscous that has meat or doesn’t have meat. I cook a lot of chicken tangine with olives and tomatoes and spicy components. I do a lot of sea food dishes that pair with red wine too. It’s more about how you spice and flavor foods. Our Terre Rouge label is all French Rhone varieties, and our Easton label is Zinfandel, Barbera, Cabernet, and Sauvignon Blanc. Rhone varieties are good with dishes that have Mediterranean and Southern French flavors or Spanish and Moroccan flavors.

Where does Zinfandel fit in? Often it’s not a food friendly wine.

Zinfandel is an easy one. Once again, it’s about the spice in the food. If the wine is fruit driven, round, you do different things than with our Fiddletown Zin, which is more black pepper and berry and does really well with other spices. So it depends on the wine and the food. But I tell people to try things and see what works for them. You can say, yeah Zinfandel is great with such and such, but there are different styles of zinfandel. And the very high alcohol ones don’t pair with anything. But I think we’re seeing a trend back to more finesse in wines, which is what we’ve always done, wines that are balanced, that speak for themselves and the places where they come from. We make seven different Syrahs because they’re all from different sites and all taste slightly different. Those heavy, over the top, more extracted wines that a lot of people make, they’re too clunky. They don’t work with food.

White wine is great with most any vegetable dish, but people seem to be less interested in whites now.

White wines can be a foil to something spicy. Our Enigma blend, our Marsanne, or Rousanne can be fantastic matches. Any of the white Rhone varietals can handle curried vegetables with rice. The classic wine with spicy food is Riesling. Our wines are all dry, but the Enigma is fruitier and probably works the best of the three with spicy food. I’ll drink white wine instead of beer with Mexican food, depending on the dish. And you’ve also got Rose` instead of a white wine. I think Rose` is a great, versatile wine. We drink it all year round. What I mean by versatile is that you can have a glass as an aperitif while you’re cooking dinner, but it goes with a variety of foods, both fish and vegetable dishes. Because it’s made from red grapes, it has some of the flavor profile that a red wine does, but it’s lighter, cold and crisp, a great summertime wine with grilled foods. But there will be people who say they don’t drink Rosé or even white wine. I don’t understand that. There again it’s about educating them and about what their experience has been with white wines. I see restaurant lists with alternative whites other than California Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, which people know best. Other whites are always more interesting. You could choose an Austrian white, or the Rhone whites, Rousanne, Viognier, or Grenache Blanc, or some kind of Riesling. Those are more interesting because they generally have more acidity, more balance. They match with food. I think people who are really into wine drink white wine. People who think red wine is the only serious wine…. I don’t know. I definitely see a lot of interesting white wines out there in restaurants. And if the weather is warm, I’m going to drink a chilled white wine.

What do you prepare on a daily basis at home that you can whip together in a half hour?

You’ll see some of my recipes on the website. Some are complicated but most are not. I love all kinds of greens, chard, escarole mixed in with grains like faro and barley and rice. You can do a really nice salad with greens and rice and fresh tomatoes, garbanzo beans, or little white beans. In the summertime, I grow a small garden and get a lot of vegetables from the farmers’ market. My version of ratatouille is grilled. I grill eggplant, squash, and peppers, cut them all into chunks, and let them sweat together in a bowl. They don’t cook beyond that. They’re tossed with olive oil, balsamic, and salt. Then I throw in a bunch of arugula, some small tomatoes, and toss it all, so it’s like a warm salad. You can heat it up or serve it at room temperature. You can serve it with a really nice rice pilaf with maybe a little grating of Manchego cheese and then on the side a little sausage or chicken breast. You could go either way on that meal with red or white wine. It’s really fresh with sort of Italian flavors. But whether or not there’s meat on the side, it doesn’t really matter. These are main dishes in themselves. We use meat more for flavoring. I might use bacon or pancetta or a little sausage in a dish, so it’s not like serving a big piece of meat. But certain wines really call out for meat if you get into our bigger Syrahs or bigger Zins. But in the summertime, I tend to avoid these big meals. For me, there’s always a plate of sliced tomatoes in the summertime with olive oil and lots of green salads. Where we are in Amador County, it’s difficult to get fresh fish, but once a week I go to the farmers’ market in Sacramento to buy it.

Farmers’ markets are pervasive throughout the country now. People in Pennsylvania can buy food and eat like Northern Californians. We have a problem with obesity in the country, but the remedy is presenting itself.

Farmers’ Markets are good, but they’re not inexpensive. People on a budget would have problems. But there are lots of other good markets. Asian grocery stores have great produce at inexpensive prices. People just have to learn to put more vegetables in their diets.

California Wines of the Month

Artisan Series

Terre Rouge Wines – 2008 Tête-à-Tête, Sierra Foothills

Winemaker Bill Easton’s Notes

Tête-à-Tête is our easy drinking assemblage of Mediterranean varietals, 56% Syrah, 34% Mouvedre, and 10% Grenache. We blend the wine with current drinkability in mind, for drinking both at home and as a restaurant pour. We generally put it together from our younger vines and our more fruit-forward barrel lots. This wine drinks better than most Cote-du-Rhone Villages bottlings, sappy, spicy, fabulous flavor, and great texture. It is an eminently enjoyable bottle. The 2008 has deep boysenberry fruit suggestions, a lengthy creamy texture, and complex smoky/meaty/gamey flavor components that emphasize our terroir. The 2008 Tête-à-Tête was aged for 16 months in a mixture of French oak barrels (alcohol 14.5%, pH 3.70, total acidity 6.2gm/liter).

Anna Maria’s Notes

Except for the most delicate dishes, this bright red Rhone blend will complement nearly any meal. It’s a natural choice for Mediterranean food, such as eggplant dishes, seafood stews, or grilled sausage. In a word, it’s a great summer red.

Terre Rouge Wines – 2008 Vin Gris d’Amador, Sierra Foothills

Winemaker Bill Easton’s Notes

Our 2008 bottling of Vin Gris has the dryness, richness, and terroir of the best French Rosé with 46% Grenache, 39% Mourvedre, and 15% Syrah. With a substantial amount of Mourvedre in this bottling, I think the wine is more reminiscent of Bandol Rosé than Tavel. We bleed some of our red Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah tanks to concentrate and intensify flavors. This juice goes into French barrels to ferment just like our other white wines. The wine has subtle cinnamon/nutmeg spiciness with tasty strawberry fruit characteristics. The 2008 Vin Gris is absolutely dry with a delicious creamy nuance and crisp bite. It is the perfect wine for a hot summer afternoon on the patio or at your favorite bistro. In France, it is practically a sacrilege to avoid drinking a glass of Rosé with your lunch at a café. It is time to bring this tradition to the United States. Vive le Rosé! (alcohol 13.5%, 3.45 pH, total acidity 6.5 gm/liter)

Anna Maria’s Notes

For those who have not yet been introduced the joys of Rosé, here’s an opportunity to enjoy. Although Rosé is considered a summer wine, Jane O’Riordan says that she and husband Bill Easton enjoy it all year round. If you think of Rosé as a different white wine, you’ll understand its concept. Europeans have always loved it, and California winemakers have always been enthusiasts. But those who connect it to White Zinfandel will be misled and happily surprised by what they find in this bottle. For an appetizer, check out Jane’s recipe for Goat Cheese with Sundried Tomatoes and Capers. Serve chilled as you would a white wine.

Winemaker Series

Terre Rouge Wines – 2007 L’Autre, Sierra Foothills

Winemaker Bill Easton’s Notes

L’Autre means “the other one.” This is now our top Rhone varietal blend of 73% Grenache, 15% Syrah, and 12% Mourvedre. It has replaced Noir, a wine that was based on an old Placer County Grenache site that met its demise in 2002. The Grenache for L’Autre is better clonal material, grown in what we consider to be a better location. The Duarte-Georgetown Vineyard is located at 2,500 feet elevation near the town of the same name. Its soils are decomposed red, granite that Grenache likes, with budwood from Chateau Rayas, Beaucastel, and the Priorat. The Mourvedre is harvested from a sandy, granite Coloma location. The Syrah is grown at one of our Shenandoah Valley vineyard sites. This 2007 is elegant, complex, and lively with Grenache plum and black cherry flavors, Mourvedre’s smoky gaminess, and Syrah’s powerful punch and richness. The Terre Rouge L’Autre is a dead ringer for a top Southern Rhone like Chateauneuf-du-pape or Gigondas (alcohol 14.5%, pH 3.75, total acidity 6.2 gm/liter).

Anna Maria’s Notes

The L’Autre Rhone blend is a soft, elegant wine with medium body but intense flavors that will complement many main courses, such as Jane’s Eggplant and Goat Cheese Tart among others.

Terre Rouge Wines – 2005 Syrah, Sentinel Oak Vineyard/Pyramid Block

Winemaker Bill Easton’s Notes

Our single vineyard Syrah is harvested from the oldest Syrah vineyard in the Sierra Nevada and one of the most famous Syrah sites in California. Each year it provides us with intensely luscious fruit. The vineyard is at 1,400 feet on a south-facing slope in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, right near our winery. The fruit was picked quite late in 2005 on 17 October at 25 brix, 3.45 pH, and 0.70 total acidity. This was a remarkably cool year, and the wines show a lot of finesse. The wine is dark in color with dense, deeply concentrated layered fruit aromas that are incredibly spicy. In the mouth, you’ll find concentrated framboise flavors, smoky wood tones, and fine tannins. Aged for 23 months in French oak barrels, 33% new Francois Freres, the wine is meaty, has great structure, and will age well (alcohol 14.5%, pH 3.48, total acidity 6.6 gm/liter).

Anna Maria’s Notes

One the website, Jane recommends this fine wine with Roast Pork Loin with Fig and Onion Compote. But she would also advise that we use our imaginations in terms of pairing. Obviously, this wine has big flavors so should be matched with deeply flavored foods.

Menu of the Month


Menu of the Month


Local cheese and olive plate, served with thinly sliced fresh baguettes

Main course

Skewered lamb, marinated in garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, & oregano,
grilled with halved red onions and tomatoes, brushed with olive oil and
cooked cut-side down. Served with tabouli and a Greek salad of tomatoes,
green & red bell peppers, finely sliced red onion, kalamata olives,
& dried oregano, dressed with olive oil & salt


Organic red leaf lettuce with thinly sliced red onions, coarsely chopped cilantro,
& radishes, dressed with olive oil-yogurt dressing


Strawberries, blueberries, & chopped fresh mint leaves, marinated in Triple Sec and
topped with a dollop of freshly whipped cream with lemon cookies served on the side

Recipe of the Month

Skewered lamb, marinated in garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, & oregano

I happen to be in love with lamb these days, but if you are less so, try this simple marinade with beef, chicken, or rabbit. This is the season for skewered meats, which you can cook in the oven on outside on the grill. In both cases, the serving is casual, the cooking time brief, and the flavors intense. Whether you’re the chef or the guest, nothing could be better, especially during the summer.


2 pounds very lean lamb, cut into large cubes

For the marinade:

1/4 cup olive oil

Juice of two lemons (regular lemons, not the hybrid Meyer lemon)

Two cloves of garlic, very finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt to taste


Marinate the lamb pieces over night or at least for six hours, occasionally turning in the marinade. When ready for cooking, press the meat pieces onto 4 stainless steel skewers, distributing the meat equally between them and slightly separating the pieces on the skewers. Cook on a grill, broil, or bake in 400 degree oven. Turn if grilling or broiling. Regardless of cooking method, cooking time will be approximately 15 minutes. Serve on a large platter with halved and grilled onions and tomatoes or garnish with parsley or oregano if you’re serving the meat alone.