Wine, the State Fair, and what pairs well with Twinkies

Mike Dunne, the former longtime wine and food critic for The Bee, shared his thoughts about the State Fair’s wine competition and the enjoyments that wine in general can provide during a live chat on Wednesday.

His comments and answers to questions posed by chat participants provided further insights about the state of wine in California and how he best enjoys the many versions of the drink that blesses this region.

The following are excerpts from the hourlong session:

Question: What wine goes best with a deep-fried Twinkie?

Mike Dunne: If I were to get a deep-fried Twinkie – are they still around? – I’d head for the nearest beer stand, not the Wine Garden. But if you are serious about exploring such a wine/food pairing, seek out a sweeter white zinfandel, gewurztraminer or riesling.

Question: Price point seems to be one of the gauges people use when picking wines. Is there a range where you can find reliable good wines without going broke?

MD: You generally aren’t going to go wrong in the $12-$15 price range, especially when you look to imported wines, still the source of a disproportionate share of bargains.

Question: Do you ever get tired of wine and grab a bottle of beer instead? If so, what beers do you like?

MD: It isn’t so much as getting tired of wine as just welcoming a change of pace, especially in the summer. My default beer is Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, but I enjoy picking up and trying other ales, especially from the immediate area.

Question: Napa or Sonoma?

MD: Like ’em both, Napa largely for cabernet sauvignon, Sonoma for zinfandel, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon. Napa is compact and easy to get around, at least on weekdays, while Sonoma has a more varied climate and terrain, complicating – in a fun way – the search for enjoyable wines.

Question: Rosé is my default summer beverage. What’s your favorite rosé in California?

MD: Right now it’s the Pedroncelli Winery 2013 Sonoma County Dry Creek Valley Dry Rose of Zinfandel ($12), the State Fair’s Best-of-Show Pink Wine. Fun story here: The Pedroncellis have been making this wine for 60 years, but this is the first time it’s won a high award at the State Fair, though the 1956 or 1957 version did medal. The 2013 is all snappy strawberry fruit, perfect for summer.

Question: I really, really want to love big red wines (cabernet sauvignon, etc.), but I generally really love pinot noirs and less-challenging varietals. Does that make me sort of a wine philistine?

MD: Not at all. Go with what you enjoy. Besides, there’s some evidence to suggest that American consumers may be a bit burned out on bigger wines and are drifting to the pinot noirs, sangioveses and merlots.

Question: What varietal really showed strong at the State Fair competition? Was there one that was head and shoulders above the rest?

MD: It was interesting that two cabernet sauvignons tied for best take on the varietal, one from Sonoma County (B.R. Cohn 2009 Sonoma Valley Olive Hill Estate), one from Napa Valley (Sterling Vineyards 2010 Platinum), which will continue to fuel the debate over which region does best by cabernet.

Question: Are there guidelines that make basic sense for picking what wine to serve with dinner?

MD: The simplest and most accurate rule is to consider the weight of both the dish and the wine, and by weight I mean overall anticipated intensity. With lighter dishes go with lighter wine, like pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc; with heavier dishes go with wines like zinfandel, syrah, tannat, petite sirah and cabernet sauvignon.

Question: State Fair food question: What wine would go well with egg roll on a stick with pink sauce?

MD: Go with something sweet, like the State Fair’s Best of Show Value Wine, the Fetzer Vineyards 2011 Valley Oaks Moscato, so cheap you will have enough change for another egg roll.

Go to to see the complete live chat replay.

More on wine:

•  Interactive: State Fair wine winners

•  Wine articles by Mike Dunne

Call The Bee’s Brian Blomster, (916) 326-5512. Follow him on Twitter @b_blomster.

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