Dunning Vineyards

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It feels like Christmas at my house every few weeks or so with new wine shipments arriving for my review.  I was especially thrilled to see 4 wines from Dunning Vineyards arrive last month: three reds and a white.

Dunning Vineyards is located in California.  Their vines live in the gnarly limestone hills west of Paso Robles and each wine is crafted in a unique vision of the perfect wine experience by owners Bob and JoAnn Dunning.

Wine this special need to be shared; so I scheduled them for a Womens Wine Council tasting. The Council is made up of 4 writers and 2 consumers.  Each person is assigned a dish to bring for a specific wine.   I could have guessed by what was sent which wine would be selected as the group’s favorite…but I was wrong, wrong, wrong.  This tasting reminds me that great wines can show up at any time despite  serious competition and pre-conceived notions.

Here’s the line-up and a recipe to go with the tasting.

2009 Estate Chardonnay ($24) : 100% Estate Grown & Bottled. Classic style of Barrel Fermented Chardonnay.  Fifty percent new French Oak with very tight grain producing round full-bodied flavors of rich vanilla, pear, citrus, mineral and nutmeg. 600 cases produced. Should age for 3-6 years.  Paired well with apricot sage crackers, Judee Smith’s Artichoke and Parmesan Dip, Sue Richter’s turkey lasagna, Corie Maue’s fontina pizza and persimmon wrapped in prosciutto with a touch of  Temecula olive Oil balsamic vinegar drizzled on it. Generally I am an ABC (anything but Chardonnay) girl but give me wines with mineral characteristics showcasing luscious fruit and you have my vote.  And as it turned out, it seemed to have everyone’s vote, as it came in first.  As one of our Council members remarked, “Who would ever think a Chardonnay could win in a Paso Robles tasting? “

2008 Estate Vin De Casa ($24) : 100% Estate Grown & Bottled. A classic style red table wine featuring a blend of 45% Cabernet Franc, 35% Zinfandel and 20% Syrah. It showcases great structure and balance between fruit and oak finishing with big Zinfandel fruit. The Cab Franc brings a wild berry and dark currant flavor to the wine.  The Zin adds raspberry, cocoa, and spice flavors.  The Syrah finishes the wine with structure & tannins.  Should age for 6-8 years. 425 cases.  Paired well with apricot sage crackers,  turkey lasagna, Carmen Micheli’s Midnight Espresso Cookies with salted caramel drizzle, and a wonderfully jazzy Orange Coast Winery Cranberry Tarragon Wine Dip brought by Debbie Wiens.  This wine came in third place.

2009 Estate Zinfandel "Ridge Top" ($28) : This rich and full-bodied wine is packed with classic Paso Zinfandel flavors of raspberry & spice. Produced from dry farmed vines from the top of the vineyard at 1400-foot elevations this wine aged in French and American oak is kind to the palate featuring soft tannins and rich concentrated flavors.  450 cases produced from a 2-acre block with a tiny production of 2 tons per acre. This wine made friends easily, pairing well with almost every dish on the table and came in second.

2009 Private Reserve Estate Zinfandel ($35) : This Reserve Zinfandel is big and full-bodied with great structure and balance.  Classic Zinfandel flavors of raspberry along with a rich spice and pepper framed in French Oak.  Expect some tannins. Head pruned to keep production low resulting in excellent grape quality. Limited production of 375 cases. Would go well with smoked ham or salty foods. We enjoyed it with salty pepitas (Spanish culinary term for pumpkin seed) and the Midnight Espresso cookies. This wine came in fourth.  With a little aging, this could be a big winner.

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Compliments of Dunning Vineyards
Recommended wine: Dunning Vineyards Chardonnay!


¾ Cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ Cup red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons coarse-grained mustard

4 large cloves minced garlic

2 ½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 large head romaine lettuce

4 roma tomatoes cut into wedges

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Combine & blend the first 5 ingredients. Remove ¾ cup of the mixture and use to marinate chicken.

Refrigerate for 1 hour or more.  Discard used marinate.

Grill chicken breasts on an oak wood, charcoal or gas BBQ.

Cut romaine into 1 inch pieces and add to salad bowl. Add tomatoes and remaining oil & vinegar mixture and toss to coat all ingredients.  Divide salad among 4 plates and top each with sliced grilled chicken breasts.  Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately.  Makes 4 portions