The Good Life: Let's Grape & Gourmet –
and Wine & Dine

It's maybe the most common question from anyone who drinks wine, whether they're collectors or just folks who have a glass with dinner: What wine should I drink?

It comes in varying forms. The too-cool-for-the-wine-bar types make it sound faux sophisticated, and if they're really annoying, they'll bring up vineyard angles or ph levels or something just to sound all smarty-pants. But it all really boils down to "Help me find me something I will like."

Here's the thing, no one can. You have to find it yourself, because taste is personal and quirky, and even if some of the best wine judges in California like something, that doesn't mean you will.

However, an award-winning wine is a pretty good place to start, which is why the California Grape & Gourmet festival coming in July is a fun and useful food-and-wine event.

First off, it's a food-and-wine festival. Winner right there. But what makes this one special is all the wines being poured – and there will be about 600 of them – will be medal winners from the 2009 California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition. This is where anyone can find a few wines they'll like.

"You can close your eyes, stick out your glass, and you're guaranteed to get poured a medal-winning wine. How great is that?" said G.M. "Pooch" Pucilowski, the chief judge for the State Fair wine competition and the man behind Grape & Gourmet.

Let's pause for a couple points of disclosure. The Bee is one of the sponsors of Grape & Gourmet. Doesn't matter. I still like it.

Also, I was a guest judge one day during the competition and I have a new, even greater respect for what those people go through, particularly for the wines that win gold.

Back to the festival. It's July 9, runs 5:30 to 9 p.m., costs $50 in advance or $70 at the door, and because it keeps growing, has been moved to the Sacramento Convention Center for more space.

This is a big-deal wine event, but food is a huge part, too, with about 90 of Northern California's better restaurants supplying food to go along with the wines being poured.

That's something Pooch – everyone calls the cheerful and enthusiastic Pucilowski "Pooch" – is also proud of.

"I don't know any kind of wine tasting in California that brings in so many restaurants," he said. "Think about it, 80 or 90 of the top restaurants from all over Northern California. That's a pretty good thing."

Did I mention Pooch is enthusiastic?

With the move to the Convention Center this year, organizers are pairing with some Sacramento business groups to try to persuade attendees from out of town, or just from out of the central city, to consider making a weekend of it. Or even a week.

One big link with that is Sacramento Wine & Dine Week, running from July 4 to 12, which has more than 40 restaurants from throughout the area offering three- and four-course meals with regional cuisine, and each course is paired with medal-winning wines.

For Wine & Dine Week, the prices are different at each eatery and generally run $35 to $50 per person – for food and wine. The restaurants include Biba, Esquire Grill, Mason's and Grange in the city core to Gönül's J Street Café in east Sacramento, Hawks Restaurant in Granite Bay and Crush 29 in Roseville. There are loads more; for the full list, with menus, wines and prices, go to or call the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau at (916) 808-7777.

That's another good way to try some wines you might like, by the way, because food-and-wine pairings show a lot about the qualities and the balance in a wine, and, I'll argue, drinking wine with food on your plate is the best way to play this game.

For sheer volume, though, there are few opportunities for pairings or just tastings like Grape & Gourmet.

This is the 13th annual public festival, but it actually started about two decades ago as an event for the wine press and trade to announce the State Fair medal winners and to introduce some good wines to sellers and distributors.