The Cicerone vs. The Sommelier @ Surf & Sand Resort

Oct 3

If I were to place an apple and an orange in front of you and ask, “which is better?” you’d probably say, “that’s a dumb metaphor” and promptly throw them at my head. Deservedly so. Both have varieties that span different visual, aroma and flavor profiles. Scientifically speaking, both pack different acidity, sugar content and nutrition. From a physics standpoint, both would bounce off my face in a similar trajectory when thrown at a high rate of speed.

Now, If I were to put a cluster of cabernet grapes, bag of fresh malted barley and a fistful of fresh whole cone hops in front of you, the question of “which is better” becomes insanely intricate. Forget for one minute that wine and beer have thousands of variables that affect the final flavor. Each of these  relies on the perfect setting, the perfect food, the perfect company and the perfect beverage to bring its spirit alive. Having each component at its peak, one can truly judge “which is better.”


Surf & Sand Resort. Photos by Greg Nagel

So when I saw that the Surf & Sand Resort in Laguna Beach was hosting a beer vs. wine event, I figured the results would be skewed heavily towards wine, especially as it was marketed as a “Stone Brewing vs. Constellation Wine Brands” event. I give Stone all the credit in the world, but their selection of high IBU palate wreckers aren’t necessarily the first thing I would grab to accompany five courses of noted Chef David Fuñe’s fresh and adventurous fare.

On arrival, my preconceived notions of an overall stuffy event were shattered by a two words on a poster at the entrance: Master Pairings. “Is Dr. Bill Sysak here?” I Bieber-shrieked. “Indeed he is; welcome!” On the wine side, certified wine sommelier Scott Young was prepared to do battle with beer in this gorgeous seaside setting.

The Surf & Sand resort is a landmark hotel on the south side of Laguna Beach. Once party to Nixon’s press core when the president relaxed in his San Clemente getaway, reporters like Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Diane Sawyer could be seen doing reports from this lush seaside getaway. All the attention from the news at the time was largely responsible for transforming the town from a hippie artist village to a noted tourist destination. Today, its charm remains simple with large cushioned patio areas, a beachside view from every angle and flames blazing away the chilled sea air.

Pairing beverages with chef Fuñe’s cuisine is no easy task. I imagine him laughing maniacally in his kitchen laboratory like a mad genius tinkering with molecular gastronomy. With courses like a salad ‘sopa’ served in a test tube, a ravioli topped with a translucent bacon-rollup and a dessert of red chocolate pavé with cow’s blood pot du crème, I’m sure Dr. Bill and Scott lost sleep over what to pair.

After each course, beer or wine was circled and dropped into a hat. Although I’m heavily biased  toward beer, I can honestly say the decisions were harder than expected. With great wines like Robert Mondavi Pino Noir Reserve 2011 battling Lost Abbey’s Lost and Found, for example, the margin for ‘excellent vs world class’ is what we’re being treated to… On the last pairing, beaching a 2008 Stone IRS whale vs. a Saved Red Blend wine is where I knew beer had won.


Dr. Bill Sysak, Chef David Fuñe and Scott Young

Overall, we were treated to a gorgeous view with waves crashing nearby, five courses of inventive delicious food, delightful and talented table guests and some of the finest beverages in the world. I’m sure we will all lose sleep thinking about this great experience. Oh, you want the score? Beer won four courses to one.

Wine took course four to my surprise. The thick mouthfeel of the duck leg and egg yolk was a good match for the beer, cleansing the palate. The wine slid over it, creating an even more full mouthfeel. Perhaps people were taken aback by beer in a can, even Scott Young joked that his wine he paired was “aged in cans” to everyone’s laughter.


Course 1

1) Salad ‘Sopa’ with blood orange, radish, anise and añejo tequila
b) Stone Brewing Co. Cali Belgique IPA
w) Ruffino Prosecco

2) Cold ‘Raviolis’ belgian endive, bacon mousse, apple
b) Liefmans Goudenband
w) Franciscan “Equilibrium” White blend 2012.

3) Scallops – crystallized tomato, parmesan, lemon creme
b) Lost Abbey Lost and Found dubbel
w) Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Reserve 2011


Course 2

4) Duck Inspired by Dr. Seuss – slow poached egg, leg of Moulard, cilantro, mushrooms
b) Oskar Blues Old Chub Scotch Ale
w) Franciscan Magnificat Meritage 2010

5) Red Chocolate Pavé – pot du crème, blood orange, candied bacon tuille
b) Stone Brewing Imperial Russian Stout 2008
w) Saved Red Blend 2010

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