Underdog Wine Bar at Concannon Vineyards
Story and Photos by Deborah Grossman
The Restaurant at the Wente Vineyards event center is the alpha dog of winery dining in Livermore Valley with its half-acre organic garden and 25-year history of white-tablecloth cuisine. But Underdog Wine Bar at Concannon Vineyards has established its own fan base for casual social gatherings, happy-hour noshing, and full-on, tapas-style meals.
Photos of James Concannon, founder of the first Irish winery in America, and labels depicting the winery’s 131-year history adorn the walls of the corridor leading from the tasting room to the lounge area. The wine bar, with its casual seating, exudes an urban ambiance, which invites guests to share savory or sweet bites and wine flights from over 30 wines by the glass. The atmosphere on the patio is pure wine country with views of the vineyards, picnic lawn, and historic Concannon home.
Chef Christopher Corey is responsible for the food and menu at Underdog. An East Bay native, with culinary school and many professional posts under his belt, Corey is now the site chef at Underdog with the winery’s culinary partner, On the Vine Catering of Livermore.
“It’s great to be home where I can select from nearby purveyors. We get farm-fresh produce from Terra Bella Farms in Sunol. Our olive oil is from The Olivina which is five miles away. Fra’ Mani in Berkeley supplies excellent salumi,” says Corey.
Terra Bella’s organic produce comprises much of the “greens” course on the menu. Shawn Seufert, owner of Terra Bella, likes interacting with the Underdog culinary team. “They take almost everything we have in season, from tomatoes to eggplant and squash. They are the type of restaurant that asks, ‘What’s new? What’s fresh?’ and works around what we are harvesting.”
Corey changes the menu every six weeks based on what Terra Bella and R&D Farms in Reedley can provide. When R&D delivered flats of white peaches and nectarines, Corey simmered the fruit with Martinelli’s cider to make a fruit compote without additional sweetener. The sweet-tart compote served as a condiment for the cheese board selection, popping the flavor of the soft, mild, hard, and sharp cheeses.
Corey honored Underdog general manager Gina Stiriti’s preference for vegetables by devising a mixed salad with a panoply of local, seasonal produce, such as red bell peppers, edamame, apples, arugula, and almonds in a refreshing sherry vinaigrette. “This salad is my lunch staple and popular with guests. But the flatbread with garlic cream, white cheddar, mozzarella, oregano, and crisp sopressata—without veggies—is the top seller.”
Patrons enjoy both local, sustainable food and international selections. The might choose a nosh of “bits”—olives; roasted Central Valley almonds flavored with thyme, extra virgin olive oil, and lemon pepper—or order cheese and meat boards enhanced with local nuts and fruits.
The menu also offers “greens,” “shareables,”and “sweets.” Among the early summer shareables was ricotta gnocchi, an airy light rendition of the Italian specialty in a locally sourced pea-basil pesto with cherry tomatoes, pea shoots, and Parmigiano Reggiano. Corey gave the pesto a California touch by replacing the pine nuts with Central Valley almonds.
Heartier options include a Spain-inspired braise of California leg of lamb with small pan-roasted potatoes, broccolini, romesco sauce, toasted almonds, and Manchego cheese. The dish simmers overnight in a light lamb stock. Olive oil-poached tuna sliders are accompanied by avocados, onion sprouts, and lemon aioli. Desserts include pecan and dark chocolate truffles and a lemon meringue deconstructed “pie.”
The Underdog beverage menu reinforces the local theme. For instance, the “Neighborhood” flight might feature wines from such Livermore Valley wineries as Cuda Ridge Wines, Occasio Winery, and Wood Family Vineyards. A recommended pairing for the braised lamb is a red blend from Livermore’s Page Mill Winery.
Given that Underdog is located next to the tasting room and steps from the modern winery, a range of Concannon Vineyard wines such as Crimson and Clover, Petite Sirah, and Chardonnay is offered. Concannon is part of The Wine Group, the second largest wine company in the U.S. by volume with over 40 brands. •
Underdog Wine Bar at Concannon Vineyards
4590 Tesla Rd, Livermore
Leek and Basil Pesto
Here’s what Chef Corey might be serving on the Underdog gnocci this fall.
4 bunches basil
2 leeks, white parts cleaned and chopped in small pieces
⅔ cup Parmigiano Reggiano
2 lemons, juiced
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine first 4 ingredients in blender.
With blender running, slowly pour in oil until desired consistency is reached. Add salt and pepper to taste.