Sunday, May 8, 2011

ON THE ROAD AGAIN IN SONOMA - Pt.1 - Kendall-Jackson

Part One
Kendall-Jackson Wine Center

Last year, Richard and I, along w/ my brother Bob and his wife Nguyen, enjoyed a ‘long and wine-ing road’ tour in Sonoma.  In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we decided to do it again this year.  So many wineries, so little time.  Our first stop was the beautiful Kendall-Jackson Wine Center estate - a lovely villa w/ its beautifully appointed tasting room enveloped in butter yellow walls, slate floor and white-washed beamed ceiling w/  huge brass chandeliers.   

Paul & Richard at the tasting bar

A stove fireplace was crackling (it was a cool, rainy day) and people were gathered along the long wooden tasting bar or sitting at individual tables enjoying the wine or a wine pairing.  A romantic table for two on a balcony above overlooked the room…

As we stood at the bar sipping the wine and chatting w/ our tasting barista, we were asked if we’d like to take part in a private food/wine pairing in a VIP room “upstairs.”  We were all over this idea like ‘just-popped’ champagne fizzing from the bottle.

Kendall-Jackson’s Executive Chef Justin Wangler, Chef Matt Lowe, and Wine Educator Dale Cullins offered two pairing choices:  cheese or food.  Bob’s friend Paul (visiting from Connecticut) and I chose the cheese – Richard and Bob, the food.  Nguyen, our designated driver, didn’t take part in the wine half of the pairing, but took photos and had a few of the culinary ‘tastes’ as Dale and Matt told us about each wine and the food that Matt had prepared and I took notes.

 Me taking notes, Matt s'plaining & Paul listening

Bob sipping
cheese pairing close-up

Paul and I started w/ the 2009 Grand Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($20) paired w/ Delice de la Vallee from the Epicurean Connection - a soft and creamy cow and goat’s milk blend cheese (sort of a fromage blanc).  I’m not a white wine ‘blanc’ kind of girl, but this wine was lovely.  Not too ‘thin.’  And it really went well w/ the ‘fromage blanc.’

Next up for us was a 2008 Jackson Hills Chardonnary ($25) made from 100% new and old French oak barrels.  The cheese?  California Crottin from Redwood Hill Farm, a dense goat’s milk cheese w/ a wonderful ‘husky’ aroma.  An adult cheese that went beautifully w/ this delicious ‘adult’ wine.

Then it was time for the 2009 Vintner’s Reserve Riesling ($12) w/ a residual sugar level of 2.1- making it a nice 'dry' wine.  This time we had Carmody, a Jersey cow’s milk cheese from Bellwether Farms w/ a hint of caramel and a strong milk flavor.  Yum.

For our next ‘tasting’ Dale had poured a smooth 2006 Grand Reserve Syrah ($25) served w/ Estero Gold, a raw cow’s milk cheese from the Valley Ford Cheese Company which was aged for 3 months in its natural rind to enhance its buttery flavor.  I fell in love at first bite… and sip.

And I continued to fall truly, madly, deeply in love sipping the velvety 2005 Highland Estates Trace Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon ($70), a gem of a wine (if it really were a gem, it definitely would be a multi-carat rich, red ruby) was paired w/ Capricious, a semi-firm, toasty-flavored goat’s milk cheese w/ a slight crumbly texture and a wonderful pungent, cheesy aroma from the Achadinha Cheese Company.  Now this was a pairing!  A little ‘label’ note:  Trace Ridge got its name from the ‘trace’ animals leave on a path… or is that too much information? ;o)

Last, but not least was the winery’s 2006 Late Harvest Chardonnay ($25), a sweet dessert wine that went beautifully w/ Point Reyes Blue from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.  This cheese boasted a slight salty flavor that some claim comes from coastal fog and was aged for 6 months for the blue ‘veins’ to deepen in color and flavor.

A little ‘sustainable’ food note:  All the cheeses served to us came from a 20-30 miles radius from the winery.

To ‘cleanse our palate,’ Paul and I were given Kendall-Jackson Pinot noir Verjus Jello and a side of nuts & honey.  Not your supermarket My-T-Fine, but definitely mighty fine.

For the first two ‘food’ and wine pairing, Richard and Bob began w/ the 2009 Avant Chardonnay, served w/ a perfectly cooked Jerusalem artichoke latke (not your everyday Passover latke) w/ that Delice de laVallee cheese and a smidgen of salmon gravlax.  The wine was crisp and clean, yet had “gravitas” (well, something had to go w/ “gravlax”).  I, of course, had a sip and loved it.
Next they had that same 2008 Jackson Hills Chardonnay that Paul and I had savored, but theirs was paired w/ a dreamy, creamy spring green garlic soup.  I was green w/ envy.

Two more pairings followed.

1. The 2006 Highland Estates Alisos Hills Syrah along w/ a Neiman Ranch pork belly slider brined in sweet tea and served w/ a syrah BBQ sauce.  Both boys fell in love w/ this wine and this slider.

2.  It was now their turn for the high elevation, 2005 Highland Estates Trace Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon which went perfectly w/ the cabernet-braised oxtail and creamy grits (stone-ground grits from the Old Mill of Guilford in North Carolina).  Tasting doesn’t get any better than that.  And how do I know?  Because Richard shared a small bite… a very small bite.

Time for dessert.  First, a pairing of 2007 Late Harvest Riesling w/ a buttermilk pecan tart w/ Ruthie’s Meyer Lemon Curd… a southern-style buttermilk pie filling baked w/ pecans in a brown butter tart.  A sweet feast, and a sweet feat because the Meyer lemon curd and dried apricots in white verjus perfectly complemented the citrus in the wine, and…

…Second - they, too, had the “dessert” 2006 Late Harvest Chardonnay whimsically served w/ Mama Frischkorn’s Caramel Corn from an old family recipe… More sweets for the sweet.

To finish the tale of wine and food, Matt and Dale told us that Kendall-Jackson would soon be making grapeseed oil and offered a taste. The oil had a rich, nutty taste and a beautiful, dark green color… and still we weren’t finished!  Before we left for the day, Matt wanted us to try the winery’s non-vintage port w/ a piece of dark chocolate.  Who were we to say no?

Sated and happy, we thank Matt and Dale

Matt, Richard, Dale

then left 'singing in the rain' as we danced around the lawn to our car.

So, if you ever find yourself in Sonoma run, don’t walk, to the Kendall-Jackson Wine Center estate for one of their incredible pairings.  The wines – delicious.  The food – divine.  The expectations fulfilled!

For more info & wine prices, contact:

Kendall-Jackson Winery
5007 Fulton Road
Fulton CA 95439

Sadly, the morning after our tasting, the winery's founder, Jess Jackson, passed away.  We thank him for his wonderful legacy.

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