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Red Rock Wines Dinner

Yes, I know… I owe updates. The rest of the Portugal trip was phenomenal… except for the whole getting sick bit. Rule number 10 of travel – if it’s a long enough trip, someone in the group will get sick. It happened to both of us last year, and this year was my lucky year… again. I managed to stave off the worst of it until we got home, but I felt like I’d been hit by a truck by the time we got back, and of course, there was a pile of work waiting for me on top of that.

I’ve been putting my (half-delirious) notes together and will be doing the rest of the trip this week. Before then, though, we were fortunate enough to enjoy a winemaker dinner at Marche Bacchus tonight which featured wines distributed in the Vegas area by Red Rock Wines

Initially, I was a little hesitant to attend this dinner, since the wine list was pretty heavy on California cabs, and I’m sort of afraid of them, but I know Allen from Red Rock and I like and trust his taste, and the menu did look fantastic, so we signed up and I’m so glad I did.

Rule #1 of wine – get to know the people selling, distributing and importing in your area. You will find people who have a passion for wine and who will introduce you to knew and fantastic things that you wouldn’t find otherwise. Rule #2 – drink whatever comes your way. Even if you don’t love it, you’ll learn to appreciate why other people do and it will at least be educational.

For last night’s dinner, Allen showcased the wines and winemakers from three Napa-area wineries which were mostly excellently paired with Chef Jean Paul Labadie’s food.

The first course was a seared scallop with wasabi gnocchi, crab meat, baby bok choy and soy buerre blanc which was pared with Donum Estate Chardonnay. I was unsure what to expect with this wine. Chard can be a phenomenal wine or it can be an over-oaked mess. This was clearly and firmly in the first group. Anne Moller-Racke is the President and wine grower of the firm and she brings a very European style to her wine making. The wine was very delicate, well balanced and full of a wonderfully mineral acidity that is untypical of a California chardonnay. The nose was crisp, clean and fruity with hints of green and custard apple, lychee and a very soft vanilla from judicious use of oak. It has a full, silky very round mouth feel and a nice, bracing acidity on the finale which balances the wine very well. It was a fantastic food wine, and the buerre blanc sauce with the sweet seared scallop was a nice match.

The second course was also from Donum: a 2006 Pinot Noir which was served with pepper crusted tuna, duck pastrami, chestnuts and Brussels sprouts in a roasted butternut squash puree. The Pinot was simply phenomenal, my favorite wine of the evening. I knew it was going to be good as soon as it was poured since it had the lovely, light, bright color of a good Burgundian Pinot. The nose was very characteristic of the grape with strong pepper, forest fruit and earth notes. The pepper carried through in the mouth, along with soft, ripe red raspberries, pomegranate, candied violet, spice and cigar box. As in the chard, the tannins and fruit were in good balance and the wine was handled well in the barrel so that the wood and age added to the structure and fruit instead of overwhelming it.

The most fun thing about going to a winemaker dinner is getting to hear the back story of the wine. While we were waiting for the tuna to be served, Anne told us a bit about the wine and her style as a grower. She described Pinot as a “feminine” grape, “behind the veil” and like a “watercolor”. Her winegrower style is one that I respect – very focused on the grape, on the farming and on the year. As this wine developed it became clear to her, she said, that this wine wanted to be a very “site-specific” wine. It admirably demonstrates those qualities along with very deft and subtle handling in the barrel which really lets the grape and the growth shine.

The third course was definitely the food standout of the evening – braised veal short ribs over a winter vegetable ragout which was served with Relic Artefact Cabernet Sauvignon. Now, as I said above, I’m somewhat afraid of California Cab. It’s usually over-extracted, too fruity, too oaky, too tiring, just… too much of everything so that it gets old very quickly. I’ve been known to use words like “jello shot” to describe Napa cabs.

Mike Hirby is the winemaker for both the Relic wines and the Winter Estate wines which followed, and he clearly knows what he’s about. The tagline for Relic is “modern wine the old way” and that shows clearly in the glass. Cab is a big grape with a lot of punch in it, and the Artefact showcases the best of that. In the glass, the Artefact is deep, inky purple with a strong, well-defined rim. The nose is big, muscular and potent with notes of ripe black cherry, blackberry and smoke. If Anne’s Pinot was a feminine watercolor, Mike’s Cab was a Jackson Pollock, strong, bold and very, very masculine. The nose is rich and somewhat mentholated strongly backed by cedar and chocolate overtones. This follows through on the palate along with the fruit and spice. This is California Cab the way it should be. It’s definitely a new-world wine and one structured for a modern and American palate, but you can tell that the methods are old-world and that this fruit is an expression of the terroir of California, with lots of sun, long days and cool nights leaving a big, bold, characteristically American brightness in the mouth. This wine is definitely a keeper and it was very, very well enhanced by the veal. The shortribs were braised fork-tender and, like the wine, mostly left alone, complimented with a light au jus and simply roasted baby carrots and parsnip. This was, by far, the best food/wine pair of the night because the fat in the shortribs rounded out some of the aggressive tannin in the still young wine and the richness of the wine cut through the fat so that the whole thing was just perfectly harmonized.

The fourth course was a mini-vertical of Winter 2006 and 2007 Cabernet. Tasting both side-by-side shows the remarkable consistency and quality that the winemaker was able to achieve. This is very much a Napa Cab, but in a really good way. This wine shows a strong sense of place, with lots of big fruit and a rich ripe lush quality that comes from Napa. The best word to describe this wine is sensual – lush, rich fruit; a big, round silky mouth and very soft and supple and almost fleshy tannins. The 2006 obviously had a year of bottle age over the 2007, so it’s currently drinking a bit better, but I could see where the 2007 is going, and in a few years, I think it will surpass the 06 in quality. If big California Cabs are your thing, snap these up now – the 07 is still unrated, but the 06 was scored 90-93 by Parker and I thought the 07 was a stronger wine overall, so I’d anticipate a score increase on this wine. It’s drinking well now, but keeping this for 10 years will reward the patient person richly.

Overall, this was one of the better structured winemaker dinners I’ve been to. Jeff from Marche Bacchus and Allen from Red Rock brought together a fantastic group of winemakers which show that California really is capable of producing quality wines and handling them very, very well. We added a few bottles of wine to our cellar tonight, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow up.

I’ll be tasting more of Allen’s wines tonight because he was kind enough to let me barge in to his portfolio tasting. I’m looking forward to tasting through some more of his offerings.

Filed under: food, red, white, wine

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