You don’t have to twist my arm to enjoy a wine pairing lunch at the famous Robert Mondavi Vineyards in Napa Valley. This is one of the reasons I work in this business: to have incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences more than once in a lifetime. This was a business trip, and we did discuss new products to bring into our stores, and then toured the winery and vineyards. We often forget to mention how beautiful nearly every winery is, a true work of art beyond the parallel rows of grapevines. You also have the roses, the fruit trees and the kitchen garden, which was the source of much of our lunch. This is California, the prime locale of the “locavore” movement, which is well represented in the vineyards, an agricultural enterprise that incorporates all aspects of agriculture not just viticulture.
After our tour we were treated to a well-considered lunch, prepared by winery chef, Jeff Mosher. Wine pairing is an art that borders on the fringes of science, but is far too subjective to employ just the scientific method. It has the chaotic subjectivity of art that brings together too many minutiae for the conscious mind to dissect, so you go with the flow. You trust that any wine pairing is better than no wine pairing at all, and if you match a few individual flavor components, rather than trying to match all flavors, you will be successful.
Our meal began with an amuse bouche of fresh English Pea Soup with a Spring Garlic Foam paired with the 2014 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc which was our “touring wine” and was light enough to harmonize with this very elegant starter. The next course was a Garden Greens Salad with Shaved Root Vegetables, Laura Chenel Goat Cheese, Red Beet Purée, Toasted Almonds with a preserved Lemon Vinaigrette. This salad was paired with the 2013 Robert Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard Fumé Blanc Reserve, a richer and more complex Sauvignon Blanc wine aged in oak barrels. Chevre and Sauvignon Blanc are one of the magical food and wine pairings. Something about the bright acidity of the wine mellows the sharp bite of the goat cheese and the combination is far more exciting than the individual components. The root vegetables and almonds gave a nice grounding to the citrus notes of the wine that were alluded to with the lemon vinaigrette, without being too matchy-matchy.
The main course was Braised Beef Short Rib, served with a Wild Mushroom, Turnip and Spring Onion Ragout over Anson Mills Polenta with a Gremolata sauce, paired with the 2012 Robert Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. The tannic density of this wine matched the richness of the beef short rib, but still elevated all that fatty meatiness with some nice fruit acid. Hints of cedar and pomegranate merge with tart cherry on a nice oaky foundation. The earthy richness of the wine also harmonized with the wild mushrooms in the ragout, without making the meal overly rustic.
For dessert we were served Cherry Upside-Down Cake with a Lemon-Poppy Seed Ice Cream, paired with their 2014 Robert Mondavi Napa Moscato d’Oro. This is a special, limited edition wine that they only make when they get the right conditions in the vineyards and some botrytis. Therefore this is a richly sweet wine, but not unctuous on the palate or overripe. This is the magic of the “noble rot,” botrytis, which allows for plenty of sweet but miraculously maintains some underpinning acidity so the wine doesn’t become cloying. The tart cherry flavors of the cake pulled out the wine’s acidity, while the lemon notes of the ice cream perfectly matched the inherent citrus notes in the wine. This is a more complex Moscato, with no bubbles and with that special acidity that has a citrus-like character. The cherry and lemon tartness in the dessert helped balance the ambrosia-like sweetness of this incredible dessert wine.
So if you happen to be in Napa Valley, I highly recommend making arrangements to have one of these incredible paired luncheons. All the individual components, the wines and the dishes, were selected to bring about a symphony of flavors. The real secret was picking individual notes in both wine and dish, and not trying to match every note, trusting that the combination will bring all the flavors together in a pleasing way. Like creating a painting or a musical concerto. One creates balance out of disparate sensations recombined, creating a new union of the senses. Winemaking itself is an art and cleverly pairing wine with a meal brings that art to a new level. As Robert Mondavi himself said, “We don’t sell cases of wine; we sell fine vessels of art.”
Daniel Eddy, Wine & Spirits Sales Manager
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