Wine Dinner – What is it?
Just because you are drinking wine with your dinner does not make it a wine dinner. Sorry, I had to say that even though it may seem obvious. So what is a wine dinner?
A Wine Dinner is a structured meal with a set number of courses (three to four) with wine paired to each course. Which comes first, the food or the wine?
That depends on which is the “feature” for the event. If the food is the showcase, it comes first, and wines are selected from the wine list that best compliment the food prepared for each course. However, in most cases, the wine comes first. As the “dinner” is the showcase and a marketing opportunity for the winemaker to demonstrate how well his or her wines pair with food. In many cases, the winemaker, and or distributor will be in attendance to present the wines.
When the wine is chosen first, the chef will usually sit down and taste the wine before creating the menu for the event. And conversely, when the food is selected first, a sommelier or wine steward will review the menu and make the wine selections for each course. These wines may come from a variety of sources/wineries.
The Ceritas Wine Dinner
A couple of weeks back, Gary and I attended the Ceritas Wine Dinner at Edmund’s Oast. It was our first wine dinner here, and we were really looking forward to it. The dinner was four courses with five wines and one liqueur. David McCarus from McCarus Beverage* (distribution) presented the wines. Sarah O’Kelley, Wine Director and Sommelier and Executive Chef Bob Cook from Edmund’s Oast presented the food. Heather Hutton, the Pastry Chef at Edmund’s Oast, presented the dessert course. If it sounds like a big deal, it felt as much. Operating Partner, Scott Shor also made an appearance to see how it was going.
General Information about Ceritas Wines
Ceritas makes vineyard specific wines. All vineyards are sustainable and organic. It is said best by winemaker John Raytek,
[it is] …” the simple principle that most of the important work occurs in the vineyard, and the role of the winemaker is to allow the vineyard to express itself in a balanced, inimitable wine. Our winemaking is flexible rather than dogmatic, inspired by traditional winemaking allowing the voice of the land and season to shine, rather than the effects of human cellar techniques.”
The dinner was family- style, so there was a lot of food. The first two courses had two wines side by side for comparison.
Shrimp + Scallop Salad with chili pepper dressing, shiso, fried garlic, and sweet corn. It is paired with side by side Ceritas Chardonnays: peter martin ray vineyard in the Santa Cruz mountains and porter bass vineyard on the Sonoma Coast. And both are from the 2015 vintage.
What a great start to the meal. The shrimp and scallops were beautifully cooked, and the chili dressing provided the perfect kick of spice. The shiso is more of a garnish but is entirely edible. It has a unique flavor: pungent and grassy; it contains strong flavors of spearmint, basil, anise, and cinnamon. I really liked it.
These two wines could not be any more different. The traditional winemaking techniques are the same, but the fruit had a completely different growing experience. It is the experience that influences the fruit and makes for distinctly different Chardonnays.
Only neutral oak barrels are used for fermentation and aging. After eleven months in barrel, the wines move to stainless steel tank for five to six months before bottling.
The Ceritas Chardonnays:
Peter Martin Ray vineyard resides at 1,800 feet elevation in the Santa Cruz mountains. There is very little topsoil so the vines must work hard for water and nutrients. This wine is crisp, clean and shows more mineral elements on the palate. It cleanses your palate thoroughly while eating this seafood salad with the creamy chili dressing. This is the perfect wine for this dish and a great all-around food wine.
The Porter-Bass vineyard is on the Sonoma Coast. This vineyard uses biodynamic farming practices without irrigation (dry farmed). It is in stark contrast to Peter Martin Ray. This wine’s texture is luscious and chewy. It also worked well with the salad, but I would drink this wine on its own any day of the week.
We are off to a great start.
NOTE: My descriptions for each wine during this dinner will be limited to how well they paired with the course served. While it’s aromas and flavors play a role in the success of the pairing, I believe that wine dinners are about the total experience. Thus, I did not wish to take too much time parsing and enjoyed eating with the paired wines.
Chicken + Rice: turmeric rice, poached chicken, and herbs. Paired with side by side Ceritas Pinot Noirs: Hellenthal vineyard “old shop block” 2015 on the Sonoma Coast and Elliot vineyard 2016 is also Sonoma Coast. Additionally, both of these are “monopole” sites for Ceritas meaning that they are the only winemaker to get fruit from these specific vineyards. Hellenthal is from the 2015 vintage, and Elliott is from the 2016 vintage.
I have a confession to make. When the Chicken and Rice bowl landed under my nose, I was overcome by the intense and powerfully rich aromas wafting into my head. I am serious. This dish smelled so amazing that I forgot completely to photograph it before I dug in. Embarrassed, I begged the other participants to allow me to shoot a picture of whatever portion of the dish that remained in their bowl at that moment. My photoshop skills were then put to the test. The result is below.
The chicken stock tasted as if it had been on the stove for days. The meat was tender and moist. I sucked it down so fast; I scared myself. The spiced rice and the herbal notes in the chicken, as well as the celery leaf garnish, added a depth that to me made this dish the star of the show.
The Ceritas Pinot Noir:
The two Pinot Noir wines played the perfect role enhancing and amplifying the flavors in this dish.
Like with the Chardonnays, the Pinot Noirs are vinified in the same way. 80% whole cluster. No cold soaking, just cold fermentation for 15-20 days. 25% New oak, from over 100-year-old trees, 12 months in barrel. Racked back into neutral barrels before bottling.
The 2015 Hennenthal is medium-bodied with mild tannins, and mid-level acidity that hit just the right notes. While the red and black fruits are front and center, they blend in well with all the structural notes to make a nuanced yet, a balanced sip of wine. The 2016 Elliot is also medium-bodied with smooth, silky tannins and a similar mid-acidity to the Hellenthal, yet the flavor profile is more red fruit such as cherries and raspberries.
These wines come from two different vintage years. The Hellenthal is from 2015, and the Elliot is from 2016. Both are distinctively Pinot Noir, and any differences are more because of terrior and weather rather than a year difference in vintage. Pinot Noir has been my favorite red variety for years, and these two wines stand out as beautiful examples of impeccably made wines.
Roast Leg of Lamb with candy roaster squash and Asian pear. Paired with Ceritas Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 Peter Martin Ray vineyard in the Santa Cruz mountains.
The leg of lamb was delicious. The sauce that coated the Asian pear had a nice kick to it, but as you bit into the fruit, the sweetness from the pear soothed the heat. The Candy Roaster Squash puree was also a calming balance to the spice on the pear. The entreé was tender and juicy and had me hoping there was more on the platter.
The Ceritas Cabernet Sauvignon, Peter Martin Ray 2014 provided great balance to the various flavors in this dish. The wine is bold and has a big body as all Cabs should. Black fruits flush over your palate with drying tannins that help wipe away the some of the spice and fat in the lamb. Big flavors need big wine, and these two handled their roles in a stellar performance.
Aged for 32 months in a combination of used and new (35%) Bordeaux barrels with minimal sulfur until just before bottling.
Caramelized Milk Chocolate Baked Alaska: dark chocolate cake, chartreuse meringue. Paired with Green Chartreuse, a liqueur from Voiron, France.
I am super finicky when it comes to my chocolate desserts. This did not read like something I would like. But I had to try. And boy, am I glad I did. It was delicious. The creamy caramelized milk chocolate was a sweeter counterbalance to the dark chocolate cake, and the meringue was the proverbial icing on the cake. I loved it and wanted to lick my bowl. I didn’t. But I wanted too.
As far as the green chartreuse, I gave mine to Gary. The older I get, the less I like the burn from hard liquors. I had some Cabernet Sauvignon left in my glass, and that worked out just fine for me.
The food was delicious and plentiful, and the wines continually poured throughout the evening. It was an entertaining evening spent with other wine enthusiasts learning and sharing stories. We even made some new friends – (are you reading this Jennifer? and her husband, Lance).
Ok, you made it to the bottom of this post. It is longer than like, but there was so much to say but did not warrant two separate posts. So guess how much this dinner cost? Go ahead, guess? $150? $200? Wrong and wrong again. All inclusive including tax, tip, and online ticket processing fees it sold for $99.00 per person. A bargain at this price. So much so that I booked for the next one on Tuesday, Nov 6th. This way I can avoid watching election returns all evening long.
The Ceritas Chardonnay, “peter martin ray vineyard” Santa Cruz, California 2015 is on the wine list at Edmund’s Oast.
NOTE: 1/2 off the price of a bottle of wine at Edmund’s Oast on Mondays
*All Ceritas Wines are distributed by McCarus Beverage for distribution to restaurants and wine bars only and can be found at select establishments throughout the state. Therefore, the only way to purchase the wines for one’s personal cellar is by joining the Ceritas mailing list.
That is all for now.