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What could be nicer than a fine glass of wine?

It’s that glass alongside the perfect food pairing to pleasure and amuse our senses.

It’s pretty much a given that when I’m at home and enjoying wine, there is food involved. When I’m out wine tasting I find myself imagining what foods I’d serve with the wine I am enjoying. Recipes begin to float around in my head. If I am touring friends or clients around the valley we’ll take a break in our tasting day and find a spot to enjoy lunch or a nice snack.

Well, now we don’t necessarily have to hop from spot to spot to sip and dine.

For the longest time, it’s not been possible to enjoy more than a water cracker or a Hershey’s Kiss during a wine tasting. Not anymore.

According to a winery definition ordinance passed back in the early 1990s, food services were not permitted at the majority of wineries in the valley. Ordinances were set in place to prevent large social functions at wineries that were encroaching into the peace and quiet we residents enjoy.

Wineries and visitors are now able to benefit from an ambiguity in the ordinance that allows for educational wine and food pairings for visitors. This little loophole is making it possible for us to enjoy meals at wineries while still preventing most gargantuan events.

One of wineries that has created an inviting and impressive dining experience is Sequoia Grove. Their five-course seasonal cuisine wine and food pairing was an intimate, no more than 16 guests, experience. Their warmly appointed Cambium Room, overlooking the grove of Sequoia trees, added to the overall ambiance. By presenting their wines in a culinary, the winery provides guests with an appreciation of how they might experience the wines in their own homes.

Visitors are invited to partake Thursday through Monday, twice daily at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Reservations are required. The cost is $125 ($95 for wine club members).

Creating a restaurant-class kitchen and hiring a top chef and support staff is no small endeavor. Neither is staying within the parameters of the loophole. Sequoia Grove has figured it all out and in a setting, which is lovely without the least bit of pretense. This is another plus in my book.

Without being intrusive, wine educator Lisa Thomas provided hints as to why the wines we were enjoying with our five nicely proportioned courses were complementing each dish, and visa versa. When wine education is presented with confidence and a sense of humor, it’s a great experience. One is learning without even realizing it’s truly educational.

Winery Chef Britny Maureze spent time with us as we enjoyed her tasting menu. Maureze, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America St. Helena, has been part this culinary program since it’s inception. Her education and previous work experiences help to distinguish the Sequoia Grove pairing. Her openness and approachability were such a plus.

Herbed Arancini with tarragon and a basil pesto served with 2015 Haire Vineyard Chardonnay started us off as we strolled through the garden area prior to being seated.

Kudos to Maureze for sharing my belief that you don’t always have to have white wine with fish. She gave us permission to go rogue, which I have done for years. California Rock Cod created with Garam Masala, Beluga Lentils, a pickled plum sauce, caramelized fennel and parsnip puree paired absolutely beautifully with 2014 Tonella Vineyard Cabernet Franc. The fruit nuances of this single vineyard red was perfectly paired.

A 2014 Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon came to the table with a Ricotta Gnocchi. With a veggie bolognase, roasted heirloom tomato marinara, roasted mushroom and shaved Pecorino cheese, this 100 percent vegetarian offering was a hit. This is a little heavier style gnocchi, which allowed for a hint of grilling. The mountain vineyard Cabernet was full of character with red fruit aromas.

When duck is prepared correctly it’s one of best things that will pass over your lips. Chef’s Duck Three Ways had lots of interesting things going on. Roasted duck breast, duck confit and duck “Chicarron” with just the right hints of toasted farro, currant and hazelnut gremolata was another hit along with its accompanying carrot and ginger puree. With this dish we enjoyed the well balanced, elegant yet sassy 2013 Henry Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon. Lisa said that if this wine was a movie star it would be Sophia Loren.

Soubise sauce is an onion sauce, based on a butter sauce with the addition of onion puree that dates back to the 1850s, and our fifth and final course, Cabernet Braised Short Rib with Kohlrabi Soubise but it to great use with brown butter summer squash and Cabernet Demi. The char of the short rib really popped up all the flavors in the presentation. The classy 2103 Cambium served with this dish was not only gorgeous with its intense red color, it was equally gorgeous on the palate. Dried berry, hint of chocolate and spice, it worked perfectly. The Cambium would be the Elizabeth Taylor of wine, per Lisa.

Maureze’s goal of creative foods that don’t overwhelm the wine and well balanced wines that allow for a sense of adventure in the food preparation has been accomplished.

With other options available for those who might want to enjoy a little nosh rather than a meal with their wine tasting, Sequoia Grove is happy to prepare a cheese and charcuterie selection and serve it at one of their patio seating areas. Just call ahead and make an appointment and a request at sequoiagrove.com.

What a wonderful way to relax during the day or to end your day of wine tasting. Glass in hand, a comfy chair and a quiet setting.

Guests can also request a vegan or full vegetarian menu for the five course tasting menu.

Sequoia Grove was one of my favorite wineries to refer guests to when I had my B & B and I am so happy to have rediscovered them and the new fun things they are offering. Mangia bene at Sequoia Grove, 8338 St. Helena Highway, Napa.

Many thanks to Maureze for sharing the following intriguing recipe with us.

Rock Cod with beluga lentils, plum sauce, and caramelized fennel and parsnip puree

Serves 6.

For the cod:

6—4-ounce portions of rock cod

2 tsp. garam masala spice blend

Salt

4 Tbsp. butter

Season cod with spice blend and salt. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add cod and cook until flesh begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Flip the fish over and, using a spoon, baste the fish with the melted butter in the pan for another 2 minutes or so, depending on the thickness of the portions. Once the cod has reached an internal temperature of 120 degrees, remove from heat and let rest about 1 minutes. Serve with lentils, caramelized fennel and parsnip puree, and pickled plum sauce.

For the lentils:

1 Tbsp. butter

1/3 cup beluga lentils

1/4 fennel bulb, very small dice

1/4 onion, very small dice

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup red wine

1 tsp. red wine vinegar

1 tsp. orange zest

1 1/3 cup chicken or vegetable stock

Melt butter in a medium sauce pot. Add onion and fennel, saute until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add lentils and season with salt and pepper. Saute a 3-4 more minutes, then add red wine. Reduce until almost dry, about 2 minutes. Add stock, orange zest, and red wine vinegar. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until lentils are cooked through, but not mushy, about 35-40 minutes. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

For the fennel and parsnip puree:

2 Tbsp. butter

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1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced

Half a white onion, thinly sliced

2 medium parsnips, peeled and sliced into thin coins

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp garam masala spice blend

Salt and pepper, to taste

Juice of half a lemon

1/2 cup-1 cup veg or chicken stock

1/4 cup crème fraiche

Melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add fennel, onion, and parsnips and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Add garlic and season with salt, pepper, and garam masala. Cook a few more minutes with the spices, then add lemon juice and stock. Simmer for about 20 minutes, remove from heat and let cool about 10 minutes. Using a blender, blend on high until very smooth, using stock to adjust consistency. Add crème fraiche and blend until just combined. Adjust seasoning to taste.

For the plum sauce:

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 medium white onion, thinly sliced

1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced

6 plums, pitted and chopped

1/2 tsp Chinese five spice

Juice of 1/2 a lime

Juice of 1/2 an orange

2 Tbsp. verjus or rice wine vinegar

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Saute onion, garlic, and ginger until beginning to soften, but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add plums and cook another 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add Chinese five spice, citrus juices, verjus/vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce. Cook until plums are very soft and falling apart. Remove from heat and pour into a blender and blend on high until very smooth. Adjust seasoning as necessary with more salt/sugar/acid. This sauce keeps very well in the refrigerator, so it’s good to have extra.

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Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit letsgocookitalian.com or letsgocookleboncuisine.com for more information.

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