Category Archives: Community

Pairing Imagery

 

Life is good. On a Tuesday evening, I explored the emerging Dogpath neighborhood in San Francisco, was introduced to young entrepreneurs and enjoyed a sublime dinner at Studio Table hosted by Jamie Benziger to introduce her new tier of Imagery wines.

After discovering that we were neighbors in Santa Rosa, Jamie, 29,  and I discussed her new endeavor.  She was passionate and articulate in describing  her wines and their target markets. Yes, she is the daughter of Joe Benziger who started the Benziger winery thirty-five years ago.  The children, however, don’t get special treatment and are expected to earn any role that they play in the business

New Tier of Imagery wines

Jamie’s story is one of a young woman who grew up in the wine industry, went off to study at Loyola Marymount University before transferring to Sonoma State to study wine marketing.  She has paid her dues inside and outside the family business, including a stint in New Zealand, and is now partnering with her dad to create tasteful, affordable, food-friendly wines intent on broadening the palates of the next generation or anyone seeking a good value enhancement to their next dinner party table.

By all accounts, she has succeeded. From my perspective, the pivotal needs of her market have been addressed:  artistic labels,(c’mon,

how many of us have purchased wine solely for the label art?), screw caps that fit the modern lifestyle better than corks, affordability

Jamie Benziger

($16.99 per bottle) and complex wines that leave you with that “big bang for my buck” feeling.  Let’s speak to the wine in the context of the food pairing with comments by me and Chef Ben Roche.

 

First Course

Wine: 2016 Imagery Sauvignon Blanc

Winter Nicoise — “a hearty salad of frisee, scallops, and potato cream to complement the minerality and citrusy acidity of the Sauvignon Blanc.”

The sauvignon blanc blends 20% muscat from Lake County.  In the New Zealand-style, I found floral notes on the nose and  balanced, fruit-forward flavors with hints of grapefruit and a soft mouthfeel.  I enjoyed it solo as an introductory wine and with the scallops in potato cream.

Second Course

Wine: 2016 Imagery Chardonnay

Butter-poached vegetables, buttermilk and Buddha’s Hand  — “a buttery-but light dish with a floral touch bring out the mineral-forward quality of this unusual Chardonnay.”

The blended chenin blanc adds to the crispness and citrus elements of this wine that paired well with the vegetables.

Third Course

Wine:  2016 Imagery Pinot Noir

Pancetta & Leek Quiche with cabbage and caviar — “rich, caramelized pancetta and eggs from the land and the sea make this Pinot Noir sing.”

The addition of 20% petit verdot to pinot noir is unusual, but here it adds structure and body while softening the tannins for an accessible wine.  A terrific value.

Pancetta ans Leek Quiche was cabbage and caviar

Fourth Course

Wine: 2016 Imagery Cabernet Sauvignon

Duck Breast with cherry, mushroom, spinach — “earthy, savory flavors, bright cherry puree and robust duck come together for this big Cabernet.”

The enhanced spice element from the blended 15% petit sirah is evident throughout and there are soft “code blue” and cherry notes on the palate.  It would be difficult to find a better cab under $20.

Fifth Course

Wine: Port

Hazelnut Brownie with goat cheese and raisins — “a rich and savory dessert, finished with olive oil and a sprinkle of flakey sea salt, help the chocolate and dried fruit notes of this delightful port shine”.

This is a Sonoma County non-vintage blend of zinfandel, petite sirah and touriga nacional that is shipped direct to consumer.  The high 18% alcohol level was balanced and paired well with both the sweet and savory aspect of the dessert.

Studio Table is located in the loft and working studio of artist Heather Day. She has partnered with Michelle Wei and Chef Ben Roche in creating a unique, artistic fine dining concept with stated goals “to challenge expectations and create conversations.”  Jamie’s wines, with the design representation of a drop of paint running

Imagery wines at Studio Table

down the label, matched the elegance of the table with Heather’s hand-painted menus.

These are the finest $16.99 food-friendly wines that I have tasted in a long while.  The new tier of Imagery releases will help to grow interest in wine through good taste, quality and value.  I recommend that you try them.

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Wine Pairing Challenge

 

Pairing wines with a special dinner is challenging, but fun, especially when it supports a good grassroots cause.  Having lived in the coastal community of Pacifica, south of San Francisco in the early seventies, we still have DSCN4282friends there, many of whom are involved in a long-standing  non-profit organization called “Pacificans Care.”  Made up of all volunteers, the group raises funds to support various projects that enhance the city, aesthetically and culturally.  Participating in a wine pairing dinner to support them seemed like a worthy endeavor.

When I was informed that the chefs would be serving a herbed pork tenderloin as one of the courses, several wonderful pairings came to mind.  Depending on sauces and other ingredients, pork tenderloin can be complimentary to a range of varietals, from chardonnay to syrah.

However, this menu flavor profile was so diverse that it made selecting the wine difficult.  For example, the pork tenderloins were wrapped in prosciotto inviting a medium-bodied pinot noir or bolder syrah, but was served with an apple chutney that would normally favor a chardonnay.  With any challenge comes an opportunity to be

2013 Selbach-Oster Zeltlinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese

2013 Selbach-Oster Zeltlinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese

creative, to do something unexpected, then hope that it all works.  Let’s review what we chose and why.

Appetizers

Cheeses:  Garrotxa (Spain) raw goat’s milk

                    Raclette (Switzerland) cow’s milk

Wine:        2013 Selbach Oster Zeitinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese    

                    Mosel (Germany)

Asked to select an introductory wine paired with cheese, we settled on an all European pairing that began with a highly rated, rich 2013 Selbach Oster Zeltlinger Schlossberg Riesling Spatlese from the Mosel region of Germany. A style of German riesling, Spatlese, translated, means “late harvest” but cannot be confused with our late harvest sweet dessert wines.

Garrotxa

Garrotxa

Among the styles of German riesling, Kabinett is more austere, less fruit forward, pairing well with food, Spatlese is more rich and creamy with a soft minerality and Auslese can be compared to our later harvest dessert wines.  The medium-bodied Selbach Spatlese came to my attention when Wine Spectator magazine rated it 93-points, citing complex flavors of red peach, apple pear and anise.  I felt that the rich minerality and petrol nuances of the wine helped express the creamy Garrotxa from northern Spain and Raclette, the national cheese of Switzerland

1st Course:  Cream of Mushroom Soup, Creme Fraiche, Parmesan

                         Crisps     

 Wine:            2013 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc (Russian River Valley)

Creme fraiche, a French cultured cream available at most  markets, adds richness to soups and sauces. In this instance I anticipated enhancement to a soup that was already creamy. Needing to avoid  rich, buttery

2013 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley

2013 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley

chardonnay or other acidic white wines, this was actually are easiest choice.

The Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County is, arguably, one of the good food wines ever produced.  The flavors of the 2013 vintage, fairly austere not to compete with the richness of the soup, still express white peach, pear, citrus and melon on the palate preceded by floral aromas.  Awarded 93 points by Wine Spectator magazine, this sauvignon blanc is a “foodies” dream and was a perfect pair with our first course.

2nd Course:  Shaved Fennel and Herb Salad with Baby Radishes

Wine:   2009 Can Mayol Loxarel “Gran Reserva de Familia” Brut

               Nature Penedes (Spain)

                 

This pairing definitely took some “risk-taking” and was, without a doubt, the evenings most unique. Although a sparkling wine, this is not a Spanish cava produced in the “methode champenoise” because there is no dosage.  Dosage, pronounced with the accent on the second syllable, is a sweet mixture of wine and sucrose added, in small measure, to each bottle designed to enhance the flavor. French champagne, Italian proscecco, Spanish cava and other sparkling wines made in the “methode champenoise” have dosage.  Those with none are known as “brut nature” wines and generally have a more herbal flavor profile that compliments food.

The 2009 Can Mayol Loxarel “Gran Reserva de Familia” Brut Nature originates from the Penedes region, south of Barcelona, which is the oldest wine region in Europe. It consists of Xarel-lo grapes, common to the sparkling and still wines from Penedes and is aged 51 months on its lees, using the dead yeast to add texture.

2009 Can Mayol Loxeral "Gran Reserva"

2009 Can Mayol Loxeral “Gran Reserva”

In awarding this wine 93-points, Robert Parker described fennel as one of its flavors which was enough for me to take a chance on the pairing.  Our guests were a little surprised at the choice of a sparkling wine, expecting champagne flavors, but the “brut nature” complimented rather than overpowering the salad.

Although this 2009 vintage was the oldest wine we served, it was recently released, six years after harvest.  This is an extraordinary amount of time in comparison to wines produced in the states, that age 20-24 months.  European wine maker’s comfort with extended aging is primarily based on financial reasons. Most European wineries have been family owned for centuries whereas those in the states commonly are owned by the bank and the pressure to get the product to market is higher.

3rd Course:  Herbed Pork Tenderloins, Apple Chutney, Honey-Roasted Carrots

                          with Tahini Yogurt, Potato Stacks

Wine:              2012 Williams Selyem “Foss Vineyard” Pinot Noir RRV

Pork pairs well with a range of wine varietals depending how it is prepared.  This specific recipe was difficult because the pork tenderloins were wrapped with prosciotto, favoring syrah or other deep red varietals, but the apple chutney and honey roasted carrots would prefer a rich California chardonnay.  I settled for a specific medium-bodied pinot noir from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County that, hopefully, would balance this complexity.

2012 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir "Foss Vineyard" Russian River Valley

2012 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir “Foss Vineyard” Russian River Valley

Williams Selyem is one of the state’s finest producer of Burgundian-style pinot noir and cool-climate chardonnay.  They have estate vineyards, but mostly source grapes from some of the finest vineyards in the Russian River Valley and beyond.  The nearby west-facing Foss Vineyard benefits from afternoon sun after the morning fog has lifted which results in some of the warmest soils in the valley, allowing the grapes to fully ripen for bolder flavors.

The elegant flavors of pinot noir can pair with complex flavors, including prosciotto and chutney if it also has rich texture and solid structure such as the 2012 Williams Selyem “Foss Vineyard” Pinot Noir RRV or equally fine releases from wineries such as Roar in the Santa Lucia Highlands and Loring Wines in the Santa Rita Hills appellation.

 

Dessert:  Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Cake

                   Rogue River Blue (Oregon) with sage honey

Wine:       2007 Val du Vino “Opportunity” (Amador County)

                   2009 Longoria Syrah Port (Santa Ynez Valley)

Dessert was the easiest pair of the evening, adding my favorite Rogue River Blue from southern Oregon with sage honey as an option to the chef’s wonderful truffle cake.  Rogue River Blue has a rich and creamy texture that lacks the bite of most blue cheeses and is always a good dessert alternative.  It is exclusively a fall cheese and I had

Rogue River Blue

Rogue River Blue

some difficulty finding it in March.  After some effort, I finally was able to purchased some through a unique online gourmet cheese source call amazon.com.

Our two aged port-style dessert wines spanned California regions, from Amador County in the North to Santa Ynez Valley in the South.  Personal favorites, the 2007 Val du Vino “Opportunity” is a true port, sourced

2009 Longoria "Vino Dulce" Syrah Port

2009 Longoria “Vino Dulce” Syrah Port

from Amador and aged eight years in French oak and the Longoria “Vino Dulce” Syrah Port from Santa Ynez Valley both express rich flavors of dark berries, spices of vanilla and pepper and, of course, chocolate.  They can and did pair equally well with the chocolate and the cheese.

Everyone had fun, a good cause was supported and we all discovered more about the wonderful partnership of food and wine.