A Food and Wine Experience – Summer 2011
By Judy Tischler and Lindy Baker
Kendall-Jackson Winery is a name most people who enjoy wine would instantly recognize. They make fine accessible wines that appeal to many palates; so you might not think, if you are into fine dining and fine wines, that this pairing would wow you. Well, you might not, and if you didn’t you would be oh so wrong. They have two major bonuses: a 2 1/2 acre culinary garden that supplies the fresh seasonal produce, and a passionate Executive Chef, Justin Wangler, who works with his staff to come up with interesting and delicious ways to prepare dishes that show off the wines.
This beautiful estate is set right off Highway 101 in Fulton, just north of Santa Rosa. You can see it off the highway, but getting to it is a little more challenging…the driveway is not that easy to find. If you are coming from south Fulton Road you might accidentally turn into the vineyard road, or it might seem like you are continuing onto the “Wrong Way” of a freeway exit, but the driveway is in between there and there. Drive carefully and look out for the traffic coming down that off-ramp! Once on property, follow the meandering driveway to the parking area, then the beautifully landscaped pathways into the spacious tasting room.
The Kendall-Jackson food and wine pairing is offered daily and requires no reservation. You can enjoy it on the patio terrace (weather permitting) or seated at one of the tables inside the tasting room. If the weather permits, we encourage you to enjoy it on the patio.
Judy: “Sitting out on the patio just set such a nice mood. This tasting offered substantial samplings that left me completed sated and in no need of further sustenance…it was truly a meal.”
Lindy: “I agree. It was a beautiful day to enjoy the outside, and the gardens were spectacular. Knowing where most of our food was coming from was an added plus…talk about being local!”
Our charming server, Lance, first introduced us to the tasting flight of five wines and briefly explained how the wines would pair with the oncoming menu. He told us that Executive Chef Justin would soon be along to give details of how each dish was prepared and paired with each component in the dish.
Judy: “I really enjoyed that Chef came to tell us about each dish. His passion for cooking, and the cuisine, showed.”
Lindy: “I know, it was so up close and personal. Chef was so gracious, and passionate about the food it was hard to wait to start.”
Judy: “I know that we were wishing our sun umbrella was not vibrant red, which prevented us from truly appreciating the visual appeal of each wine. Other tables did have light and neutral shade umbrellas.”
Lindy: “While the colored umbrellas are visually appealing to the patio décor, I agree, a neutral umbrella would have been more effective for ‘seeing’ the wine’s color and clarity.”
Judy: “I did appreciate that we were seated as individual parties; this really enhanced the personal attention and interactive conversations with both Lance and Chef Justin.”
Lindy: “It’s nice that they have tables and seating areas to accommodate either a small or larger groups. Chef Justin and Lance are equally attentive to all their guests, groups both large and small. This is a big plus for each group.”
Our first pairings were a Cornmeal Crusted Estate Heirloom Fried Green Tomatoes with Delice de la Vallee Cheese and Breakfast Radishes paired with the 2009 AVANT Chardonnay, along with an Heirloom Bean and Frisee Salad with Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette with Grilled Calamari and Red Pepper Aioli, paired with a 2008 Jackson Hills Chardonnay.
Lindy: “This was so good and a wonderful pairing. The acid of the tomato, the creaminess of the cheese, soft acid in the wine…nice!”
Judy: “The Avant really complimented the fried green tomato, softness of the cheese and crunch of the French breakfast radish. The cornmeal crust worked so nicely with the wine.”
Judy: “For the second part of the plate, I thought the preserved lemon played well against the tropical and subtle oak notes of the Jackson Hills Chardonnay. I loved the fresh red pepper aioli, and especially the top note of a subtle dusting of paprika…wow!”
Lindy: “Wow is right! The salad was excellent. To bad the plates were a little uneven and you got more olives and I got more calamari. But that concentrated red bell pepper reduction was seductive, I wanted to lick my plate (but I refrained).”
Judy: “I have to vote for this trio as my absolute favorite: The buckwheat crepe topped with the smoked ham hock, infused with melted Carmody cheese and grilled green onions was just delicious.”
Lindy: “I loved this plate! I also thought it was great that they put not only the descriptions of the food, and food preparation on the menu, but also how they see the food and wine pairing together. I did think the presentation was a little monochromatic. With all the beautiful edible flowers in the gardens, putting a couple on the plate would have given it a nice splash of color.”
buckwheat crepe with smoked ham hocks
Judy: “I thought the second taste was fun and delicious. The perfect balance of pairing the Syrah with the pork belly slider topped with a mirror of house-made Syrah BBQ sauce on Chef’s special “redneck baguette” (otherwise known as a trimmed hot dog bun) was delightful.”
Lindy: “I am again in complete agreement. That little sandwich was not only tasty, but I loved how it held up to the Syrah; the combo of the fatty pork belly and the house-made BBQ sauce using the same wine…
Judy: “And to finish with the Kobe beef and cactus taco, simmered in a light mole sauce – a climax of fresh and intense flavors all paired with three strong long finishing reds…need I say more? I don’t think so.”
Lindy: “The Kobe and Cactus taco was my personal favorite of this trio. What a wonderful bite.”
Snake River Farms beef & nopales taco
We finished with a presentation of: Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberry Gelee and Icebox Cookie, paired with a 2008 Late Harvest Riesling along with a box of Mama Frischkorn’s Caramel Corn which was paired with a 2006 Late Harvest Chardonnay
Judy: “Sipping the late harvest Riesling reminded me that we were indeed floating sweetly in the flavors of summer. Since I knew the Sonoma County Fair award-winning caramel corn was about to end our tasting, I stoically resisted the ice-box cookie that peeked at me near that panna cotta!”
Lindy: “Well, I did eat the cookie and it was wonderful, but not as wonderful as that panna cotta. Their use of recycled caviar jars to serve the pana cotta in was a very clever presentation. Another clever idea was putting that caramel corn in a ‘take-away’ box, and take it away I did, after taking a couple of nibbles, of course.”
Judy: “I can’t wait to return for the next Heirloom garden-inspired pairings.”
Lindy: “I’m there Judy. I’m there.”
Our Verdict? Two thumbs WAY up!
Chef Justin and his team prepared and presented amazingly delicious food and the chosen wines were interesting, diverse and paired perfectly. What more could one want in a food and wine pairing? While reservations are accepted, they are not required. We also think it’s a great value at $30.00 pp/ $22.50 club.
When you go, do remember to allow yourself enough time to visit the culinary gardens.