On the evening of a particularly brutal and blustery snowstorm, I was eager to be warmed up by a four course meal prepared by Chef Ryan to be paired with Pax/Donelan wines at New York Vintners. This was the perfect Thursday night activity.
I was happy to find that Snowpocalypse or Tsnownami or whatever they’re calling it didn’t keep any vino lovers away from this highly anticipated event. The tables were set with classy pink and purple flowers and the aroma of bacon lingered in the air. Mmmmmmmmm…bacon. As guests began to stash their Eskimo coats and replace rain boots with something more fashionable, everyone seemed happy milling about sipping glasses of sparkling wine and snacking on what have come to be my favorite smoked Italian olives. Dylan York, General Manager of New York Vintners, kicked off the night by introducing the shop by saying, “our mission here is to showcase fine wines.” He then brought up the featured guests for the evening, winery owner Tripp Donelan and winemaker Tyler Thomas.
Of course Tyler had to remind us that when he left California the day before it was a lovely 72 degrees and sunny, but he made up for that with an excellent presentation on Sonoma County and his winemaking process. Explaining the topography of Sonoma County, Tyler made it easy to see why it’s such an exciting place to grow grapes, especially Rhone varietals like grenache, syrah, roussillon and viognier. The vineyards he sources from are all just next to or in the mountains, where the temperatures can fluctuate greatly over the course of a day. He explained that by planting the same varietal in different places, he is able to make many different wines out of the same varietal. This results in a nice collection of different syrahs. He also pointed out the soil differences (as an environmental science major, I found this fascinating). Basically, Rhone varietals are like weeds and can grow anywhere, but the loose, rocky soil in Sonoma County stresses the vines by not holding in much water and, he thinks this characteristic produces a richer, more complex wine.
Not that I wasn’t loving Tyler’s detailed descriptions of his vineyards and thought process behind winemaking, but I was happy when he started describing the wines in front of us because that meant I would get to taste them soon. To be paired with the first course was the 2009 Donelan Venus. Only bottled a month ago, I was excited to find out that we were among the first people outside the winery to taste it. Named after Venus, the goddess of both love and fragrance, this wine had a lot of great floral flavors and paired excellently with the stuffed quail with brioche, date and blue cheese stuffing that found its way to my place setting. I must admit that although I’m not a picky eater by any means, there were many ingredients on the menu that scared me a little. Blue cheese was one of them. However, it was amazing! Whatever Chef Ryan did, the cheese ended up making an already scrumptious dish extra rich and creamy. I also likened the brioche to savory French toast. Yum!
Although I was sad for the first course to end, I was excited about an adventurous second course. Braised octopus with sweet and sour potato noodles, lotus root, Asian pear puree and blueberry dust. So many not-red-but-perhaps-pink flags went off when I saw this one on the menu, but I’m open to anything. I’d never liked octopus because it’s so tough, but the way this dish was cooked the texture was more like chicken and I actually got to enjoy the true flavor. I was shocked but amused to find out that Chef Ryan’s inspiration for the noodles was drinking a Dr. Pepper with lime, and hence that what he ended up cooking them in. Brilliant! And then, of course I was wondering what in the world blueberry dust was. Well, it’s exactly what you think it is – dust that makes whatever it’s on taste like blueberry. It seemed almost like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Such a creative dish deserved to be paired with creative wines, and it was. We were able to try both the 2007 and 2008 Cuvee Moriahs.
Tyler explained that the two vintages would be different for a number of reasons, but he mainly stressed that Donelan takes great pains to ensure the quality of their cuvees, or blended wines. With the common connotation that single vineyard wines are usually “better,” Tyler said that he’s proud to produce cuvees that are “equal or on par in overall quality as our single vineyard wines.” Another thing that he said, which I loved, was that in explaining why it can take between three to six months to make a cuvee, the reason is because “sometimes you’re going to wake up and you’re going in to taste wine and you’re in a bad mood that day, it doesn’t taste good as it did before.” He really illustrated how wine connects a person’s mood and vice versa, and that everything is intertwined.
For the third course, we were served Deconstructed Osso Bucco with black garlic gnocchi, chestnut gremolata and warm marrow bone. This is what Daniel Orrison, a salespeople and sommelier at New York Vintners, called “a serious dish.” I completely concur. Having never tried marrow, I was very excited to find it already scooped out and succulently served on brioche for me to enjoy. The osso bucco was braised in cinnamon and really proved to be a winter warmer of a dish. Paired with the 2007 and 2008 Cuvee Christines, the third course was a favorite of my table’s.
At this point, I honestly wasn’t sure how much more my stomach could hold. But there’s always room for dessert, isn’t there? This dessert, a chocolate bacon crunch bar with maple crème anglaise, didn’t take up much space, but packed a whole lot of flavor. Chocolate and bacon is a truly mind-blowing combination. It was paired with the 2007 Pax Kobler Vineyard and the 2008 Donelan Walker Hill, both single vineyard wines. From both syrahs, the vineyards these wines come from are very similar except for the orientation of the rows. Determined to find out what made these wines taste so different, Tyler went on a mission. After a couple years of experimenting, he’s found dramatic differences between grapes grown within a few feet of each other because of temperature variation. Now, he does his best to treat different rows with alternate viticulture techniques to produce the most excellent wine he can. “Winemaking is a very humbling thing,” he said. “We only get one shot every year.”
I left New York Vintners, once again, with a full stomach and a warm heart. I continue to meet the nicest and most interesting people who come to partake in great food, interesting wine and wonderful conversation. I hope to see you at a winemaker dinner soon!
New York Vintners Correspondent