One of the most exciting parts of the annual Wine Bloggers Conference is the excursion dinner at an offsite location (most times at a winery with catered food). This year, we bought our tickets ahead of time so we could join our friends Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings, who we had met at the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi. They bought their tickets as soon as the Thomas George Estates excursion was announced, and we did as well soon after. The dinner experiences are a hot commodity at the WBC. This time, the tickets were only $20 per person, and I’m not kidding when I say it was the best Andrew Jackson I have ever spent on a wine and food pairing! Don’t believe me? I have the pictures to prove it.
I’ll try to curb my enthusiasm as I detail the evening, but I have to admit I felt like royalty from the moment we left the conference hotel to the moment we returned. We met our dinner group and loaded on to a limo bus. Below is a photo of us on the bus, and you can see the excitement in our faces! We heart wine dinner excursions!
After a long and bumpy ride, we arrived at Thomas George Estates–a bit of a mystery spot for me, because I could not find much information about them on the web. After getting off the bus, I was pleasantly surprised to see our group was being escorted into a wine cave! We were led into a foyer area and presented with a charcuterie spread from Black Pig Meat Company the likes of which I had never seen before. Our glasses were also filled with Thomas George Estates Blanc de Blancs, an estate bubbly made from chardonnay.
We mingled amongst ourselves while sipping the sparkling wine and enjoying our selections from Black Pig Meat Company: Cured Meats, Roasted and Marinated Vegetables, and Hummus with Crostini. I snuck away from the group to take pictures of the tables where we would later be dining. The attention to detail of the table setting was remarkable. Plus, I took a peak at the menu for the evening and I could hardly wait for what was to come!
Our first course of the meal would be a roasted Brussels Sprout Salad, with Black Pig Bacon, Asian pear, Marcona Almonds, Aged Sherry Vinegar, and Bohemian Creamery “Capriago”, an asiago-style cheese made from goat milk and aged between 8 and 10 weeks. This course was paired with a 2015 Chardonnay from the Thomas George Sons & Daughters Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. The best part about this dish was the crispy bacon nuggets and Marcona almonds nestled in the salad hidden like buried treasure. Alyse and I laughed about our disdain for frisée…I did not know someone else shared my dislike of its curly texture and overall annoyingness when trying to cut/eat it. Still, this salad was a major hit with me.
The entrée course was a stunning “Cracklin'” Pork Belly and Star Anise Liberty Duck. It was served with Black Rice, Thomas George Estate-Grown Pomegranate and Watercress. The wine pairing was an Estate 2014 Pinot Noir, Baker Ridge Vineyard, Russian River Valley. The texture of the rice was wonderfully chewy and sticky and was offset by the crispy pork skin and the tenderness of the duck leg. As you can see it was a beautiful presentation and the pomegranate lent itself in both flavor and color. There was also a bit of persimmon on the plate, special to me because Fuyu persimmon is my favorite fruit, and it was my first taste of it that season!
For our final course, we were presented with a Quince & Apple Tartin, served with Bourbon Gelato. I was served a dessert without the crust, as they kindly remembered my gluten free request. I thought the Bourbon Gelato was pretty incredible, especially with the wine we were served as a pairing: an Estate 2012 Late Harvest Viognier from the Baker Ridge Vineyard “Baby Block”, Russian River Valley. Success! The wine WAS slightly sweeter than the dessert, and that is how it should be in a dessert/wine pairing. Lately, I have come to appreciate/enjoy dessert wines more and more, and might have even purchased a few bottles of Pinot Gris in the last month. I used to hate on sweet/dessert wines (like, a lot), so here is my formal apology of sorts.
Our dinner was skillfully prepared by Chef Duskie Estes of zazu kitchen + farm. I asked her to take a picture with me and she kindly obliged (below). I just took a peek at zazu’s sample menu and I’m probably going to have to stop in next time I am in the area! Luckily, we have friends who live in Sebastopol… 😉
Not only were the wines and the meal terrific, the company I shared them with and the memories I have of the evening are unforgettable. Thank you to the staff at Thomas George Estates for your hospitality and to Chef Duskie for her food presentation.
For another account of this excursion, head on over to Appetite for Wine, and read what Kent had to say!
AN IMPORTANT P.S.!!!
The winery is closed to the public during the month of January for annual maintenance and improvements, but will return to regularly scheduled operations on February 1st. So this means you have plenty of time to plan a future visit!
Keep an eye out for more coverage on this website from the 2017 Santa Rosa conference. I’m not sure which direction I will go content-wise, but would like to say something that hasn’t been already said. It was a conference definitely filled with mixed emotions as a result of the fires in October, but definitely an uplifting place to be in witnessing the resilience of wine country and its representatives at the conference. Cheers, and thanks for reading! #WBC17
Lately, I have been very selective in the events I attend and the restaurants, products, services, et cetera I choose to promote, but last week when I was invited to attend the monthly wine dinner held at Dawson’s at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Sacramento, I jumped at the opportunity.
For a while now, Dawson’s has been one of the most underrated restaurants in town. Andy and I had attended a few of the Dawson’s wine dinners last year and found them to be quite economical (despite a $79 per person price which might seem like a lot of money to spend on a Thursday night). The value is to be found in the quality and amount of the food (4 courses with wine pairings), the wine featured (always a higher-end label) and the service (look for Ardy and tip him well–he’s terrific). Dawson’s even offers free valet parking to wine dinner guests upon arrival. I am not sure you can get a better deal anywhere else.
Before dinner, we were treated to a charcuterie, cheese, fruit, and sparkling wine reception. Andy and I were then introduced to the chef (Jason Poole) and the wine representative (LT Nedjar) Mr. Nedjar was there representing the label featured that night: Goldschmidt Vineyards. Follwing our introduction, both gentlemen returned to going over the menu and the wines one last time to make sure the experience would be seamless for the dinner guests.
Upon seating, we were presented with the menu. Typically, the menu and the pairings get published online and via an email blast before the dinner. I love the email blasts because I can sit at my desk at work and daydream about what I am going to eat that evening! 😉 Below is the menu from Thursday night’s dinner:
Just before our seating, the sous chef Michael Grande walked us through the menu. Both times I have seen Chef Grande, he has been so enthusiastic about the wine dinner’s course line-up and his excitement is contagious. 🙂 Soon, we were invited into the dining room for the meal to begin.
The first course of the evening was a Hamachi Crudo with baby coconut, Rising C Ranch Melogold Grapefruit, Blood Orange and Avocado Oil, Yuzu Emulsion, and it was paired with the Boulder Bank (a label owned by Goldschmidt) Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough 2011. The acidity and fats in the dish balanced very well with the Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand-style, high acidity, though not a complete grapefruit bomb. I was actually reminded more of canned peaches, as the wine was a touch sweet.) Still, it was a perfect compliment to the hamachi and the fruit essences in the dish.
The second course was a Coke Farms Baby Beet Caprese Salad with house-made mozzarella (yes!!), an herb salad, morel ash, and finished with double Solera Vinegar. It was paired with the Chelsea Goldschmidt Merlot, Dry Creek Valley 2011. We were told that the grapes that go into this particular merlot are literally on the front of the property at the winemaker’s residence, so they get extra attention. My only complaint about this course was that I wish I had been served a little more of it. 🙂 The cheese had the wonderful elasticity that fresh mozzarella has, with just a hint of salt. The beets were earthy and al dente. The merlot was a delightful pairing for this course.
And then the third course happened. And I was officially wowed. It was a Cranberry Bean Cassoulet with a Confit Duck (leg), house-made boudin blanc, Tails and Trotters Pork Belly, and County Line Farms Baby Mustards. It was paired with two different wines to highlight the different proteins and flavor profiles in the bowl. The first wine was the Forefathers Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley 2009, and the second wine was the Hillary Goldschmidt Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville 2011. The last time I had duck as part of an entrée was back in the fall at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. It was a grilled breast and braised leg served with roasted wine grapes. As memorable as the main course was at Chez Panisse, I will say without hesitation that the cassoulet at Dawson’s was the better dish. I am still thinking about the slice of crispy pork belly that topped the cassoulet at Dawson’s. For me, it was the best bite of food of the night, and I will be daydreaming about the cassoulet for a long time to come! I could have used an extra slice of that salty, rich pork belly instead of the sausage that was nestled underneath the duck. I am not sure how the dish was intended to eat, but I enjoyed its components one at a time. Maybe I was doing it wrong, but everything tasted oh so right! 😉
Ultimately, to me, the food was more remarkable than the wine (sorry, Goldschmidt!), but there are some really great things going on in the kitchen at Dawson’s. However, the wine made a terrific impression with Andy, as he purchased a case of Cabernet that evening before we left.
But before our exit, we were served coffee and one last course, the dessert. Usually, there is a dessert wine presented at the Dawson’s wine dinner, but this time it was suggested we save a little of the Forefathers Cabernet to pair with our dessert. The dessert was a Dark Fruit Consommé (interesting concept there!) with a Crispy Hazelnut Cake, Dark Chocolate Pave, and Toasted Fennel Oil.
I loved the texture of the cake–it was spongey and soaked up the fruit consommé’s vibrant flavor. The chocolate on top served as a ganache-type frosting. It was a well-executed part of the meal and a memorable finish.
About the winemaker: Nick Goldschmidt, originally from New Zealand, gained international notoriety as winemaker at Simi Winery. Since 2007 he has been a consulting winemaker for several premium brands around the world, and is very well known for his single vineyard, handcrafted, small production artisanal wines that consistently score in the 90s in most wine publications. In fact, all his wines are 100% single variety, 100% single vintage, 100% single vineyard. You can find more information on their website here, or find them on Facebook here.
Dawson’s wine dinners are held every third Thursday of the month and have featured labels such as Alpha Omega, Far Niente/Nickel & Nickel, Jordan Vineyard & Winery, Hall Vineyards, Palmaz Vineyards, and Rodney Strong.
Tip: Check into Dawson’s using your smartphone and receive special perks for being a loyal customer. A free glass of select draft beer using Foursquare or a free glass of select wines using Yelp!