Summer Winemaker Dinner a Smashing Success! by Farley Walker
I recently had the opportunity to attend the first Tessier winemaker dinner at American Oak in Alameda. As you may know, Tessier has held several release parties there, and I have poured at all save the last one, thanks to my honeymoon. And I’ve eaten at American Oak many times and always savored my burger or mussels or pizza (back in the day). However, this meal took things to a whole new level. The food was delicious on its own, but when paired with the wines, the party really started.
To begin, we enjoyed the lovely Femme Fatale Rosé, which was to be paired with a salad of burrata, orchid watermelon, painted serpent cucumber, jalapenos, and pepitas. As I was trying to get my camera to cooperate, I glanced over at the gorgeous array of colors before me. The watermelon was vibrant yellow, dotted white by the cheese and a smattering of green from the peppers and arugula, all enhanced by the beautiful pop of magenta in our glasses. When I finally gave up on my camera to dive in, the first bite was heavenly. The perfect sweetness of the melon, the salty crunch of the toasted pumpkin seeds, the chewy tang of the cheese, the peppery greens, and the kick from the peppers were like a family reunion in my mouth. Each bite was highlighted by the refreshing rosé, with its own offering of watermelon, candied strawberry, fleshy herbs, and minerality. I don’t think anyone had much left on their plates when the course ended (except maybe a jalapeño or two for the wimps among us) and certainly nothing left in their glasses.
Course two was a treat, as we were able to compare a duo of my favorite grape—Pinot Noir. On our left was the 2012 Saralee’s from Russian River Valley, on our right the 2012 Santa Cruz Mountains. And on our plates, grilled hanger steak with bordelaise, paired with heirloom grits and torpedo onions to the left and a succotash of roasted corn and lobster mushroom to the right. The idea was that each side would pair with the corresponding wine. While the steak was a tasty medium-rare, it was the two sides that stole the show for me. Being from the South, I have high expectations for grits, and these hit the mark with their buttery beauty, marked by a just-right bite. They helped showcase the elegance of the Saralee’s, framing its nutty cherry profile, marked by baking spice and new paper. The succotash was also a delight, drawing out the earthiness, freshly cut grass and dried cranberry of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Next up was the 2012 El Dorado Grenache with baby back ribs, red cabbage coleslaw, and mac n cheese. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender and were a scrumptious match for the strawberry, raspberry, and licorice of the Grenache. The blackberry BBQ glaze was a nice addition, but just the slightest drizzle so as to not overpower the wine. And our table was crazy about the mac n cheese.
For the grand finale, we dug into ice cream made by local favorite, Tucker’s, with Tessier Pinot Noir. Having had their Zinfandel version in the past, this one was lighter in color and flavor, with a nice tanginess from the acidity. Flecked with cocoa nibs and graham cracker crumbs, there was also a soft snicker doodle on the side. Although already full, I ate almost every bite.
Overall, it was an outstanding experience. Thanks to the ambiance, great service, tantalizing food and wine, and especially the library wines Kristie shared with guests, everyone was in high spirits. And to top it off, I sat with Kristie’s charming parents, Terry and Laura Tacey, who were very proud of their daughter, and rightfully so.
Another winemaker dinner that knocked it out of the park! If you haven’t been to one yet, what are you waiting for?
Ciao! Jay and I are readjusting to normal life after a blissful two weeks in Italy. Part of the reason for our journey was for research, as I feel that learning how others make wine helps me perfect my own process. And what better place than Italy, where wine is a critical part of life and culture.
Our first stop was a few days in Rome, where we focused on drinking Nero d’Avala from Sicily. With a profile similar to Pinot Noir, it seemed a good way to start. After three nights, we avoided city traffic by taking a taxi (noting that most of the drivers we saw were women) to the outskirts of Rome. There we hopped in our Fiat and headed towards Montepulciano, Tuscany…Sangiovese country.
Sangiovese also shares several traits with Pinot Noir: its difficulty in growing, its need for attention and the right soil, and its proclivity towards good acidity, making it a nice partner for food. While in Tuscany, we rented an apartment in a country farmhouse on top of a hill at Montorio. The views were inspiring and so was the peacefulness. The area was a green and hilly landscape with lots of open space and a slower pace.
Our first appointment was at Salcheto Winery, which is working towards becoming all organic with their grapes and wines. Meanwhile, their facility is impressively sustainable at every stage in the winemaking process. We really enjoyed the Nobile di Montepulciano, along with the Riserva. The wines were enhanced by the sandy soil– volcanic with some clay.
The next winery visit was Barone Ricasoli in Chianti Classico, where we began with a tour of the 11th-century castle. This is the oldest winery in Italy! Bettino Ricasoli (1809-1880) began researching wines in the Chianti region in search of the perfect wine. He very much believed in the science of winemaking, doing research on soils, varietals and best way to age wines. We also explored the modern winemaking facility, where they use French oak for ageing. Then of course there was tasting. We appreciated the Chianti Classico (complying with the formula of 80% Sangiovese and the other 20% was with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon), which smelled of violets, cherry, earth, young plum, tobacco. Another favorite was the 2010 Colledila, 100% Sangiovese aged in French oak for 18 months. The soil of this region is much rockier, which contributes a wonderful minerality to the wines. To top it off, we lunched outdoors, enjoying the lovely view.
The last winery we visited was Avignonesi, which is female-owned and has a young, Australian winemaker, Ashleigh Seymour. We were able to meet with her and talk briefly about the trade and upcoming harvest. They farm biodynamically and are working towards an organic certification. Our top picks were the traditional Nobile di Montepulciano and the Grifi made from 60% Sangiovese and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. They also make a dessert wine called Vin Santo. Its grapes are selectively harvested late in the game, then air dried to concentrate the sugar. They are pressed for two weeks, then the juice and house yeast are put into small format barrels, which are sealed for ten years. The consistency was thick like honey and it had a very interesting aroma and flavor.
In the restaurants we visited, wines were surprisingly affordable. We drank several 2008 Riserva Nobile di Montepulcianos with dinners in Tuscany without breaking the bank. Not surprisingly, the food was also phenomenal in Italy. Some local dishes that blew us away were Pici pasta with black pepper and Pecorino cheese, pesto gnocchi with bacon, ravioli with truffles, and lasagnette. Also the local honey from castagna (chestnut) flowers. The blossoms fragranced the air all over Italy and will be forever locked in my mind.
At one restaurant, Osteria La Porta in Monticchello, owner Daria convinced me to try an aged grappa that made me think twice, as I’ve never been a fan in the past. This one was more like a whiskey, since it was aged in barrels, and displayed aromas of vanilla, caramel crème brulee, smoke, and softness on the finish. Salute, Daria!
After five glorious days in Tuscany, we returned our rental car and got on the train to head north to Bologna. We were excited to meet up with some California friends there. On this part of the trip, I switched my focus to Prosecco and Franciacorta, which dominates in Northern Italy. Unlike some of the versions you find here in the States, the examples of Prosecco were light, flowery, fruity and not sweet. Whether by the carafe at lunch or by the glass in the afternoon, they were always delicious. And my new favorite is Franciacorta, a sparkling wine from the Lombardy region made like Champagne, using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I miss it already!
Our final stop was Venice, just a bit further north. Due to the hordes of tourists here, we kept off the beaten path and lunched where the locals suggested, drank Spritzes (Aperol and Prosecco) and marveled at the sights. Vini da Gigio was a restaurant devoted to traditional Ventian cooking that offered a great wine list. We found an Italian Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) from Alto Adige, 2011 Riserva Montigl that was outstanding.
My next visit to Italy will be focused in the North….and it can’t come soon enough!
The East End & Tessier winemaker dinner was a great success! Two hometown teams coming together to deliver a great night of fun. It was nearly a sold out crowd with lots of Alameda locals in attendance. Folks were greeted with a glass of sparkling wine to cleanse their pallets, had a few minutes to chat, and then made their way to the tables. Starting a little after 7pm, Kristie welcomed the crowd and introduced herself and Tessier Winery. First out, was the Seared Sea Scallop paired with the 2012 Russian River Valley Viognier. The apple-fennel relish highlighted the green apple notes in the Viognier. It was a perfect way to start! Next came the Tuna Tartare paired with the 2012 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, followed by Handkerchief Pasta with seasonal mushrooms with the 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Both were lovely, and Kristie talked about the differences between these two Pinot Noirs, showcasing their individual terroirs — Santa Cruz Mountains having more body and tannins with pomegranate and dried fennel aromas and the Russian River Valley being lighter in style with aromas of raspberry, cherry and an earthiness with baking spices. Next up was the Duck Confit Pizza complementing the 2012 El Dorado Grenache deliciously. East End has carried the Grenache since they opened…this is a great pizza wine! Finally, the last course was the Cassoulet which was paired with the 2011 Russian River Valley RESERVE Pinot Noir. As Kristie explained, the RESERVE was composed of her two favorite barrels (50 cases) from that year, which showcased strawberry, violets, rose petals, graham cracker and a lingering finish of cafe au lait. A perfect way to end the evening!
The dinner had a seamless flow and the attentive staff saw to every detail. Kudos to East End and a Big Thanks to all the attendees for coming out.
**Food and Wine photo credits to Pat Wilinski.
Another Winning Winemaker Dinner for Tessier!
While Tessier has already squeezed out several successful winemaker dinners, that didn’t mean we were any less excited about Monday night’s offering at Hopscotch, an “upscale diner serving seasonally inspired cocktails and regional American food with Japanese sensibility in Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood.” Tempted by the cocktail menu, the crowd was in high spirits as the seatings began. And who doesn’t love a wine list that begins with the mantra “I will not drink bad wine”?
For the amuse, we enjoyed a spoonful of Hamachi poke, its sharp brininess emphasized by the crunch of green onion. It paired well with the crispness of the bubbly, the Allimant Laugner Cremant d’Alsace, one of my go-to choices for a reasonably priced sparkling rosé.
With appetites whetted, we eagerly tucked into the grilled Corvina seabass and mountain yam brandade croquette. The flavor of the fish was subtle, with just a bit of salty skin still attached, and the potatoes were deliciously crusty. Their partner, the 2012 Tessier Saralee’s Vineyard Viognier, provided nice contrast with its beautiful floral and citrus notes, supported by stone fruits. It went especially well with the gremolata made with yuzu, an East Asian citrus similar to a grapefruit.
The next course was chicken liver mousse with pickled strawberries and frisee. Be still, my heart! The mousse was smooth perfection on toast, its earthy undertones and slight smokiness a fine match for the 2012 Tessier Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir with its cranberry, herbal notes and vibrant minerality. By the way, if you’ve never had pickled strawberries, as I hadn’t until this dinner, you are missing out. Fresh and tangy, they were also a nice match with the wine’s acidity.
And then there was duck confit. Oh, what a glorious duck it was, with several of my dining companions proclaiming it the best they’d ever had. Crispy on the outside, amazingly tender meat and served with chicory risotto with just the right amount of bite. The 2011 Tessier Saralee’s Reserve Pinot Noir certainly held its own, though, with its bright cherry, nutmeg, and hint of smoke. Moans of happiness could be heard across the dining room. Or maybe that was just me…
Somehow, there was still room for dessert. When presented with the flourless chocolate torte, it was almost too lovely to eat. But we somehow managed to scrape our plates, enjoying the decadent chocolate, maple ice cream, and candied pecans. Paired with the 2012 Tessier Fenaughty Vineyard Grenache, I wasn’t sure what to expect. (Typically, a dessert wine needs to be as sweet as or sweeter than the dessert.) However, the notes of walnut, vanilla crème, and cola made for a unique combination with our last course.
Another great evening with Tessier, everyone left happy and full…and eager for the next installment!
My heart is heavy from the news of Saralee McClelland Kunde’s passing this past Sunday. I first met her and her team at Lost Canyon Winery in 2006. A couple years later, when Lost Canyon was sold and I decided to make my own wine, I nervously drove up to ask if she would sell grapes to a small, not-yet-existent winery like Tessier. Even though she was the queen of Russian River Valley grapes, she was friendly and straightforward when she agreed to sell me my first three tons of Pinot Noir. With that, Tessier Winery was born! We worked with her up until the vineyard was sold, through the 2012 harvest.
Each year Saralee and her entire crew hosted a luncheon at her house, usually in January or February, where she invited all those who had bought Saralee’s fruit the past harvest. Each attendee brought a sample of the wine they made from that harvest, which meant it was only about four months in to the life of the wine. These were not finished products, rather, they were young and flawed.
The list of all the varietals and wineries that made them was long, sometimes coming in at over 50 wines. However, Saralee had the orchestration of the event down to an art: five wine glasses at each setting, and her team pouring the appropriate wine into the numbered glass. When ready, each representative stood and spoke about the harvest, the wines, statistics, and whatever else they wanted to share.
The lunch provided a nice chance to visit with Saralee after the circus of the harvest season. It also presented us an opportunity to meet other notable winemakers. Her buyers ran the gamut, from big names like Francis Ford Coppola Winery and Williams Selyem to small fries like me. Yet we were all treated with the same respect. I learned so much over the six times I attended, gaining perspective and confidence each year. I will always be grateful for the experience.
One of my other favorite memories of Saralee was talking to her on the phone to coordinate picks and talk grapes and visiting the vineyards with her. Each conversation was filled with her energy and passion for Russian River Valley grapes.
I am so glad I had the pleasure of connecting and working with her. I will treasure all of the Saralee’s Vineyard wines I have made, as her legacy will live on through the wine and what she taught me about viticulture. Let’s raise a glass to Saralee and the mark she made in the wine world!
Tessier Winery: A Woman’s Touch with Pinot Noir
Kristie Tacey was initially on a career path in biotechnology and in 2000 worked on the Human Genome Project. While living in the San Francisco Bay area, she developed at interest in wine and winemaking. After working as an assistant winemaker at the former Lost Canyon Winery in Oakland and later as part of the winemaking team at JC Cellars, she started her own label in 2009. She now is a Certified Specialist in Wine (CSW) and is an accomplished winemaker exhibiting a touch with Pinot Noir.
The name, Tessier, is the original French version of Kristie’s last name, Tacey. The Tessier label depicts a photograph through a microscope of yeasts budding which is a clever depiction since yeasts are the work horses in winemaking. The winery’s tag line is “Science as Art.”
I was impressed by both the 2010 and 2011 Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs, and the 2012 offerings march in step. In 2012, Kristie added a Santa Cruz Mountains bottling. She also crafts a Russian River Valley Viognier from Saralee’s Vineyard and a Rosé of Grenache from Fenaughty Vineyard in the El Dorado area. A Morelli Lane Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley was added in 2013.
Tessier wines are available through the winery’s website at www.tessierwinery.com, with limited retail and restaurant distribution in the San Francisco Bay area. Tasting is by appointment. Kristie often pours the wines at Cuvée Wine Cellars in San Carlos (visit the website for dates).
14.2% alc., 60 cases, $37. Winemaker’s note: she also picked the grapes which led to several bee stings and a deeper appreciation for those who pick grapes on a regular basis! Pommard 4 and Dijon 115 clones. Aged in 50% new French oak barrels. · Medium reddish purple color in the glass. Very appealing nose with bright aromas of black cherry sprinkled with herbs and flowers, pomegranate, and almond. Soft in the mouth with the tasty essence of fresh black cherries, accented with notes of pomegranate juice, raspberry and smoky oak. The tannins are firm but balanced, the wine is fresh and generous, and the graceful finish has impressive length. The typical bright Santa Cruz Mountains acidity contributes verve to the wine. Needs a little more time for the oak to integrate, but hard to turn down now. Score: 91
14.1% alc., 150 cases, $37. Last vintage due to sale of the vineyard. Aged in 38% new French oak barrels. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Intense aromas of black cherry pie glaze, baking spices and sandalwood. The nose continued to pump out aromas over an hour sampling period. Juicy and crisp on the palate with bright Bing cherry flavor augmented with riffs of spice and cola. Comforting finesse and persistence without weight. A gorgeous wine that displays all the best features of Russian River Valley fruit without the overbearing fruit concentration that detracts from many bottlings from this area. Score: 94
We want to sincerely thank everyone who joined us at Tessier’s 4th Annual Release Party this past Sunday. It was a full house, and we all enjoyed the festive atmosphere of American Oak and the delectable appetizers. Plus, we were overjoyed by the positive feedback about our new wines. What a merry way to spend the afternoon—connecting with old friends and making new ones. Thank you all for your constant support!