As described by Emiddio Justin Massa
Walking down B Street in Hayward, you would never expect to find an intimate food and wine pairing taking place in a beautifully renovated Victorian, turned event space—but that’s just what’s was going on at Casa Milano on a serene May evening. Chef Julie McKillop and winemaker Kristie Tacey paired up to put on an intimate wine and food pairing. Glasses of Grenache, Viognier, and Pinot Noir were passed around with expertly paired dishes.
This was not your standard winemaker dinner. Gone were the long, intimidating tables with rigid courses and forced conversation. Instead, small plates were passed around intimate standing spaces. Allowing for one-on-one conversations to take place between winemaker, guest, and chef. Chef Julie organized this event with the hope that guests would walk away with new friends and with a new connection to one of the Bay Area’s up and coming urban winemaker’s Kristie Tacey.
While guest sipped on Tessier’s 2013 El Dorado Grenache—a ruby red vixen with blueberry and candied orange peel on the nose—and sampled artisan cheeses from the Tomales Bay, Kristie explained how she fell in love with the artistry and science of winemaking, stepped away from her career as a microbiologist working on the Human Genome Project, and dove headfirst into an exciting career in wine.
The evening continued and Kristie proudly shared her 2013 Morelli Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir paired with a warm and savory pancetta, leek, and goat cheese tart. The pinot, with hints of cocoa, vanilla, and the subtleties of the forest floor shined bright when paired with the savory, thyme seasoned goat cheese and leek covered pancetta.
Next up, a 2014 Catie’s Corner Vineyard, Russian River Valley Viognier with hints of fleshy peach, honeysuckle, and fresh white roses. Guest filled their glasses and filled their forks with the third course of the night—Moroccan chicken tagine. The crisp Viognier cut through the subtle sweetness and ginger spice of the chicken refreshing the palate for the next bite.
Kristie and Tessier celebrated their inaugural vintage in 2009. For Kristie, Tessier was a chance to explore her winemaking abilities and pair them with unique fruit from distinctive growing regions and talented grape growers. With that her 200 case pet project has since turned into a growing brand with a bright future.
The night wound down with the last offering, a 2012 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir and bourbon-braised pork belly and sweet potato custard. The new french oak components of the pinot were elevated by the subtle sweetness and baking spice of the Louisiana cane syrup gastrique. A perfect combination to wind down the evening.
As desserts were passed around, including a to-die-for coconut crust fruit tart. Guests said their goodbyes to Kristie and Chef Julie. All in all, the intimate setting proved to be a success. Winemaker, Chef, and wine enthusiast shared in the elegance of pairing great wine with wonderfully crafted food.
Sunday night brought us back to where it all began for the Tessier Winemaker dinner. Pappo Restaurant in Alameda was the scene of the first such partnership, and the second act was just as successful, if not more so.
First to the party was the 2013 Femme Fatale Rosé. The dining room buzzed with chatter and the sound of glasses clinking in anticipation of good food and wine to come. The rosé offered a beautiful magenta hue, and raspberry, strawberry, green apple, and wet stone. Then plates of duck liver pâté, olives stuffed with anchovies, toasted almonds, and blue del mencisio cheese were placed in the center of the table. Chef/owner John Thiel later explained how the wine made him immediately imagine a picnic. We eagerly dove in to the assortment of goodies. The pâté was impossibly smooth, the fried olives sufficiently salty, the cheese a subtle and creamy exploration of blue, and the honey-drizzled almonds a sweet and crunchy foil to the other items. Each component was a delightful partner for the rosé, bringing out its freshness and acid by turns.
Next up was the 2013 El Dorado Grenache, full of blueberry, candied orange, white pepper, and graphite. To accompany the wine, we cut into our perfectly poached eggs, allowing the yolk to spill over baby spinach and frisee dressed in Dijon/green garlic vinaigrette and dotted with bacon. The smoky bacon matched the earthiness of the wine, and the tanginess of the dressing was a nice match for the acidity of the Grenache. Yet the table-side addition of aged goat Gouda really turned up the volume, as the saltiness brought a punch to both the salad and the wine pairing. What a difference a spoonful makes.
Then things got real. Glasses magically appeared, containing the divine 2013 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from Morelli Lane. A new addition to the Tessier line, this Pinot displays beautiful rich fruit like mulberry and boysenberry, along with spearmint, rootbeer and baking spice. When the mushroom ragu over baked white polenta arrived, we all oooed and ahhhhed. A gorgeous presentation, it was even tastier than it looked. The oyster and shiitake mushrooms married well to the forest floor hints in the wine, while the tarragon matched the herbal notes. And we thought we detected nutmeg in the shallot cream sauce, a complement to the baking spice in the wine’s profile. Forks scraped against plates trying to get every morsel, and not a drop of the Morelli was seen in any glass on the table.
Next up was the 2012 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir. With a little more time in the bottle, it had opened up to exhibit cherry, cranberry, dried herbs, lavender, with a streak of minerality. The duck leg was fall-off-the-bone good, and the skin was temptingly crisp. The flavor of the meat paired well with the earthiness of the wine, while the carrot and cauliflower risotto matched the herbal notes.
Last but not least were the homemade chocolate truffles. Kristie and John surprised me by having everyone sing to me, in honor of my birthday. A sweet surprise. Then to follow it up with the decadent chocolatey goodness? Even sweeter. John had used the 2013 After Hours Pinot Noir in the truffles, as well as soaking almonds in the wine and allowing them to dry out for a crunchy coating. Along with the wine and its notes of cherries, rose petals, and spearmint, it was a lovely way to end the meal.
The full house was soon loaded with full, happy bellies and flurry of people making purchases. All in all, another winner for Tessier and Pappo!
14.1% alc., 50 cases, $30. A tribute to the Velvet Underground and the last track on their self-titled album, one of Kristie’s favorites: “If you close the door, the night could last forever. Leave the wineglass out and drink a toast to never.” 50% Saveria Vineyard and 50% Morelli Lane Vineyard. Aged in neutral French oak. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Uplifting aromas of cherry, cranberry and strawberry with a complimentary touch of dried herbs. Elegant and lighter in weight, but not wimpy flavor wise, with a juicy core of red fruits accented with notes of spice and a hint of red hots. A forward drinking wine, slightly chilled, perfect for the back porch after a long work day. Score: 89
13.0% alc., 100 cases, $38. Aged in 25% new French oak. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, strawberry, and dried rose petal really draw you into the glass. Very suave and pleasurable on the palate with a juicy attack of fresh cherry and cranberry fruits wrapped in fine-grain tannins. Nicely balanced with good oak integration, finishing strong with plenty of red berry delight. Score: 92
14.3% alc., 170 cases, $38. Aged in 30% new French oak. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Nice contrast to the Santa Cruz Mountains bottling, showing the typical luscious fruit the Russian River Valley is known for. Hi-tone aromas of Bing cherry, raspberry, cola and baking spice set the stage. In the mouth, there is a striking attack of intensely flavored fruit, primarily black cherry, with a hint of sarsaparilla, mocha and vanilla. Nicely balanced tannins make for easy drinking now and the finish has impressive generosity. Score: 93
So please join us for this milestone on Sunday, November 9th, from 2:00 to 5:00, at American Oak in Alameda. $10 admission to taste the new releases and enjoy passed appetizers paired with Tessier wines. Glasses of wine available for purchase. (Other surprises may be available.) One free admission per Research Club membership!
And since the next shipment is not until February, this party is the ideal opportunity to stock up on wine for the holidays and beyond.
Oh, harvest. The craziest time of year for a winemaker. For me, it’s my chance to spend time with each set of grapes. Noticing how each lot is different, giving them the attention they deserve, charting their growth, trying not to pick favorites. (I’d imagine it’s like having kids.)
At the other end of the journey is bottling, which is how we began this season. The line-up of 2013 reds went into bottle on August 28, and I can’t wait to share them. All three Pinot Noirs are new to Tessier: Morelli Lane Vineyard from Russian River Valley, Saveria Vineyard from Santa Cruz Mountains, and a fun new wine we call After Hours, plus the returning El Dorado Grenache.
Once the babies were resting nicely, I kicked into super woman mode, zigzagging across the state to pick up grapes. They all came in pretty close together, which led to lack of sleep and inadequate nutrition for me for a couple weeks. A few days I even felt like a zombie, including on my birthday. But it’s always worth it in the end.
Here was how it all went down:
Sept. 2 – Viognier from Catie’s Corner Vineyard (RRV), which is now slowly fermenting in the cold room. Thanks to Kyle Loudon of Coterie Cellars in San Jose for driving the fruit to me, since he was getting Viognier, as well. I met Kyle through Saralee Kunde years ago while working for Lost Canyon Winery. So in a way, it was like having Saralee there with us in spirit.
Sept. 9 – Pinot Noir, Saveria Vineyard, SCM night picked under the influence of the SuperMoon.
Sept. 11- Grenache, Fenaughty Vineyard, El Dorado –100% whole cluster, foot stomped- fermentation smells like vanilla creme soda. As always, it was a pleasure seeing our grower, Ron Mansfield.
Sept. 13- Pinot Noir, Morelli Lane Vineyard, RRV night picked.
Special thanks to Melanie Hartman who joined me on the Grenache run and in the foot stomping adventure afterwards. She also accompanied me to the Morelli Lane night pick, where she helped me navigate in the dark of night, running on no sleep.
An interesting note this harvest was the presence of a little bit of shatter. Shatter occurs when the blossom doesn’t get pollinated and the berry doesn’t grow. Maybe a result of the early flowering this year. However, the harvest qual
ity for 2014 overall is very high, with a nice concentration of flavors. I can’t wait to see how these wines progress and what they will become at the end of the trip.
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!