March 19, 2010

Fort Ross Wine Dinner at Cafe Chloe (San Diego)

The Fort Ross Vineyard and Winery is uniquely situated for a vineyard with just a mile from the Pacific Ocean. It is located close to the mouth of the Russian River between Jenner and Fort Ross, and at a height of 1200 to 1700 feet overlooks the ocean. The Fort Ross Vineyard is made up by 28 small vineyard blocks at the top of the coastal ridge. The South Africans Linda and Lester Schwartz started winemaking at this location in 1994. Today the Fort Ross Vineyard focuses on three varietals – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinotage. The name Fort Ross Vineyard might be not as familiar as some of the “big” vineyards in Sonoma and Napa County but nevertheless their numerous favorable reviews for many of their wines show that many wine connoisseurs appreciate their wines.

For many years now we have been very interested in food and cooking and always enjoyed drinking a good beer or wine to accompany our food, but only over the last two years or so we really started to get much more interested in learning more about wine, beer and cocktails. You can of course learn a lot by reading about these areas, but one approach that we have started to enjoy is to participate in wine/beer dinners, or to opt for a wine pairing with a tasting menu. So when recently Cafe Chloe hosted a wine dinner with wines from Fort Ross Vineyard we decided to take this opportunity to combine good food with some good wines.
Tasting menus with wine pairings can sometimes be quite formal but in this case it turned out to be a laid back and relaxing night. Only a limited number of tables took part in the wine dinner but at the same time regular customers could select a few of the courses with the wine pairing individually which was a good idea to at least get some taste of the food and wines.

1st Course: Chilled chicken & truffle galantine with Persian watercress
 and green garlic sauce vert.

Great start for the evening and our favorite course of the night. Galantine is stuffed meat (often forcemeat) that is poached and coated with aspic. The addition of truffle gave it a very elegant taste. The green garlic sauce vert completed the dish by giving a nice light, herbaceous touch. The 2008 Rose of Pinot Noir was a good pairing with its taste of strawberries and jasmine tea and a smooth finish which didn’t overwhelm the delicate taste of the galantine.

2nd Course: Branzino with sauce au vin blanc, spring vegetables –
peas, asparagus, favas, pea vines, radishes and beets.

This Mediterranean seabass had firm, moist flesh and a nice crispy skin. The vegetables were perfectly cooked, and especially the beets had a nice earthy flavor which suited the fish. The ingredients and the colorful presentation made this a great spring dish. The 2005 Chardonnay Reserve was interesting as it was an unfiltered wine. It had some fruity tones of peaches, apricots and melon with some acidity and a long finish.

3rd Course: Grilled duck breast with tangelo duck jus, wild mushrooms,
creamed spinach and duck rillette crepe Breton.

Also one of our favorites of the night – the citrusy sauce helped to balance the richness of the duck breast and the meatiness of the large pieces of wild mushrooms. The creamed spinach and especially the buckwheat crepe with duck rillette filling were outstanding “side” dishes.

This course was accompanied by two different Pinot Noirs – 2007 Pinot Noir (left) and 2005 Pinot Noir Reserve (right). You could already see by the darker color that the reserve would have a much stronger and refined taste than “regular” Pinot Noir. The reserve had a strong taste of brambleberry, cherry and plums and quite a lot of tannins whereas the “regular” had less tannins and also less intense berry flavor.

4th Course: Smoked pork shoulder braised with rosemary, roasted fennel,
tomato, cranberry beans and local olive oil.

Altogether a good dish but probably the weakest part of the tasting menu. The meat was very tender and had a slight smoky flavor. The beans worked as a good base for the dish but the fennel was hardly detectable and it felt overall unbalanced and overly rich. Some balancing flavors which would have cut through the richness of the meat like some bitter kale/chard or some vegetable mash with some added sweetness from carrots or winter squash would have been nice. The paired 2006 Pinotage reminded us not surprisingly of a Pinot Noir with some raspberry and blackberry flavors with a smooth finish.

5th Course: Irish cashel blue cheese, roasted green grapes and honeycomb.

A good finish of the dinner with this Irish cheese which reminded us of a mixture of Gorgonzola and Roquefort. The honeycomb had the perfect balancing sweetness to the tanginess of the cheese. The roasted grapes with their slight smokey flavor were a nice addition. This course was paired with a Sauternes from Cafe Chloe which had a good balance between its sweetness and raisiness.

Supplement Dessert: Affogato – drawn espresso with vanilla bean ice cream.

Although we were quite full we were thinking about some coffee and sweets to finish the night. What is better than combining these two than in an affogato. Cafe Chloe has very good house-made ice cream, including their vanilla bean ice cream, and they use high quality Illy coffee beans for their espressos. By the way, this is one of our favorite desserts at Cafe Chloe together with their exceptional pistachio bread pudding, or their outstanding chocolate pot de crème… we like desserts…

Overall we enjoyed this wine menu at Cafe Chloe a lot, and it was a good combination of excellent food and good wines. We found most of the Fort Ross wines to be good “restaurant” wines which means we would easily order a glass of them in the restaurant. On the other hand they sometimes felt raw and unfinished so that we probably would not order larger quantities for home enjoyment, one exception might be the 2005 Chardonnay Reserve. John, one of the three owners of Cafe Chloe, mentioned that they are planning three more wine dinners over the course of this year, and we hope that we might have time to enjoy them.
721 9th Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 232-3242


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