|John Lee, David Phillips, Carmen Rodriguez|
Michael David Wine Dinner
What happens with you put together California wines, and an inspired chef? .....Magic!
This night, we gathered at the Lake Arrowhead Resort, high in the San Bernardino Mountains. John Lee, the Food and Beverage manager, had informed me that the co-owner of Michael David Winery would be in town, to host a winemaker dinner with the new Executive Chef, Carmen Rodriguez. The Lake Arrowhead Resort is now a Marriott Autograph Collection property. The new Executive Chef came from the Four Diamond award winning, Fuego at La Posada in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On top of that, Chef Carmen was New Mexico’s Chef of the year in 2012.
Michael David Winery is a family owned business of 5th generation growers, dating back to the 1850’s in Lodi, California. David Phillips is the co-owner/President, along with his older brother, Michael. The Family has over 750 acres of vineyards that they own, and also purchases from vineyards throughout California. Many of their labels will be familiar to wine drinkers: 7 Deadly Zins, Earthquake, Freakshow, Petite Petit (the circus label), and Icognito. Their quality wines are sometimes passed up (or in many cases, purchased) because of their eye-catching labels and names.
As we gathered in the impressive Magnum Room in the Bin 189 Restaurant, we were offered a glass of Spanish sparkling wine, and the opportunity to talk with David Phillips. We talked about growing grapes in the Lodi region, and how the diurnal temperature changes and the sandy soil make for great wines. Phylloxera hasn’t shown up in Lodi yet, allowing the Zinfandel vines to continue to produce. The Zinfandel vines range from 20 to 118 years old. The Cinsault vines are actually older than 130 years. I know Michael David for their Zinfandels and Petite Petit, but this night, we would experience a full range of their wines. David discussed his wines, and the fact that they have 65 different growers, all following sustainable practices. Of those 65, thirty five of them only grow Zinfandel. Every year, the Zinfandel growers submit their grapes, and each vineyard is fermented individually. All the Zinfandels are blind tasted by the growers (so all 35 taste each other’s wines) and they judge the best. Not knowing whose wine is whose, the winner is picked and that vineyard grower is awarded a bonus. The competition to grow the best grapes, makes for better wine.
This night, we were presented with a 7-course meal, all paired with Michael David wines. The interesting thing to me (which is contrary to what I do as a Sommelier) is that Chef Carmen Rodriguez is not a wine drinker. He paired all the courses based on the winery description of the wines, interpreting those descriptions into his food and sauce choices.
Our first course was a light Grilled Lobster Spring Roll with an Aguadolce drizzle and Wasabi Tobiko. This was paired with the 2013 Michael David Sauvignon Blanc. The grapes were sourced from Lake County, Lodi and Napa Valley (Duckhorn winery). The wine had a nice bright acidity to it, with ripe citrusy fruit flavors. The wine and the grilled lobster worked nicely together, pulling out the subtle caramelization of the lobster.
Our second course was Chile-rubbed Seared Diver Scallops over micro greens and a fried plantain with a Sherry, Chipotle Gastrique. This was paired with the 2013 Michael David Chardonnay. I was a bit concerned about the potential heat from the chipotle, but Chef Carmen had used three vinegars and butter to create a coating that kept the heat down. The Chardonnay had been handpicked, taking three passes through the vineyard. It was aged in 100% new oak, and about 40% had been exposed to malolactic fermentation. The creamy oak flavors in the wine paired nicely with the butter in scallops.
Our third course had everyone talking, a French Onion Duck Confit Soup, served with the 2012 Petite Petit. This rich soup included a foie gras brie crostini. The rich duck and caramelized onions begged for a heavier wine, and the Petite Petit hit the mark with it’s’ blend of 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot. I have enjoyed this wine over the years, and had always wondered about the label. Upon closer inspection, and guidance from David Phillips, the hidden messages were obvious. First, the label was designed by a Grateful Dead fan, so there are references such as the time on the clock, and the lamp stand (which looks like a bong) throughout. Also, all the wines made by Michael David winery are identified on the label (take a look at the top photo on this blog).
The fourth course was Sweetbreads and crispy pork belly in an herbed wine demi glace. Chef Carmen explained that the sweetbreads were bathed in a milk bath at 97°F, rather than boiled. This was served with the Rapture 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes (90% Cabernet Sauvignon & 10% Petite Sirah) for this wine come from Michael David’s own vineyard, and are aged 18 months in 100% new French oak. This is a deep colored Cabernet with notes of blackberry and hints of cocoa. The tannins were smooth for such a young Cab.
The fifth course was more of a “palette cleansing” course, and consisted of roasted beets, layered with pine nuts and Chevre. Chef Carmen included local honey along with the sweet roasted beets. This was paired with the Ink Blot 2013 Cabernet Franc. This wine really needs to open up. David noted that the wine was released earlier than planned, due to high demand. Even extensive swirling couldn’t get the wine to open up. Unfortunately, the tightness of the wine was over-powered by the sweetness of the dish. David said that the 2012 Ink Blot would have worked perfectly….but since it is sold out, we may never know.
The main course of the evening consisted of three items plated together, and three wines. The first was a lamb ragout, but not just any lamb. Chef Carmen used Halal lamb. He explained that Halal Lamb is slaughtered with a sharp knife by cutting the throat, windpipe and the blood vessels in the neck, causing the animal's death without cutting the spinal cord. Lastly, the blood from the veins must be drained. This prevents the lamb from having the gamey flavors commonly associated with lamb. My wife, who does not care for lamb, said this was the best lamb she had ever had. The lamb was served on top of a Manchego Polenta, and served with the Rage 2012 Zinfandel. This was my favorite pairing of the evening. This Zinfandel comes from 35 year old vines, and has a mix of spice and fruit, that expresses the terroir of the Dry Creek region. The second item was a Lavender rubbed Venison Tenderloin over Rose Petal Risotto and a Mountain Berry reduction, served with the Gluttony 2012 Zinfandel. The grapes for this Zinfandel come from 85 year old vines located in Amador County. If you read the description of the entrée, then you know the profile of the wine…berries, roses, lavender. The final portion of this course was a Fire-kissed Ribeye with roasted mushroom truffle butter. The ribeye was from Brandt beef, which produces only natural beef (no hormones or antibiotics). This was paired with the Lust 2012 Zinfandel. This wine is produced only from the best Zinfandel lots, and is a big, jammy wine.
We ended the evening with a dessert course of Blood Orange Saffron Cheesecake, paired with the Michael David Symphony. Symphony is a hybrid variety created by crossing Muscat of Alexandria with Grenache Gris. This is not an overly sweet wine, but offered nice aromas of peach and apricot. The moderate plus acidity cut through the creaminess of the cheesecake, making a perfect end for the evening.
A couple takeaway notes from this fine evening…Michael David Winery makes some seriously good wines. Look beyond the catchy wine labels, and enjoy their generations of experience. The second note is that the Lake Arrowhead Resort is back as a powerhouse in wine pairing events, with the excellent skills of Chef Carmen Rodriguez. I look forward to future events. But, you don’t have to wait for an event, check out the Lake Arrowhead Resort for your next vacation getaway, and enjoy a dinner at their restaurant: Bin 189.