Wine Dinner Takeover

Richard Krumweide, Jim, Nytasha Mealer, Elizabeth Krumweide
What happens when a winemaker, a chef, and a venue, which was once reputedly owned by Bugsy Siegel, come together? Of course, the answer is a 6-course wine pairing dinner.

I have known the winemaker, Richard Krumweide for years. He and his wife, Elizabeth, own the recently bonded Sycamore Ranch Vineyard &Winery. They are located in Dart Canyon, high up on the San Bernardino Mountains, in the town of Crestline. They are one of the highest altitude wineries in California. Sitting on 3.5 acres, they produce Zinfandel, Syrah and Hard Cider from their own vineyards and orchards. The remaining grape varieties are sourced from the Central Coast, and Sierra Foothills. All wines are produced at the winery. As an amateur winemaker, their wines have been winning numerous awards at tasting events throughout California. The first vintages for sale to the public will be the 2015 vintage. Since this event was a private dinner for Arrowhead Wine Enthusiast members, we were happy to help rid them of some of their older vintages.

I met Chef Nytasha Mealer at Sycamore Ranch Vineyards. She currently runs an organic food market in the town of Crestline, but has an extensive cooking background, which has her catering numerous events. She went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu, and has cooked with Bobby Flay, and Wolfgang Puck. She was the chef of Fig and Olive in Los Angeles. Needless to say, she has some “street cred”.

The Tudor House had approached us, and asked if our wine club would be interested in creating a wine pairing dinner. We agreed to do the dinner, as long as we could “takeover” their kitchen with Nytasha creating the menu, their staff doing the serving, and Sycamore Ranch providing the wine and cider for each course. Nytasha and I met at Sycamore Ranch, and had the “painful” job (someone has to do it) of tasting numerous Sycamore Ranch wines, along with Richard and Elizabeth. For over two hours, we tasted, and share our tasting notes, and ideas for what would pair best with each wine. Nytahsa took most of the notes, and used those to pick which wines to pair, and ultimately create the wine pairing meal that follows.

At 6:30, on the evening of the dinner, we gathered outside the Tudor House for the Amuse-Bouche. This course was a delicately seared albacore and red snapper tataki, enveloped around baby herbs atop handmade wonton drizzled in a kumquat ponzu, finished with flavored tobiko. This was paired with the Big Moon Hard Apple Cider. This was one of my favorite pairings of the evening, and a great way to start things off. The kumquat ponzu really worked well with the tartness of the apple cider. The effervescence of the cider awakened the palate, and prepared us for the coming courses.

We next moved inside. The historic Tudor House was set for four couples at each table. A large screen above the performance stage, had a slide show highlighting Sycamore Ranch. We had a small crowd of only about 45 people, but that wasn’t too bad, considering the entire event was put together in less than three weeks.

Our first sit down course was “brown butter pan-seared scallops, fixed upon a Meyer lemon Marcona almond pesto, dotted with cilantro coulis and feathered parsnip chips”. This was paired with the 2014 Sycamore Ranch Rousanne. This white wine has a certain richness to it, with honey and pear notes. The acidity of the wine was matched with the acidity of the Meyer lemon pesto. The pesto itself was not only Meyer lemon, but Marcona almonds. This added a richness that mirrored the wine.

The next course was “roasted organic raised quail and golden beet salad on a bed of wilted tatsoi, graciously dressed with raspberry white balsamic vinaigrette”. This was paired with the 2014 Sycamore Ranch Grenache.  This is a very nice Grenache, with notes of raspberry, strawberry, cherry and white pepper. For many, this was their favorite pairing of the evening. I am not a big beet fan, so for me, they over-powered the wine.

The third course (or fourth depending on how you count) was a Moroccan carrot ginger veloute, dolloped with crème fraiche”. This was my favorite pairing of the evening, being served with the 2014 Sycamore Ranch Rhone Ranger. When a pairing comes together, the food changes the taste of the wine, pulling out flavor notes that weren’t there without the food. This course did that. The ginger and carrot greens made the fruit pop in this wine. For me, this was the best pairing of the night.

After a palate cleanser of apricot lemon sorbet, we moved on to the main course of a “richly marinated, then flash seared venison tenderloin, nested against a forest mushroom risotto, aged parmesan Reggiano, bathed in a luxurious fig and wine reduction”. This course was served with the 2013 Sycamore Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. What can I say? Cabernet and venison…they just go together. Add to that Parmesan and figs, and you have a rich course.

We ended the evening with “the deepest darkest Belgium flourless chocolate cake, draped in a violet lavender ganache”. This was paired with the 2014 Sycamore Ranch Primitivo.  This was a challenging pairing. Since Sycamore Ranch does not make a dessert wine, and we needed to end the evening with a dessert…the options were limited. The Primitivo is probably their most fruit forward wine variety, but it is not sweet. In this case, the dessert was sweet, and made the wine seem a bit flat. The ganache, with its’ flowery notes did play off similar notes in the wine. Individually, both were delicious.

This was a fun evening of experimenting with wine and food. Learning what works and what doesn’t, and to see how a chef interprets the wine, to create an experience for the participants. At the end of the evening, the owner of the Tudor House was encouraged to try this again, and I made some recommendations of wineries to try. That means more wine pairing notes in the future.

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