Because of the intrinsic link between food and wine, organised wine tastings can fall flat if they don’t include food. The Somm Series event at West Indies Wine Company with La Crema wines on April 5 featured food provided by Abacus chef Will O’Hara, and the pairing helped create a wonderful experience for the guests.
Somm Series events, which have taken place periodically since West Indies Wine Company opened in 2013, usually include the tasting of five or six wines from a specific producer. A winery owner, winemaker or wine rep is usually on hand to present the wines, which in recent years have been served only with various nibbles like cheese, charcuterie and various pickled items. For the La Crema Somm Series event, O’Hara created a selection of hot and cold canapes to pair with each wine, based on their tasting notes.
The enhanced food pairing with the tasted wines is something West Indies Wine Company Manager Eric Schwandt plans to continue with future Somm Series events, if the timing of the wine representative’s visit corresponds with chef availability.
“Hopefully this will be more often than not,” he said. The reason for upgrading the food element at the Somm Series events is simple, Schwandt said.
“We want our guests to walk away with the best experience possible,” he said. “Nothing complements a great wine like a well-paired dish. We’ve always had great wines at these events. So why not utilise the brilliant chefs all around us to kick the whole thing up a notch?”
La Crema isn’t a single winery, but a wine brand owned by Jackson Family Wines with wineries and vineyards in several locations. It primarily produces Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but the Somm Series event also offered a taste of its Pinot Gris.
On hand to present the wines was Fernando Arteaga, the sales director for the Caribbean and Latin America for Jackson Family Wines. He explained that the winery, originally called “La Crema Vinera,” was founded in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County in 1979 and then bought by Jackson Family Wines’ founder Jess Jackson in 1993. With a cool climate due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and its mountainous elevation, the Russian River Valley has became one of the best places in California to grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, both of which produce better wines in cooler climates.
Le Crema later bought vineyards in Anderson Valley, Sonoma Coast, Los Carneros and Monterey in California, as well as in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
WINES AND FOOD
Three white wines were tasted, starting with unoaked Pinot Gris from Monterey.
Made with the same grape variety that produces Pinot Grigio, the La Crema Pinot Gris is less acidic than its Italian counterpart and has more summer fruit flavours like pear, yellow apple and honeysuckle, and its mouthfeel is softer. O’Hara paired it with local long bean bruschetta, prosciutto and Parmesan crisp.
La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay was served with butter chicken in a spicy, slow-roasted cherry tomato sauce. Although Chardonnay isn’t always a good pairing with spicy foods, this one worked because the wine has medium alcohol content, isn’t overly oaky and its balanced acidity and buttery texture went well with the richness of the dish.
Tasted next was La Crema’s “Chardonnay 9 Barrel” from the Russian River Valley. Arteaga said that compared to the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, the 9 Barrel was “bigger” in terms of complexity, partially because it’s aged longer in oak barrels.
“It’s like going from 2 per cent to whole milk,” Arteaga said as a way of describing the difference between the two Chardonnays.
The 9 Barrel Chardonnay was tasted with a seared scallop served with a vanilla cream sauce, a classic pairing that made both the wine and the food better.
Moving to the two red wines, the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was served with hummus — created with Abacus’ house-made tahini — grilled pita and pomegranate dressing. Pairing vegetarian dishes like hummus with red wines can be challenging, but Pinot Noir, especially those from the New World that offer more fruit flavours, works very well with hummus.
The evening finished with Pinot Noir 9 Barrel from Russian River Valley paired with duck breast, poached cranberry and brie cheese.
“Pinot [Noir] goes well with anything that has wings,” Arteaga said, noting that duck is one of the classic pairings with the wine.
Fermented in Burgundian fashion using whole clusters of grapes in large oak vats and then aged in new French oak, the expressive 9 Barrel Pinot Noir reflects its cool climate Russian River Valley terroir and exacting winemaking process.
Many United States wine producers don’t use French oak because of its high cost. However, Arteaga explained that Jackson Family Wines is the only U.S. wine company that can buy treated French oak staves — which are assembled into barrels in the U.S. — directly from France because it made the arrangement to do so before laws preventing the practice were enacted. Because of this, the wineries owned by Jackson Family Wines can use French oak barrels for less cost than other U.S. wineries, which have to buy their barrels through a cooperage.