B alance was the word of the night when Alexander Valley Vineyards’ Max Vater paired six of his wines with incredible food from Craig Calvert.
The wines were in balance and the food balanced with the wine. The only thing out of balance was fun, as guests at the wine dinner had way more fun than you could have expected.
The wine dinners at Calverts are always spectacular, but this time the food was even better matched to the wine than usual. And Max Vater, southeast regional sales manager for Alexander Valley Vineyards (AVV), was informative and entertaining.
Perhaps the best part was finding out these delicious wines also were bargains.
Craig paired fantastic food with all five courses and an appetizer course served at the opening reception. Usually I have one or two favorite foods from these dinners, but this time, each course was over the top.
Vater, who has been with Alexander Valley Vineyards for many years, called Alexander Valley “a jewel of a growing area.” It is a 90 minute drive north of San Francisco in the Sonoma Valley. It is a great region for growing cabernet sauvignon.
Harry and Maggie Wetzel bought the historic Cyrus Alexander homestead in 1962 and began planting vines in 1963. The family bottled its first cabernet sauvignon–two barrels worth–in 1968.
In 1975 the Wetzels built a winery from plans drawn by their son Hank, and Alexander Valley Vineyards was born. After the root louse phylloxera struck, they replanted 130 acres of estate vintages, focusing on varietals best suited to the area: cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, zinfandel and merlot. Replanting continued from 1993 to 2009.
The winery has continued to expand and now the third generation of the family is working there. The family owns 650 acres and the winery has been recognized as a Sonoma Green Business.
AVV Rosé of Sangiovese 2016
Smoked salmon, tuna tar tare, cured meat & cheese, shrimp cocktail
Vater said the family made traditional sangiovese for a few years before deciding rosé was better. It is an excellent wine, not ultra dry and not too sweet. The grapes are soaked with the skins for three to four hours to get the beautiful pink color.
After removing the skins, the juice was returned to the stainless steel tank and settled for two days at 40 degrees. A slow, cold fermentation followed to preserve bright fruit flavors and fresh aromatics.
This is a great beginning wine. Aromas of strawberry and raspberry led to flavors of watermelon, peach and strawberry.
AVV Estate Chardonnay 2016
Seared scallops in Amish butter w/honey citrus glaze, celery pepper salad.
This was one of my favorites wines of the night, with plenty of fresh fruit, such as pear, apple and citrus. Bright acidity balances everything nicely. About 70% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel, with 30% in French oak barrels.
The barrel-fermented wine also went through malolactic fermentation and was aged on the lees 6-8 months. The result is a wine in balance. There is some roundness, with plenty of backbone. A touch of viognier is added to the blend to give it some floral notes.
With a suggested retail price of $18, this wine is a steal.
It was a perfect wine with the mouth-watering scallops. The honey citrus glaze and the slices of celery created a taste I had never had with scallops.
AVV Cabernet Franc 2015
Grilled sweet & spicy Italian sausage with bucatini in Arrabiata sauce, roasted shitake mushrooms, Brussel sprouts in brown butter.
This wine was perfect with the sausage, with just enough spice to offset the spicy tastes of the meat. Originally a blending grape in Bordeaux, cabernet franc is a wonderful wine on its own. The AVV cab franc is a little fruitier than most, and that’s good.
Lush aromas of dark fruit and vanilla lead to plum and black cherry flavors with a touch of blueberry. It has a long, smooth finish.
The pasta and sauce made the sausage even more interesting, and my wife Teri loved the Brussel sprouts in brown butter.
AVV Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
Veal Cordon Bleu with chestnut mushroom cream sauce, asparagus risotto
This usually is AVV’s top-selling wine, and it is easy to see why. Priced at around $25, it over-delivers. It is one of the most respected cabs at this price point, and Alexander Valley is known for producing some of the best cabs in California.
The wine maker starts with 80 percent cab and then adds in merlot (13%), malbec (3%), cabernet franc (2%) and petit verdot (2%). The result is a medium-bodied wine with great fruit flavors and smooth tannins.
After harvest, the lots were fermented separately and aged in 25% new American and French oak barrels for 14 months. Black cherry and plum aromas lead to cherry and blackberry flavors with a hint of chocolate and spice. The finish is long and silky.
The 80,000 cases produced usually sell out before the end of the year.
The veal in the cream sauce was heavenly, practically melting in your mouth. It amazed me how the flavors in the wine and in the veal played off each other. It was a magnificent dish and a perfect pairing.
Redemption Zinfandel 2013
Smoked Colorado lamb with red wine glaze and roasted cauliflower puree with Clemson Blue cheese, grilled king oyster mushrooms, honey glazed carrots
This is one of AVV’s sin cycle of zinfandels: Temptation, Sin Zin and Redemption.
Redemption is dark purple with inviting aromas of blackberry. On the palate there is black cherry, chocolate and black pepper. This is a big wine with a nice mouth feel and a long finish. All the grapes come from Dry Creek Valley, and after fermentation the wine spends 14 months in oak barrels.
The large lamb chop combines with the glaze and cheese was another spectacular combination. There are so many flavors running through this dish you needed a big zin to balance it. And that’s what we had.
AVV Cyrus 2012
Blackberry panna cotta and raspberry jam with fresh lavender syrup, assorted fruit, mint julep drizzle.
AVV makes Cyrus to showcase the best of their vineyards and the best grapes of the vintage. First bottled with the 1995 vintage, it has become very popular. It is named for Cyrus Alexander, for whom the valley is named.
The 2012 vintage is a blend of cabernet sauvignon (76%), merlot (12%), cabernet franc (7%), petit verdot (3%) and malbec (2%). After harvest, each lot was fermented and aged separately for 12 months. After blending it was aged another 12 months in French oak barrels. Then the wine spent another year in the bottle before release, to allow the flavors to blend together seamlessly.
It is an exceptional wine with intense dark fruit aromas followed by flavors of cassis and chocolate covered cherries. This wine should improve in the bottle for another 10 years or so.
The 2013 vintage has less cab and merlot and more cabernet franc.
I’m not a big fan of pairing big cabs with dessert, but this one worked well. The panna cotta with smooth, creamy and way over the top. It was an outstanding cap to a wonderful evening.
Author Dennis Sodomka