Napa met the Low Country at Calvert’s for another fabulous wine dinner Wednesday night.
The wines came from Mira Winery, an unusual company that produces wine in Napa Valley, but has its tasting room in Charleston. The Charleston-themed food, as usual, came from the creative mind of Craig Calvert. The combination was magical.
The five Mira wines and a sparkling wine from Mumm Napa are all available in Georgia, so you should be able to find them at your favorite wine shop. They also will be featured at Calvert’s.
Gustavo Gonzalez, the personable winemaker and partner at Mira, told us the story of Mira and described the wines as we worked our way through each spectacular course.
His stories were great, but the food and wine were even better. It made for a fun evening.
Gonzalez grew up in Sacramento, the youngest of six brothers. He went to the University of California at Berkeley to study science and economics. But once he got there he discovered he could major in making wine — enology — so that’s what he got his degree in.
He started as an intern at the famed Robert Mondavi Winery and stayed 17 years working his way up to overseeing production of Mondavi’s red wines. He spent a year in Bolgheri, Italy, working at Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, one of superstars of Super Tuscan wines. While there he produced the 2001 Masseto, which Wine Spectator awarded a perfect 100 point score.
The stars aligned in 2009 and Gustavo had a chance to form his own winery, partnering with Washington, D.C. businessman Jim “Bear” Dyke, who loves wines from the Rhone region. Coincidentally, Gustavo was offered some Syrah grapes from the Hyde vineyard in Napa and he accepted the challenge of trying to make Syrah that could stand up to the Rhone version.
Gonzalez and Dyke joined forces to create the winery, but they didn’t have a name for it.
“It’s not as easy as you think,” said Gonzalez. “All the wine names are taken and we had to try to find something new. I was on a cruise in Australia and I woke up in the middle of the night, trying to think of names.
“I looked in a Latin dictionary and found Mira, the root world for miracle. We checked and the name wasn’t taken, so that was it.”
Since picking the name he and Dyke have found other meanings for the word that they think fits their wine. For instance, in Spanish it means “look,” in Russian it means “peace,” and in Italian it means “target” or “gun sight.”
I checked some other languages and here are the translations I found: Hindi-merry; Albanian-good; Filipino-myrrh.
The label also has a symbol that looks like misaligned parentheses, but actually is a rune from ancient German. It stands for good year, or harvest. Gonzalez said the symbol represents the end of the cycle of harvest.
The winery owns no vineyards, but has long-term leases with some of the finest vineyards in Napa, including Hyde. Gustavo drew on his lengthy experience with Mondavi, where he formed friendships with many of the vineyard owners.
But Mira does have a tasting room and business offices in Charleston, S.C., which is where Dyke lives. Five employees work in Charleston; only Gustavo works in California.
“The tasting room in California is I take you in my SUV and we stop in the vineyards and drink from the tailgate,” said Gustavo with a laugh.
He said the Charleston tasting room has a mural that recreates a famous Renoir painting, but substituting the faces of famous local chefs. The tasting room, at 68 1/2 Queen Street, offers several educational programs, special tastings and a distinguished speakers series. They also sell some wines available only at the tasting room.
The partners have some intriguing, fun ideas as well. On May 24 they will hold the Judgment of Charleston, recalling the famous Judgement of Paris, the wine tasting that brought California wines to the attention of the world when Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon beat the best French Bordeaux wines and Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat the best French white Bordeaux wines in blind tastings. In fact, three of the top four white wines were from California. To mark the 40th anniversary of that tasting, Mira is asking the public to help pick judges for their event. You can vote on their website: https://miranapa.com/judgement-of-charleston-vote/.
The winery also is experimenting with aging some of its wine in the ocean, an enterprise they call Aquaoir.
The winery produces 5,000-7,000 cases a year.
Gustavo keeps busy. Besides Mira, he works with wineries in France, Argentina and Brazil. He describes himself as a naturalist winemaker from the Burgundian tradition.
“Maybe I’m just lazy, but I try to do as little as possible in the winery, but do what you have to do to respect the grapes,” he said. “I want to retain as much of the natural characteristics as I can.”
After tasting the five Mira wines at the Calvert’s dinner, I’d say whatever he did was exactly right.
Here’s the lineup from the dinner:
Mumm Napa Valley Brut Prestige with light hors d’oeuvres. Every Calvert’s wine dinner starts with a sparkling wine and some finger food. I think it’s a great tradition, and a good way to start any dinner.
The Mumm Napa is one of my favorite sparklers, its creamy taste balanced by crisp acidity.
She crab soup paired with Mira Chardonnay 2012 Napa Valley. The she crab soup was thick and creamy, served with a piece of cornbread. This was such a good soup it needed a special wine to match it, and this Chardonnay did the trick.
Delicate aromas of lime and apricot led to beautiful tropical flavors. The creamy mouthfeel was balanced by a crisp finish. I loved this wine.
Two-thirds of the grapes were aged in stainless steel barrels and one third in French oak barrels to give the wine some complexity. The wine spends a year on the lees to bring out the aromatics, but Gustavo does not stir the lees. The grapes are grown in the Oak Knoll district, near the town of Napa. Mira produces about 1,000 cases of this wine.
Shrimp and pencil cob grits paired with Mira Chardonnay 2012 Hyde Vineyard Napa Valley. This was another inspired pairing. I hate to admit it, but I am not a big grits eater, but this dish was so tasty, I practically licked the bowl.
All the grapes from this wine came from the Hyde Vineyard, which is only about 3-4 miles away from where the grapes for the first wine are grown. But it is a much cooler site with different soils, so the grapes have different characteristics.
Warm aromas of citrus and pear give way to citrus and floral flavors. This is a more complex wine than the first Chardonnay with a more buttery taste. The grapes are aged in French oak, 30 percent new, for 24 months. The wine also is aged on the lees. Gustavo recommends serving this wine almost at room temperature, about 68 degrees. Mira produces only 250 cases of this wine.
Blanquette de Veau–Veal short ribs braised in Pinot Noir, Charleston gold rice, Seal Island red peas and almonds with balsamic roasted brussel sprouts paired with Mira Pinot Noir 2012 Stanley Ranch Carneros.
The veal was falling-off-the-bone tender and very flavorful. The rice, peas and brussel sprouts added to the complex flavor of this dish.
The Pinot was a good match, and it continued to open in the glass, with luscious flavors of black cherry and raspberry. There is a great deal of fruit on the palate with good structure. The grapes come from the Stanley Ranch in the Carneros AVA. They’re aged for 24 months in all new French oak barrels.
Tournedos Charleston–Beef tenderloin with mustard brandy cream sauce, benne roasted green beans and potato au gratin, served with Mira Syrah Hyde Vineyard Napa Valley.
This was another inspired pairing as the tender beef and cream sauce brought out the rich fruit in the wine. The supple ripe fruit flavors filled my mouth with tastes of boysenberry, licorice and hints of white pepper. The fruit was almost jammy, but not quite. The finish is long and smooth.
The grapes are aged for 20 months in all French oak barrels, 5 percent new, 95 percent 10 years old.
St. George chocolate cake with pecan praline sauce served with Mira Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 Napa Valley. This was a spectacular way to end a grand meal, the chocolate cake so smooth it almost tasted like fudge.
Some people don’t like Cab with sweet desserts, but I think chocolate and Cab go together just fine. Blackberry and blueberry flavors with a hint of cinnamon combined perfectly with the chocolate and sweet sauce.
The wine is a blend of 80 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 11 percent Merlot, 4 percent Cabernet Franc, 3 percent Petit Verdot and 2 percent Syrah. The grapes come from the Rutherford AVA and spend 18 months in French oak barrels, 60 percent new.
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