Calvert’s Restaurant jumped back into the wine dinner business with a splash this week, welcoming a full house to a great six-course dinner paired with Ketcham Estate wines.
Thoughts of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown were far away as people laughed, talked and enjoyed the terrific meal.
“I always feel like I’m home when I come to Augusta,” said Allie Ketcham, owner of the winery. “It’s a whole community of friends and family.” Allie said this was her first post-COVID wine dinner, and she was very excited.
She has been to Augusta before and several people in the crowd had visited her at Ketcham Estates in Healdsburg, in the Sonoma Valley. It also was great to see restaurant owner Craig Calvert and his expert staff. It is hard to imagine better wine dinners than the ones offered by Calvert’s.
They leave time for the winemaker to describe the wines, time for folks to chat. The food and the wine come out at just the right time. And there always is a generous portion of great food.
After some time with hors d’oeuvres and sparkling wine, everyone was seated and started on the first course.
Classic Caesar salad topped with chilled shrimp & lemon pepper ciabatta bread
Paired with Ketcham Estate Savannah’s Rosé di Pinot Noir
The wine, named after Allie’s daughter, was fresh and bright, and very refreshing. There is plenty of rich fruit in this dry Rosé.
The winery makes a Savannah & Nick’s Cuvee Pinot Noir blend, named after the Ketcham children, but Allie said they made the Rosé after Savannah said she wanted her own wine. To make it they use grapes from a vineyard section that ripens slowly.
“The grapes don’t get ripe in this vineyard, so they are perfect for a Rosé,” said Allie.
The wine was a great pair to the shrimp and salad, and the crusty bread on top was a great touch.
Allie then gave Craig Calvert a special bottle of wine, Mark’s Tribute Ketcham Vineyard Pinot Noir, which honors her late husband Mark, who founded the winery. Mark has been to Calvert’s for previous wine dinners, so many in the crowd knew him and missed him.
Ketcham Estates has 13 acres of vineyards along the Russian River, growing five Pinot Noir clones. They get grapes for their white wines from neighboring vineyards.
Southern smoked gazpacho topped with avocado sweet cream & blue lump crab
Paired with Ketcham Estate Viognier 2020
The gazpacho was amazing, with just enough spice to make it interesting. The pieces of crab and the avocado cream put this dish over the top. Again, the wine paired perfectly. It had enticing aromas and great texture on the palate. It was smooth, with a silky mouthfeel.
Viognier is one of my wife Teri’s favorite wines, and she loved this one. The Viognier calmed the spiciness of the gazpacho.
Spicy salmon topped with saffron aioli with Mediterranean rice salad
Paired with Ketcham Estate Russian River Chardonnay 2019
The salmon was delicious. I don’t try to guess how the dishes come together, but I thought the salmon tasted like it had some horseradish in the aioli, which added a nice touch of heat.
“We wanted a Chardonnay in the style of classic Montrachet (a famous white Burgundy),” said Allie. “We wanted a little oaky mineral flavor and a little citrus.”
The wine ages in 50 percent new oak barrels and 50 percent neutral oak barrels. The result is spectacular, with all the power and richness of oaky Chardonnays, but all the crispness and freshness of fine Burgundies. It’s a great middle ground style of Chardonnay.
In the glass it’s a gorgeous golden, with aromas of peaches and apricots. On the palate it is delightfully complex, with layers of flavor revealing themselves as you drink. I picked up notes of citrus, apples, pears and some custard.
It helps that the grapes come from the famed Bacigalupi vineyard. The white wine that won Judgement of Paris that put California wine on the world map nearly 50 years ago included a large percentage of Bacigalupi grapes.
Sicilian meatballs topped with tarragon sauce over linguine in agrodolce sauce
Paired with Ketcham Estate Russian River Pinot Noir 2018
This dish was outstanding, with a tasty meatball served over linguine in a delicious sauce. Again, it seemed to be paired with just the right wine. The Pinot was rich and smooth, full of fresh fruit flavors.
“This is the wine I drink,” said Allie. “It’s just delicious.”
The wine is made from a blend of several clones including a clone often called “the underwear clone,” said Allie. The clone got that name because a vineyard owner and winemaker named Gary Pisoni allegedly smuggled into the United States Pinot Noir cuttings from the famed La Tache vineyard in Burgundy. Some say the story isn’t true, but it makes a great story.
Allie said the clone produces delicious grapes that are super concentrated in flavor. The Ketcham wine made from them is made in the Old World Burgundian style, which is leaner and less fruit driven.
Colorado lamb & bison with a Tuscan sauce, prosciutto au gratin & broccolini
Paired with Ketcham Estate Allie’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2018
It is always difficult to choose a favorite course at a Calvert’s wine dinner, but if I had to choose it would be this course and the dessert course. Two meaty lamb chops were paired with a bison steak. Both were cooked to perfection, with a slight smoky taste that came from the meat spending some time on a grill. Both types of meat were juicy and full of great flavors. The prosciutto au gratin added more great flavors for a spectacular dish.
The wine matched the dish perfectly. “It’s the best of the best of Ketcham Estate,” said Allie.
The wine is made by Allie and two other women, who taste through 120 barrels of wine to come up with the perfect blend. The Allies Reserve is made from 10 barrels they decide are the best. It is the first wine blended at the winery every year.
After blending the wine is aged in a mix of new oak barrels, barrels used one or two times and neutral oak barrels.
“It doesn’t always come together perfectly, so then we have to substitute barrels,” she said. “I want a wine that’s seductive and has a lingering finish.”
Allie and her blenders hit the target with this wine.
Chocolate raspberry roulade topped with fried plantains & caramel popcorn
Paired with Ketcham Estate Cab Renee 2018
This spectacular dessert had people murmuring with delight all around the room. The roulade practically melted in your mouth, and the chocolate and cream were filled with wonderful fresh fruit flavors. And the caramel popcorn added a wonderful touch. It was a great way to end a terrific meal.
The wine was just as good. I don’t always like a Cabernet Sauvignon with dessert, but this one worked well. It’s named after Allie’s friend, Renee Graves, who also is the director of happiness for the winery.
Mark Ketchum had wanted to produce a Cab, and in 2018 he bought some grapes from the acclaimed Saini Ranch in Alexander Valley. Allie said when the wine was blended, it was good, but it wasn’t spectacular so she turned to family friend Mark Sherwin. He added five percent of what he calls “rocket fuel,” five percent Merlot and five percent Petite Sirah. The result really is spectacular.
It was another delicious wine, substantial and sturdy without overpowering the delicate dessert. Full of ripe fruit flavors, this wine tasted like it will only get better and better with even more aging.
The next Calvert’s wine dinner will be in September, and many of the attendees were already anticipating it.