Monterey County is known for its history, agriculture, dining, and of course, wines. Having had the opportunity to travel through most of the country, we have to say that we are impressed with the diversity of fabulous wines that come from this region. Great wines in the area are made from both small and large producers. Many think that great wines can only be created by small producers and that is true in many cases. However, there are certainly some very large producers that make thousands of cases of wine, but whose process still has the passion and hands-on approach you would expect from a much smaller winery.
One of these producers is the very well known Estancia Estates winery. They purchased their first ranches in Soledad in 1966 and have never looked back. Director of Winemaking and General Manager, Scott Kelly, is a hands-on kind of winemaker and can be found tasting and perfecting Estancia's wines on a daily basis — a dedication that is evident in the final product.
Recently, we were invited by Scott Kelly and his Estancia team to experience a unique wine dinner featuring large format bottles, some of which dated back to 1991. Held at the renowned and picturesque Pacific's Edge restaurant, it was a wonderful opportunity to taste older wines, as well as enjoy some great dishes prepared by Executive Chef Matt Bolton.
Arriving at this lovely cliff-side resort along the Big Sur coast was awe-inspiring to say the least. After a lovely reception, taking in the view and the never-ending waves crashing on the jagged rocks below, it was time to get to get down to the business of trying these great wines and classic California fare.
Hors d'oeuvres: Arancini (carnaroli rice, autumn truffle), Tuna Tartare
The arancini was a great start, paired with a 2009 Estancia Pinot Grigio that showcased aromas of white flowers, apple, and lime, with a lingering palate of green apples. The tuna tartare was complemented by the very nice 2009 Estancia Sauvignon Blanc that had hints of white pepper and finished with green apple as well.
First course: California wild sea bass with butternut squash purée, celery root baton, Brussels sprouts, and chanterelle truffle jus
Our first large format of the evening was served alongside a much younger vintage so that we could compare them side-by-side with this amazing dish. The 1998 Estancia Pinnacles Chardonnay 3L really showed its class and ageability when compared with the 2007 Estancia Reserve Pinnacles Chardonnay. Both were great wines, but there is really no substitute for age, and the large format allows the wine to age more slowly than the standard 750ml bottle.
Second course: Pan-roasted Sonoma duck breast with grilled polenta, bloomsdale spinach, porcini, and huckleberry jus
Pinot Noir and duck is one of the classic pairings. Chef Matt Bolton did not disappoint with this dish which had "classic California" written all over it. Starting with the 2004 Estancia Stonewall Vineyard Pinot Noir, and then followed by the 2007 Estancia Reserve Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, the wines showed two ideals of pinot noir grown in this region. The 2004 vintage, was, in a word, "stellar." Greater rainfall and very moderate temperatures allowed Pinot Noir from this vintage to show very nice, balanced fruit characteristics. The 2007 Estancia Reserve Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands offered a nice comparison of the same varietal from the same area, but with subtle differences because of climate. Whereas the 2004 vintage had pretty much a moderate climate, the 2007 in contrast was very consistent, producing smaller berries and a much more concentrate flavor.
Third course: Dry-age New York prime with pomme ancienne, herb salad, and red wine jus
When we saw this dish on the menu we were expecting a Cabernet or a Syrah. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised with to nice Meritage wines from two totally different AVAs that could not have been more different. The 1991 Estancia Reserve Alexander Valley Meritage 1.5L was a real treat. This wine exploded with dark cherries, rosemary and sag. On the palate, chocolate notes prevailed with rich dark fruit moving on to a lingering finish. Subject to more extreme climate fluctuations, the 2007 Estancia Reserve Paso Robles Meritage was true to its blend of noble Bordeaux varietals. Because of its longer hang time, this Meritage explodes with robust flavors and some spice on the finish.
Dessert: Apple-quince strudel with golden raisins, cherries, quince jam and honey ice cream
We knew there were a few things Chef Bolton could do with dessert. Would he contrast the flavors or pair them? On this occassion he created an excellent pairing with the 2008 Estancia Riesling. Those that have traveled to Monterey County know that it is well known for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but not so much for its Riesling. Usually Riesling is the last varietal picked so it is subject to whatever Mother Nature wants to throw at it. Growers pick it later in order to make sure that the acidity is in balance with the fruit and aromas of the wine. The 2008 vintage Riesling is 100% Monterey County fruit. Aromas of tangerine and orange blossom give way to flavors of peach and honey with a delightful crisp finish.
We have been to many winemaker dinners over the years and they all are educational. Scott Kelly did an excellent job not only educating us on his Estancia wines, but also on the subtle differences that overall climate can have from vintage to vintage, as well as the ageability of large format bottles.