Chef Wayne and Winemaker Marty Clubb

On January 22, Andaluca Restaurant and L’Ecole N° 41 partnered together for a Winemaker Dinner that I won’t soon forget. Executive Chef Wayne Johnson prepared a 5-course menu, providing commentary for each preparation. L’Ecole’s Managing Winemaker, Marty Clubb was there to tell the story behind each wine poured.

The partnership between Chef Wayne and Marty pays off by allowing the chef to start with the wine and spend time tasting it before designing the menu. His eyes light up as he explains that he really considers which qualities of the wine will bring out the best of the food and vice versa. This makes perfect sense to me, although, it is not always the way menus are planned. In fact, Chef Wayne admitted that he used to select the food first, then try to figure out which wine to pair with each course.

The 2008 Estate Luninesce, a bone dry Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend, brought out a smoky essence in the grilled crustaceans adorning the prawn panzanella salad served for the first course.

My favorite pairing of the evening was the pumpkin risotto that Chef Wayne matched with L’Ecole’s 2007 Estate Merlot from Seven Hills. The wine opens up with plum and cherries on the palate and magically brings out the cinnamon and cumin in the risotto.

Pheasant and L'Ecole Apogee

One of the general food and wine pairing commandments says the wine should be as sweet as or sweeter than the food. The chorizo stuffed dates paired with the 2007 Seven Hills Estate Syrah posed a challenge to this tenet. The trick here is to get an equal amount of sausage, date, and accompanying frisée with each bite in order to complement the wine. A little too much of the sweet date and the pairing is no longer balanced.

For the fourth course, lamb chop navarra was paired with the 2006 Apogee from Pepper Bridge Vineyard. I don’t care for lamb, and Chef Wayne was incredibly gracious about offering me an alternative. Enter a large plate of bacon wrapped pheasant served with herbed risotto. As my knife and fork easily sank into the bird, the juices ran off it combining with the creamy risotto, and I could see that my dish was envied by all at my table. The wine pairing was intriguing. The Apogee is a smooth blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 42% Merlot, plus some Malbec and Cabernet Franc. It was lovely the way the earthiness of the wine played off the herbs in the risotto. However, I preferred the pheasant with the 2007 Estate Syrah I had left over from the previous course. This is probably due to the bacon complementing the smoky finish in the wine.

Dinner wrapped up with a roasted pineapple turnover matched with the 2008 Estate Semillon Ice Wine. There is so much pineapple and tropical fruit flavor in this pairing, I can hear the ghost of Don Ho calling me back to Hawaii!