Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Ultimate Food And Wine Pairing

Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting the Kendall Jackson Wine Center in Fulton, California (near Santa Rosa in Sonoma County). I have to say my visit was one of the most interesting, educational and delightful experiences I have ever encountered. I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day to do it on and the hospitality there was amazing and something I will never forget! My day consisted of a media appointment in which I was able to participate in a magnificent food and wine pairing session, a sensory garden tour and later, a jaunt up to the Jackson Family's Alexander Mountain property called Monument Ridge. In this segment, I will discuss the food and wine pairing session and how I was able to learn to appreciate why certain foods pair best with certain wines! (Oh, and just how tasty and fun these sessions can be!)

Before I even begin, I wanted to say that I would like to congratulate the winery on their wonderful hospitality. I was greeted by many people and they all had smiles on their faces and seemed like they really enjoyed being there. My host, Dale Cullins, who is a wine educator at the winery, was amazing and such a joy to be around all day! After walking around the beautifully landscaped grounds, I made my way into the tasting room and gift shop where I met my host, Dale and we headed outside for the beginning of an amazing food and wine pairing session. (I long for the day when I can come back and do it all over again!! It was amazing!!)

For those of you who have never visited, Kendall Jackson Wine Center offers many types of tastings including several different food and wine pairings--a dessert pairing, a cheese pairing and the one I participated in--what I consider the ultimate food and wine pairing: Seven courses paired with seven wines, called the Reserve Food & Wine Pairing. Normally this offering is $30 per person and scheduled by appointment. Dale and I walked outside and sat at a table situated in a gazebo. Words could not describe how I was feeling. It was just a neat feeling to be sitting there. I had my own private little space and I enjoyed every moment!

Chef Justin Wangler came out with our first two courses, shown above. (The menus do vary from time to time--to showcase the seasons and the freshest ingredients). All I could say was, "Wow!" when I saw the lovely pairings in front of me. On the left was a cornmeal crusted estate heirloom fried green tomato with Delice de la Vallee cheese and breakfast radishes. The wine paired with it was the 2009 Avant Chardonnay ($14), which is a new Chardonnay just making its debut in shops all over the nation. The crunch of the cornmeal, the acidity in the tomato and the mellow flavor of the cheese complimented the bright acidity in the Chardonnay perfectly! I'm not a huge tomato fan (I have an aversion towards seeds...) but I really enjoyed this! And next was something I have not been able to stop thinking about! Chilled corn soup paired with 2008 Jackson Hills Chardonnay ($25). The shooter of soup, a creamy, naturally sweet delight topped with olive oil was heavenly and the texture was a great match for the Chardonnay's buttery, caramelly undertones. Swoon!

And just when I thought it couldn't get any better, along came a group of pairings that blew my head off!

I had to be grinning from ear to ear when the chef brought out the three courses shown above. The first was a buckwheat crepe with smoked ham hocks and Bellwether Farms Carmody cheese paired with 2006 Highland Estates Seco Highlands Pinot Noir ($35). This was a great pairing! The smokiness of the ham hocks complimented the dark cherry and spicy flavors of the Pinot Noir. Food and wine can be so harmonious in the correct pairing and as I tasted and learned I came to understand why it's so important to pair the right wine with the right dish. I know you're all staring at the item in the middle there and I was too! I couldn't wait to try it! Sweet tea brined Niman Ranch pork belly slider with Syrah BBQ sauce! The wine, 2006 Highland Estates Alisos Hills Syrah ($35), smokey and rich and beautifully paired with this little sandwich. I was a goner! The third course on the plate was very interesting! Snake River Farms beef & nopales tacos. I guess there is a first time for everything. Nopales are a cactus plant. I had never had cactus before. Didn't know what to expect but I'm here to say it was very tasty! Served in a mole sauce and paired with the 2005 Highland Estates Trace Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon ($70). A big wine to go with a big dish. So the richer the dish, the bigger the wine.

Are we done yet? Nope! Here comes dessert!!!

How could such a small dessert be so satisfying!! It WAS!!! Buttermilk panna cotta with strawberry gelee and an icebox cookie paired with 2008 Late Harvest Riesling ($25). There were edible flowers on top of the dessert and the green leaf shown in the photo is lemon verbena, something I would run across later in the sensory garden. The Tahitian vanilla bean flavor in the panna cotta complimented the rich texture of the wine and the lemon verbena was infused in the strawberries and made for one heavenly experience! And next was something no one should ever miss: Mama Frischkorn's Caramel Corn (soon to be sold in the tasting room!) paired with 2006 Late Harvest Chardonnay ($25)! Isn't the Chinese take-out box such a cute idea? That's because everyone wants this caramel corn to go. Including myself. The wine was very rich and paired well with the buttery caramel flavor of the corn. What a perfect ending!!

As I sat in the sun enjoying these little courses and these great wines, I considered myself blessed to be sitting there. What a happy experience! I highly recommend it to anyone who visits them. It'll be one the best hours or so you ever spend in wine country!

A big thanks to Dale Cullins, my gracious and wonderful host and to Chef Justin Wangler for concocting these fabulous dishes and to the hospitality staff at Kendall Jackson Wine Center for doing what you do best! And I cannot forget to thank my friend, Al Samuelson of Majestic Fine Wines for making this happen for me. You all are the BEST!

Stay tuned for part two of this fabulous day coming very soon!

For more information on the food & wine pairings and on Kendall Jackson wines and the winery, please visit their website,

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.


  1. What a wonderful experience!

  2. Hey Grace,

    Glad you had such a good time visiting the Wine Center. Dale's great -- we're all big fans of his around here.

    On a personal note, the pork belly slider is my favorite part of the pairing too. The lightly pickled cucumber just adds the perfect amount of crunch.


  3. Fantastic review. I'm glad you made it. I had the food pairing for the first time in May and was blown away by how perfectly everything matched.

  4. Glad you made it out here -- and so glad to FINALLY get to meet you in person!