As much as I love wine now, I’ve never hosted a wine-paired dinner before because apart from the fact that I still don’t really feel comfortable with my wine pairing abilities 1) I don’t cook and 2) I don’t even own a dining room table. So when Rodney Strong Vineyards invited me to be one of 10 bloggers across the U.S. to host a dinner party celebrating the winery’s 25th anniversary I was excited but a little hesitant. And then when it sent over 11 bottles of wine to serve at my proposed 11-person dinner, let’s just say I had a mini panic attack.
Fortunately Rodney Strong’s own sommelier Rachel Voorhees was kind enough to offer up suggestions for how to pair the wines — six wines that were also served at Rodney Strong’s simultaneous four-city celebrity chef dinners this past Saturday.
I took her tips and put together an easy but tasty menu, one that I could do quick enough so that I could still enjoy hanging out with my guests in my table-less dining room. I’m no celebrity chef but I think I did all right. Here are the Rodney Strong wine pairing tips along with what I ended up serving.
2013 Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards, Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc
White meats: Chicken, pork chop and turkey
Fish: Tilapia, Sea Bass, Sole, Halibut, Snapper, Mussels, Crab, Lobster, and Clams
Cheeses: Softer, more briny and sour cheeses like goat’s milk cheese, yogurt, and crème fraîche.
The celebrity chef dinners served the Sauvignon Blanc with passed hor d’oeuvres but since my party courses were basically all bites, I simply picked up three pre-made salads from the Whole Foods counter: kale and avocado, corn and arugula, and the Fumi Tofu salad.
2012 Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards, Chalk Hill Chardonnay
White meats: Chicken breast, turkey breast, pork loin
Fish: Halibut, trout, cod, sturgeon, oily flaky fish, Atlantic salmon, lobster, crab, scallops, shrimp, clams
Cheeses: Semi-soft mild goat and cow’s milk cheeses such as Humboldt Fog
Vegetables: Yellow squash, peas, zucchini, asparagus, sun chokes, white mushrooms, truffles, chanterelles, almonds
Spices and herbs: Tarragon, parsley, thyme, lemon zest, marjoram, white pepper, shallots, poultry seasoning
Even though all the food costs were covered by Rodney Strong my guests still wanted to bring something to the party so I said they could bring cheese based on Rachel’s suggestions. And they brought some amazing cheeses including a Humboldt Fog. So we enjoyed those along with some of the salads. The great thing about not having courses (or a waiter to clear away the plates) is that we could try the different wines with the different bites.
2012 Rodney Strong Estate Vineyards, Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
“I like to think of Pinot Noir as a catch-all food pairing wine. Pinot Noir is light enough for salmon but complex enough to hold up to some richer meat including duck. In other words, it goes with everything!” said Rachel.
Cheese: Comté (also called Gruyère de Comté)
Main dishes: Mushroom risotto, chicken with beurre rouge sauce, white pizza, grilled salmon, pulled pork, barbequed meats, roasted beetroot dishes, dishes with cherries and figs, such as a duck or pork with cherry and fig chutneys, roasted chicken, anything with truffles!
Inspired by The James Beard Foundation’s Best of the Best cookbook the winery sent over, I decided to do an easy version of Wolfgang Puck’s famous salmon and caviar pizza. Instead of actually making the dough, because come on, I picked up a couple of premade 12-inch whole wheat pizza dough that I just threw in the oven while the guests were enjoying the first two courses. Instead of the too-many-steps dill cream, I subbed creme fraiche mixed with fresh dill. So quick and easy that I was able to throw it together and spend time with my guests. And oh my god was it delicious. Everyone was impressed by the decadence of the added caviar and how well the pizza went with the Pinot. Yay! I just wish that I bought enough for one more pizza.
2011 Rodney Strong Symmetry (Red Meritage), Alexander Valley
“Our Symmetry is a Red Meritage which in the easiest terms, is a USA red Bordeaux blend. This is my personal favorite wine that we make. I love with it grilled steaks, pork, stews, burgers. Cheese that works: Camembert, Brie and Roquefort. Classic robust beef, game and lamb roasts or stews work well with Meritage. And I will just say this…this wine is a gem all on its own!”
Since I’m not big into beef, the Camembert and cheddar cheese my guests brought sufficed nicely.
2010 Rodney Strong Brothers Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
“Try Cabernet Sauvignon with a gruyere burger, a mushroom pizza with tomato sauce or some marinated ribeye steak. To champion the fruit flavors in Cabernet Sauvignon, don’t pair it with chocolate. Instead, pair with braised short ribs or mushroom stroganoff. The powerful umami flavors overcome the savory quality of Cabernet Sauvignon leaving the berry flavors out in the open to shine.”
I liked the idea of a mushroom stroganoff but again went the easy route and bought packaged porcini mushroom agnolotti. For the sauce I simply sauteed crimini mushrooms then mixed in Paul Newman’s alfredo sauce. Damn good if I do say so myself.
2008 Rodney Strong “A True Gentleman’s” Port
“Our Port is a blend of grapes, including Zinfandel and the traditional Port grape, Touriga Nacional. It is dark, lush and rich. When pairing dessert wines with food, it’s important to keep in mind that the wine should always be sweeter than the foods, otherwise the wine will taste flabby. Our Port pairs nicely with chocolates and of course….cheese! Especially blue-veined cheeses like Stilton. Chocolate tarts, dark, bitter chocolate and chocolate truffles, biscotti are also good choices.”
I wanted to splurge on a fabulous, show-stopping dessert. It would have been really cool to have a dark chocolate cake with a “25” candle on it for Rodney Strong but figured that at this point in the night everyone would be too stuffed. So I went with dark chocolate Pizzelle waffle cookies with some blue cheese and honey. Was pleased by how simple and perfect this pairing was. My guests were surprised that the port wasn’t syrupy sweet and even more surprised that it only cost $30.
Thanks to Rodney Strong Vineyards and Rachel for making my first wine-paired party a success. I’ll definitely have to throw another one. My friends are now expecting it.