Healdsburg is home to a plentiful amount of wonderful wine country dining options, but one of my absolute favorites is definitely Dry Creek Kitchen. Named for its close proximity to Sonoma County's iconic Dry Creek Valley appellation, this Charlie Palmer-owned restaurant has close ties to the local wine community. Bringing together incredible cuisine and fantastic wine from Sonoma County has never been a challenge for this iconic restaurant, and the Sonoma County Focus dinner series really embodies the spirit and cooperation of the wine country community.
The Sonoma County Focus dinner series brings one iconic winery to Dry Creek Kitchen each month for classic matchups of food and wine. Starting with an optional pre-dinner tasting of current release and library selections, this month's focus featured Lambert Bridge, located in none other than Dry Creek Valley.
Lambert Bridge was established in 1975 and today, is currently owned by the Chambers family, who bought the estate in 1993 from its original owners. In 2005, the Chambers sought to revitalize the wine collection by decreasing production size from 25,000 cases down to just 7,000 cases a year. When doing this, they also began a strict sorting regime in the vineyards and cellar, restricted harvest yields and began using only French oak barrels. In 2010, current Winemaker Jennifer Higgins was brought on board. Sonoma County born and raised, Higgins' connection to the local wine country community is undeniable. When speaking with her, Higgins exudes an overwhelming sense of pride and joy for the wines she creates and the family she is a part of at Lambert Bridge.
The pre-dinner tasting, hosted by Higgins and Dry Creek Kitchen Wine Director Rolando Maldonado, featured a stunning lineup of four wines—two current releases and two library 2007-vintage wines. The 2014 Bevill Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Dry Creek Valley is a 793-case production wine that was aged in a combination of stainless steel (71%) and three-year-old French oak (29%). Exhibiting a tropical nose of pineapple and kiwi, the fruit is actually less ripe on the palate, which offers more citrus-driven flavors of zesty lime and grapefruit, with a gentle caress of vanilla. A medium level of acidity and crisp mid-palate offers balance to the creamy finish, which lingers on the tongue.
Moving into the reds, I particularly enjoyed the library 2007 Crane Creek Cuvée, which saw 24 months aging in roughly 50-65% new French oak. This gorgeous library wine shows savory aromas of fresh herbs, mint and sweet tobacco leaf on the nose, along with plum, raspberry and even a bit of brown sugar lingering in the background as the wine further aerates. With luscious texture and soft, almost chalk-like tannins, this aged beauty gives way to flavors of lavender, cocoa, cedar and spice-box on the palate—the mixed red and black fruit has faded into the background at this point in its evolution, allowing more complex and nuanced characteristics to grace the palate.
Chardonnay & Caviar
For the dinner portion of the night, the four-course meal began with a pairing of 2013 Chambers Vineyards Chardonnay with California Osteria Caviar. The Chardonnay, a product of the Wente clone that was aged in 60% new oak for eight months, has a citrus-tinged palate full of lemon, lime and orange blossom, coupled with green apple on the creamy and acid-balanced finish. These notes paired well with the delicate flavors of the brown butter brioche, quail egg, chive mousse and Meyer lemon topped with the caviar. The salinity brings down the acid in the wine, giving it a rounder body, while the quail egg and chive mousse bring a bit of chalk-like texture and creaminess to the palate. The lime blossom flavors are no doubt enhanced by the briny caviar, synergizing harmoniously on the palate.
Zinfandel & Duck
The Thyme Roasted Liberty Duck Breast was a surprisingly delicious matchup with the 2012 Forchini Vineyard Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley. I know what you are thinking… duck and Zinfandel? I was too, but truth be told, the pairing was spot on. The Zinfandel, which was a quite nuanced and delicate expression of this more-often robust varietal, boasts aromas of raspberry, soft cherry and bright brambly fruit, with touches of blueberry and vanilla. The mouthfeel of this finessed wine is gentle and delicate, not heavy at all, and expresses nuanced flavors of raspberry, clove, cinnamon and even a touch of black pepper on the lengthy, soft finish. The gamy and rich, though still light and delicate duck mimicked this softer expression of Zinfandel—making this pairing all about complementary flavors and textures.
Malbec & Black Angus Beer Short Rib
With the 2012 Malbec, the 48-hour Black Angus Beef Short Rib offered a rich and hardy pairing for the main course. The aromatically smoky, chocolate-infused, dried fruit, plum and blueberry-filled nose gives way to similar flavors on the palate. Textured and balanced, this Malbec offers a bevy of flavors: chocolate, blueberry, plum and under-ripe raspberry. With the deep, dark and rich flavors of the short rib, the Malbec nicely enveloped the tender beef with its charred edges. Naturally, the strong savoriness of the beef brought a bit of meatiness to the Malbec, giving the wine earthier and cocoa-like tones.
Chocolate Fantasy & Petit Verdot
For dessert, the Chocolate Fantasy capped off the meal with its frozen chocolate soufflé, warm chocolate sauce and bittersweet chocolate ice cream paired with a 2012 Petit Verdot. While I wouldn't normally recommend pairing chocolate with red wine, the restrained sweetness of this dish and heightened cacao flavors worked well with the soft-textured, dry, subtle fruit and floral-tinged Petit Verdot. This coupling brought out the fruit in the wine and complemented the dry taste and soft textures very well.
Throughout the dining experience, Wine Director Rolando Maldonado kept glasses full and provided guests with information about each wine. He was incredibly warm, friendly and ready to answer any questions about the pairings—all the while making sure that guests were pleased every step of the way. Meanwhile, General Manager Drew Munro greeted and checked in on guests throughout the course of the meal, as well; and Winemaker Jennifer Higgins rotated from table to table bringing smiles and amiable conversation. She was both excited to share her stories about the wines and willing to answer any questions as well, making the dinner a fulfilling and very personal experience from start to finish.
*Originally published on Examiner.