Wine & Winter Supper

Our Napa Valley group of eight had been planning our winter supper for weeks. Judging us by the yardstick of the supermarket shopper, our hunting, gathering, and foraging efforts were Herculean. As measured by our passion and joy, these were labors of love and great pleasure. We divided up the tasks. 

An avid hunter and I were going pheasant hunting on a field just north of Napa.  A professional Chef was foraging for mushrooms on the Sonoma coast, assured of a haul following a week of steady rains. A food photographer would travel to Hog Island Oyster Company in Sonoma for dozens of tiny, briny bivalves freshly plucked from Tomales Bay. A talented landscape architect had a thriving winter garden and would contribute kale, spicy red garlic bulbs, and bitter greens. A baker from a famed local restaurant had made a three-pound loaf of crusty ciabatta bread.

Given that it was winter in northern California, our Meyer lemon trees were laden with fruit. A winemaker had called her British mother-in-law to secure her special lemon curd recipe, to be lavished on top of her famed lemon and poppy seed pound cake.

We gathered on an unseasonably warm Sunday morning to begin preparations, opting for the Chef’s home, as he had the best-equipped kitchen and a large deck on which to lounge after our feast.

We began the day with a platter of oysters, shucked outside in the sunshine. We flew in the face of conventional wisdom and opened a mature 1976 Dom Pérignon Oenothèque, disgorged in 2003. As expected, the Dom had evolved into more of a still wine than a sparkler. As it was winter, the oysters were extremely crisp and salty, and we assumed a richer wine was in order. The aged Champagne was divine, with its richness of mineral, brioche, and strawberry. The pairing was disappointing, however. Perhaps in the summer months, when oysters are creamier, our trial would have worked, but the sharp brininess of the oysters overwhelmed the lovely Dom. In our desire for a higher acid sparkler, we opened a 1999 Champagne Pierre Peters from magnum. With its bright acid and notes of citrus and minerals, it conformed perfectly to the conventional elements for an oyster pairing, and we marveled at the wisdom of that tradition.

Next came slabs of toasted ciabatta slathered with potted pork fat from a locally raised pig. We ground the fat back and then kneaded it with fresh rosemary until it was a silken consistency. Needing a burst of high acid to counter the richness, we pulled the cork on a 2004 Raveneau Chablis ’Montée de Tonnerre.’ Its old world minerality, hint of earth and bracing structure did justice to the toasts.

Tiny omelets appeared next, into which were folded flavorful chanterelles with a smattering of fresh herbs from the garden. I opened a 1992 Calera Pinot Noir ’Reed.’ With its notes of underbrush, earth, mushrooms, smoke and game, the wine perfectly mirrored the food. After a reprieve, we all reconvened in the kitchen and chopped, gossiped, and drank the remainder of the Dom Perignon.

The Chef took control of the pheasant, roasting it with tiny cippolini onions. I fried pancetta and red garlic and tossed in chopped kale. We decanted a 1985 Chave Hermitage. Slowly, the Syrah revealed its greatness with notes of animal, iodine, smoke, earth and concentrated raspberry. Our group was momentarily silenced by the profound complexity of this legendary Chave.

We opted to wait for dessert, but couldn’t hold out for long. The crowning moment was ahead. One of the winemakers had pulled a 1989 Chateau d’Yquem, a truly outstanding vintage of this unique wine, considered by some to be the most hedonistic wine experience in the world. With the lemon curd, the wine sang the praises of winter citrus, revealing notes of lemon peel, Mandarin, and blood orange. As it opened before us, we found elements of honeycomb, smoke, roasted hazelnuts, and earth. This was goodness. Epicureanism at this level is indeed rare, but it is within reach, and well worth the effort, of those dedicated to experiencing the best life has to offer.