On the patio of Hollywood’s fashionable Katana, Sonoma County-based Simi winemaker Susan Lueker and Clos du Bois winemaker Gary Sitton offered several helpful tips on summertime outdoor entertaining.
Given the interesting mix of food (grilled Robata skewers, sushi, seaweed salads and fish), the whites provided refreshing counterparts for the light textures and delicate spices of the lighter fare, while the food-friendly red wines provided balance and substance for the grilled meats, poultry and fish.
The wineries also have a great story to go along with the food: Simi’s a 135-year-old winery in the Alexander Valley that’s known for its Bordeaux-varietal wines. In accordance to the vision of Clos du Bois’ founder Frank Woods, the wine-making philosophy marries French elegance with California approachability. The stone cellars at the winery on Healdsburg Avenue were built in 1890. Isabelle Simi, daughter of Giuseppe, ran the winery after her father’s death in 1904 and opened the first tasting room in a 25,000-gallon cask in 1934. Today, Simi is a modern facility where cutting-edge wine-making merges with the history and tradition of more than 100 years in Sonoma County.
Winemaker Susan Lueker says she always wanted to be a scientist, envisioning that she would ultimately ‘end up like Jane Goodall, observing chimpanzees in their isolated natural habitat.’ But her years at the University of Missouri studying chemistry and working in labs changed her mind, and ultimately, she transferred to UC Davis to pursue a degree in viticulture.
With her first enology class visit to the vineyards, Susan knew that she wanted to be a winemaker. ‘I loved the vineyard, the interaction with people, nature and science,’ says Susan. Starting at Hacienda Winery, a 20,000-case family winery in the Sonoma Valley, gave Susan invaluable hands-on experience. As she explains, ‘Working at a small winery you get to do everything: vineyard thinning, sampling, experimentation, pump maintenance, wine-making, problem solving, sensory analysis, blending and bottling line production.’
As presented by Susan and Greg, the luxury offerings were sampled, proving once and for all that California wines can compete with fine French varietals, but could be enjoyed even in a convivial backyard setting.
Green appetizers such as edamame, seaweed salad and slightly spice sashimi such as yellowtail in a chile vinaigrette and an Asian–Italian tuna carpacio fusion dish were paired with Simi’s floral chardonnays and Clos du Bois 2009 Calcaire. Greg explains that the buttery, full-bodied chardonnay has intense aromas of apple blossom, pear, and integrated oak spice, with hints of vanilla and crème brûlée. Bright, vibrant flavours of pear, apple and soft citrus over a core of minerality are layered with touches of brown spice and nuances of cream, which balances out the acidity of citrus and vinegar in the salads.
‘This delicious Chardonnay has a rich, silky texture and long finish and is blessed by balanced acidity and structure, which will allow it to develop additional complexity with bottle age,’ he explains. ‘The wine’s name refers to the calcium limestone of Burgundy [Bourgogne], which gives that region’s whites that unique mineral character. It also is a nod to wines from grapes grown in the Russian River Valley, which results in wines that will show more oak and butter with Asian pairings. Minerality makes for a more restrained palate.’
The surprising red wines arrived along with the grilled kobe beef, chicken and bacon wrapped shrimp. Susan was particularly excited about the Simi 2010 pinot noir, which marks a return to the production of that varietal and one of the first Pinot releases in 13 years, aged in French oak and handled very delicately during the process.
‘This pinot is different in that it offers aromas of raspberry, cherry, cranberry, gingerbread, sage, violets and light toast, followed by bright and focused red fruit notes of cherry and cranberry, along with gently lifted hints of flora and ginger. The wine is nicely structured, with firm and balanced acidity,’ Susan details. ‘The finish of raspberry, along with creamy, toasty oak, lingers. This wine is marvellous when paired with fried chicken, mushroom risotto, barbecued salmon—or something as simple as goat cheese.’
Greg mentions the 2008 Alexander Valley merlot will change people’s attitudes toward the misunderstood varietal made infamous in the film Sideways. He explains this variation is food-friendly, approachable and fruit forward. ‘This lush, round merlot has a deep inky-red hue followed by heady aromas cedar, tobacco, blackberry and baking spice and full-bodied flavours of dark chocolate, espresso, mocha, plum and blackberry, the wine highlighted by silky tannins and a concentrated finish,’ he says. ‘This full-bodied merlot is a perfect match for meaty dishes made of beef or lamb, or more subtle pairings built around earthy flavours, such as mushrooms and herbs.’
The final selection was Simi’s 2007 Landslide cabernet, which pairs with such rich items as unagi (eel) sushi, crab and dark chocolate.
Our verdict? Pure refreshment and refinement. •