When wine girls go on a field trip, you never know what will happen, but you can bet it will be fun.
Few expected the visual and culinary feast that awaited them Oct. 19 at Paradise Farms in bucolic Carmel Valley, home of Jon Kasky and Nancy Rohan of Paradise Catering.
All they knew was they were going to meet two wonderful people whose entire lives revolve around their organic year-round farm, and the epicurean delights they create from it to share with those lucky enough to book a party or wedding with them.
Oh, and they needed to bring a bottle of wine to share. What ensued was a constant series of gasps and oohs and ahs as this lot of foodies toured this Garden of edible Eden delights, drenched in the warm sunlight of Carmel Valley.
As we climbed Laureles Grade, swathed in chilly fog, I hoped the gals, six of my sister wine women, would be treated to at least a passable glimpse of Talbott’s famed Diamond T Vineyard. Mother Nature, right on cue, shook off the gray shawl just as the green-going-gold vineyard came into view, and we pulled over to admire this truly world-class chardonnay and pinot vineyard from which winemaker Dan Karlsen crafts some of my all-time favorite wines, including the Cuvee Audrey chards and RFT pinots.
Fittingly, on that cusp of marine cool and valley heat, this ridge-top site has the pedigreed look of a Grand Cru vineyard, and planted to the Corton-Charlemagne clone, could certainly be worthy of such consideration.
Equally impressive are the hundreds of tomato vines in the Paradise Farms garden, still bursting forth despite the earlier rains, gleaming with the brilliance of a thousand Sungold cherries, graced with the fruity sweetness of green grape tomatoes and literally hanging to the ground with the red-black juxtaposition of Indigo Rose tomatoes. These look ripe when black, but must be red to be truly ripe. They’re giant cherries, plump, delicious and beautiful: I’m going to plant some next year. The watermelon cukes, the size of the end of my thumb, are explosions of sweet with a hint of salt: fun for martinis.
My friend Ruthe, who grows a considerable produce stand out of her small backyard garden in San Jose, was blown away by the sheer variety and prolific abundance of Jon and Nancy’s peppers, including five colors of cayenne. We gorged ourselves on tomatoes as we toured the yard, meeting the hens that earlier that morning provided the deviled eggs we were enjoying.
It’s always interesting to see what wines people bring to share. Nancy and Jon treated us to a Honig sauvignon blanc and Mount Eden chardonnay, both delightful, especially with their endless tomato-laden caprese and purple basil salad, finished with Jon’s balsamic salt. Then the openers came out and things got interesting.
My friend Toni brought a Tobin James refosco, a crazy Italian varietal that seemed destined by fate to mate with the incredible schiacciatta (skee-ach-iata) harvest bread we had just begun to feast on, made with Jon and Nancy’s zinfandel grapes. The name means “flattened” in Italian, because it’s often made in a flatbread style, literally like a flattened focaccia.
However, Jon chose to make the Tuscan Schiacciata Con l’uva, or grape bread, traditionally made with grapes left over from harvest. It’s made using eggs, wine and milk for a more cake-like consistency, which this had, along with a crispy, coriander-infused crust and crunchy, sweet zin grapes, complete with seeds. Refosco was its friend. So was the Opolo Mountain zinfandel from Paso Robles, brought by my friend Ruthe.
I’m often asked, “When should I open this particular bottle of wine?” My answer is, “When it’s time.” These bottles had clearly found their Andy Warhol moment, enjoying at least a full 15 minutes of fame.
Then came the carrot loaf, a beautiful presentation of a Wolfgang Puck recipe with layers of carrot, spinach and mushroom baked with copious quantities of eggs and cream. Served with a cilantro parsley pesto, this was heaven with the 2007 Burrell School pinot noir, brought by Anne Moulton, co-owner of Burrell School in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Hearing the next course was an oven-roasted Corvina sea bass with braised fennel in butter, accompanied by forbidden rice, and since we didn’t have enough wine open (ha!), I thought it high time to share the 2011 Cadaretta SBS, a sauvignon blanc-semillon blend that’s simply a stunning discovery for those seeking a white wine that will rivet you, and that can handle food like a short order cook on steroids (can you even believe this Lance Armstrong fiasco?).
Cadaretta comes from the Columbia Valley of Washington, and this bracing beauty takes it to fish dishes like Ben Roethlisberger takes the ball to the end zone, defense be damned. It’s a show-stopper every time. (Find it at middletonfamilywines.com)
But we weren’t even close to the end of the fourth quarter: nope, we still had a cheese course plus dessert to come, and to accompany the special truffle d’Affinois Jon had scored at The Cheese Shop in Carmel, a bottle of ’05 Pisoni Vineyard pinot suddenly forced its way into our glasses.
The clamoring was universal: so was the verdict. Guilty on all counts of entrapment (nobody seemed to want to let go of the bottle), assault and battery (that cheese had no chance), seducing a minor (I think Jon and Nancy’s dog, Shelby, is only 2), and excessive force (honestly, how did that extra piece of bread get on my plate?), followed by other general acts of hedonism, including the ingestion of dessert (grilled nectarines with crème Anglaise and ginger scones), and the opening of a prized bottle of Sauternes from Jon’s private stash to add further cultural decadence to this epicurean excess.
Oh, and we were each given a poppy pod to shake seeds onto the creme Anglaise! Jon thinks of everything – magical!
Honestly, I blame it all on that Pisoni pinot. Gary, your ears must have been burning. Everybody wants the Jeep tour!