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Richard C. Ross



A visit to Chalk Hill Estate in Sonoma County





Executive Chef Josef Yurisich
For those of you who were unable to attend the Sonoma-Cutrer Winemaker�s Dinner
in the Fall of 2005, AND you also missed the recent iteration that featured Chalk Hill Estate Vineyard and Winery - again at Harvest Restaurant at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles - then you have missed out on two of the best dinners/wine samplings that this area has seen. And just when I thought that Chef Josef Yuisich could not outdo his previous dinner (late October 2005), he managed to once again prove that he has talents that easily exceed expectations.

The evening had an identical itinerary in terms of procedure, but the flavors, wine selections and pairings were altogether another matter - and again, they were outstanding.  The selection of "hand-crafted winter delicacies" during the reception included an immense array of cheeses, one of which was as soft, creamy and delicate as any I have tasted.  There were also several seafood crustinis - shrimp and scallops - that were melt-in-your-mouth good.  These were all accompanied by a 2002 Sauvignon Blanc that was mellow and tart at the same time - a perfect partner to the hors d'oeuvres - probably a result of the chalky soils of the estate.

After being seated in the dining room, Brian Harley from Chalk Hill gave us a brief overview of the winery and of the wines we were going to taste on this particular evening.  It was obvious that Brian had not only a love for wine but also for the special wines of Chalk Hill, as he spoke with both passion and conviction.  Chalk Hill is a relatively small winery - about 1200 acres, only about 300 of which are planted in grapes - overlooking the Russian River Valley of northern Sonoma Valley, just north of San Francisco, California.

It was time for the appetizer: Cherry Wood Smoked Duck and Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms, Garnished with a Black Bean Wild Rice Griddle Cake.  Now tell me if just reading that doesn't make your taste buds stand up and ask for some!  Perfectly paired with a 2002 Pinot Gris Select, the dish was as marvelous to eat as it was to see... plated beautifully.  And the Pinot Gris? I found it hard to believe that a white wine could taste soooo good with a big bold and game flavor like smoked duck... but it absolutely did; with subtle mineral and peach flavors, it was an excellent pairing.

The salad was almost an entree in itself.  A delicate and crispy potato horn-of-plenty spilled forth Pan Seared Spicy Scallops with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Micro Greens, Served with a Fennel Chardonnay Dressing and paired with an excellent 2002 Chardonnay that was big and bold, yet subtle and well-balanced, hinting of butter and oak and supplying a long, smooth finish.  The scallops fell apart upon touching my palate and were so well matched with the wine that I hardly noticed the hints of "fire" that tagged along with the scallops.

Speaking of big and bold - the entree was about as big and bold as one could possibly imagine: Melange of Peppercorn crusted Roast Venison with Madeira Currant Reduction... and Wild Mushroom & Boursin Stuffed Filet Wrapped with Creole Mustard & Apple Bacon Cognac Demi Creme; Garnished with Shallot Confit and Baby Vegetables.  The outrageously imaginative creation needed just as bold a wine to accompany it.  Chef Yurisich perfectly paired a 2001 Merlot with this marvelous main course.  It was a very big wine with concentrated flavors of black cherry, blueberry, cassis, plum and even a hint of chocolate.  But save some room for dessert cried our server!  You mean there was more?  Yup!

The dessert was simple and as elegant as the trio of white wines from earlier that evening: Seasonal Tangerine Creme Brulee... served in a small coffee cup, it accompanied by a delicate spoon made of white chocolate  Now with all due respect to the Chef, I have never been a big fan of desserts, BUT... after the last Winemaker Dinner's fabulous finish, I was willing to try another.  and so, Chef Josef, you have converted me with both the look and the taste of an excellent finishing course.  As full as I was, I ate it all and enjoyed every bite!  Oh, yes... the wine.  The pairing was a 2002 Kracher BA from Austria -- and what a totally unexpected and very pleasant surprise!  As little as I know about dinner wines -- reds and whites -- I know even less about dessert wines.  But I have to say that this one was fabulous.  With only a hint of sweetness, it was easily drinkable, offering complex aromas, a very strong finish and a perfect balance between sweetness and acidity: an outstanding example of a fine dessert wine.

As we departed -- rather rolled out of -- the dining room, we both smiled a contented smile and headed home to savor the memories of another example of outstanding food, wine and service at Harvest.  Thanks again to all of you - from Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards and Winery to Pheasant Run - who made it possible!






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