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 By: Richard C. Ross



A visit to Sonoma Cutrer in Sonoma County


On Dining -
As I See It...

Perry's Steakhouse
Aliano's Ristorante
Forever Yogurt
The Rendez-vu
Even Flow
Outdoor Dining
Rox City Grill
Exquisite Breakfast
The Reuben
3 Burgers
Rutherford Hill
Sonoma Cutrer

Chalk Hill

Wine With Dinner






Executive Chef Josef Yurisich
The phrase "third time's a charm" is one that is often used.  I tried unsuccessfully to find the origin of the phrase; the closest I could get was that it had something to do with luck and "third time's lucky."  Perhaps though, it would be best to replace "lucky" with "fortunate", since I felt indeed fortunate to be able to be able to attend our third Winemaker Dinner at Harvest Restaurant at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois -- this one featuring the wines of Rutherford Hill, a smallish winery located in the northern part of the Napa Valley, just east of St. Helena, California that is renowned for its production of outstanding Merlots.  Two previous dinners had taught me to expect only the finest of food and service, accompanied by excellent wines from premier wineries; I was not to be disappointed tonight either!

The evening began with hand-crafted hors d'oeuvres from the kitchen of Chef Josef Yurisich, a true master in the art of pairing wines with his sumptuous creations.  Tonight, Mini Phyllo Roulades with roast shrimp, wild mushroom, spinach and Asiago cheese, Smoked Duck and Caramelized Onion Tostones flavored with raspberry chipotle drizzle and Asian Style Grilled Scallop Napoleons with Asian eggplant, jicama and roasted fruit relish, along with myriad imported cheeses with fresh berries were aptly paired with a 2005 Rutherford Hill Chardonnay.  This was a smooth and bright wine with a hint of smoke, touches of nuts and butter and a very clean finish -- an excellent way to begin the evening.  We had the good fortune to have seated ourselves across from Gary Enloe, the representative from Rutherford Hill.  Extremely knowledgeable about wines in general, he shared a good deal of interesting background about the winery and its location in the hills on the east side of the Napa Valley and at an elevation of about about 800 feet above the valley floor.

We adjourned to the dining room where fresh and warm homemade breads awaited -- delivered to our pristine table in a cloth covered basket; four wine glasses topping the table in front of each diner.  Opening comments were delivered by Joe Orichiella, the resort's Director of Food and Beverage.  Mr. Orichiella then introduced Gary Enloe, who welcomed everyone to the evening's festivities, shared some particulars about the history of Rutherford Hill's winery, its distinctive wines and unique wine-aging caves and also some information about the evening's selections -- especially the Merlot, for which Rutherford Hill is perhaps best known.  Chef Josef wrapped up the pre-meal session with some brief comments about the evening's courses.  Animated this evening and at the top of his game, the Chef appeared as comfortable in front of the full-house crowd as anyone I have ever seen, describing the First Course with zeal and even a few one-liners; it was clear he was excited to let the fun begin!

We were first treated to Pan-Seared Soft-Shell Crab with Ginger and Yuzu Glaze, enhanced with roasted langostine & Granny Smith apple relish, garnished with toasted sesame seeds and paired with more of the delightful 2005 Rutherford Hill Chardonnay.  The wine was a perfect partner, the subtleties of apple in the wine complementing well the apple relish and Ginger glaze of the appetizer.

It was shortly after Gary's description of the 2003 Merlot and Chef Josef's description of the Second Course -- Pepper-Seared Kobe Beef Carpaccio with buttered Heirloom tomatoes & mesclun greens, accented with imported champignon Brie & drizzled with blackberry balsamic truffle honey glaze -- that I noticed the volume of conversation began to rise as the plates were delivered and sips were taken of the rich, soft and velvety Merlot, replete with overtones of ripe berries and oak with only a touch of tannin and a pepper finish.  The match-up was perfect, the carpaccio literally disintegrating almost before it reached my mouth, the Merlot and blackberry balsamic honey glaze an inseparable pas de deux.  I had not previously enjoyed the pleasure of Kobe beef, but I now fully understand what all the raving is about.

By now the diners seemed almost in a feeding frenzy, barely able to wait for the next wine and course descriptions, enjoying the evening's repast almost as if it might be their last.  The wine was a 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, huge by comparison to the Merlot and laced with the deep richness of perhaps blueberries and black currants, even hints of chocolate.  But this wine needed to be big, for it was handily paired with Herb-Wrapped Roasted Buffalo Tenderloin, Sauced with Plum & Current Demi-Glaze, dotted with vanilla goat cheese foam, garnished with roasted shallot confit & wild mushroom timbale and accompanied with Yukon and apple bacon mashed potatoes.  An incredibly big and rich Third Course with a big and rich wine to match, came close to pushing the ecstatic diners -- including me -- over the top.  The buffalo was as lean as one could possibly imagine, but it was also moist, fork-tender and absolutely delicious!

The Gary and Chef Josef show had one final act to perform: Gary's introduction of a marvelous 2003 zinfandel Port wine -- not available for sale anywhere -- and the Chef's piece de la resistance: a Molten Chocolate Cake & Cinnamon Ice Cream, accented with blueberry coulis and drizzled with citrus reduction.  The dessert was like a volcano of chocolate cake that exploded with a thick and luscious molten river of chocolate sauce when pierced with a fork.  Previous experiences with port wine have not been memorable; this one was truly different and remarkably tasty.  It certainly was paired well with the dessert.  This was an absolutely phenomenal meal; Chef Josef and his staff somehow manage to each time create a winemaker dinner whose quality and imagination exceed the last.  Thank you Chef! 

Each winemaker dinner I have attended has increased in attendance; this one being a full house -- and I know why.  The plate presentations are always incredibly classy and eye-appealing , the food is always hot, delicious and served with professional flare.  The servers themselves always do an outstanding job, and the whole evening is lots of fun, well-paced and relaxing.  This event is an absolute must do, especially if you have not yet attended one!  There are two more winemaker dinners in 2007 -- one on August 27th and another on November 27th.  Call and make a reservation for one of those dates -- you will not be sorry.

Special thanks to Assistant Food and Beverage Director Leilani Sivsov and Director of Advertising and Promotions Christina Walsh for their parts in putting these great dinners together!  






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