Same wine. Same meal. Two different wine lovers. How many opinions? That’s the challenge I set for Helen and Ken. I’d recently been sent samples of two estate wines from Dierberg Vineyard: a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir. Both of these Santa Barbara County wines are new to me, but I am familiar enough with the Santa Maria Valley where they were produced that I thought I could successfully pair them with a simple vegetarian meal for friends.
But this wasn’t to be just another dinner party featuring delicious food and the wine I’ve chosen to compliment the meal. This was to be a wine pairing dinner where I’d ask two people whose wine knowledge I trust to give me a blind assessment of the wine and the food I’ve paired it with. The only rule I set was there was to be no consultation between the tasters. Would the wine be appreciated? Would my culinary choices stroll hand-in-hand with the wine or walk all over it? Sure I have some general knowledge of the pairing Chardonnays and Pinots Noirs, but every wine is different and nuanced. Just what would Helen and Ken think? Of course, taste is subjective, so I couldn’t be sure of anything. True to form, no sooner had we sat down than the rules began to change! But I’ll Helen start the story. GREG
“Positively no conferring,” Greg instructed, “I want your individual takes on these two wines.” Easier said than done because Ken and I are used to bouncing our tasting notes off each other. Ken immediately let slip two words, “Not cloying,” about a split second after I had jotted down a sentence ending with the two words, “…without cloying.” Of course, I had to wave my notes around for a moment to prove my independent but identical discovery about the Chardonnay. Other than that, here are my notes about these two delicious wines and I am as interested as anyone to discover how similar or deranged Ken’s notes are in comparison to mine 😉 HELEN
The Wine: Dierberg 2013 Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley
HELEN: A topaz colored elixir sparkled in the glass, with stewed apple on the nose, along with a little mango rind. Tasted on its own, this delicious wine offers bright acidity with very subtle malolactics, giving a rich mouthfeel, without cloying.
KEN: Blazingly bright gold to the eye, the Dierberg 2013 Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley promises to be a jewel of a wine. On the nose, lush yellow tree fruit, golden apple, is supported by a whiff of minerality foretelling freshness. The palate delivers a nice acidity. The dryness of the wine is a pleasant surprise considering the viscous gold color that could have portended a cloying drinking experience. Bosc pear is the predominant fruit delivered with some spice (nutmeg?) and the promised mineral notes.
The Food Pairing: White Salad of Cauliflower, Endive, Pears and Grapes
KEN: As for the experience when sampled along with Greg’s salad, the pear pairs perfectly while the acid cuts the buttermilk in the dressing. The round rich mouthfeel is further supported by the sweet green grapes while the crunchy caramelized cauliflower and the bitter endive provide a balancing contrast. When sipped with the food this new-style California Chardonnay seems even brighter– less oak, more spice and plenty of quenching acidity.
HELEN: Paired with Greg’s White Salad, the acidity pops even more brightly with notes of citrus and stone to create a wonderfully harmonious compliment to the tastes and textures of the salad. This is a divine old-world style Chardonnay and supremely food-friendly.
KEN: The color of this Dierberg 2013 Pinot Noir is a captivating deep ruby, but I couldn’t wait to stick my nose in the glass. I love a good vegetal funk, reminiscent of an old-world Burgundy. The nose shows spice, black cherry, maybe even a bit of French garrigue (wild rosemary, lavender, and thyme)– quite aromatic. Looking forward to a taste! The palate delivers: dark fruit, tart cherry, white pepper, acid, and salinity. A well-structured and complex Pinot Noir, more “masculine” with a substantial backbone and long finish.
HELEN: A beautiful nose of cherry cola reaches out of the glass, chased by a hint of forest funk. Yummy. On the palate, a gorgeous dance of chewy licorice and sandlewood spice plays with a kick of green pepper.
The Food Pairing: Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Mushrooms and Kale
HELEN: I don’t think that Greg could have come up with a more perfect food pairing for this wine. Every element of the sandwich finds a flavor partner in the wine to sing with: the Gruyere highlights the unabashedly masculine quality of the wine, inviting the vegetal backbone to lead over the fruit; the feel of the forest is intensified as the wine’s sultry notes of earth and spice are mirrored in the kale and mushrooms; likewise, the rye bread marries perfectly to the licorice notes in the pinot. The BBQ chips Greg served alongside the sandwich are a revelation to me, softening all the individual notes back into a sumptuous chorus of sensual experience.
KEN: What a great way to elevate the humble grilled cheese sandwich! We have the contrast of buttery (melted cheese) versus acidic (well, acid) and the complimentary flavors of garrigue and rye bread. The spice of the BBQ chips works with the spicy notes in the wine (who’d’ve thought?). Lastly, the umami from sautéed mushrooms brings an otherworldly level of depth. A very well executed California Pinot Noir at home in formal or informal settings.
We were sent samples from Dierberg Vineyard for the purpose of this tasting menu. All opinions are our own.