Wednesday night, April 23, Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach hosted a wine pairing dinner with renowned winery Caymus Vineyards Caymus is one of the oldest established wineries in the Napa Valley, having been started in 1971 by acclaimed vintner Charlie Wagner. Today, it is operated by son Chuck and his children, Joe and Jenny. Several “Wines of the Year” acclamations by Wine Spectator plus many more awards have put Caymus at the pinnacle of the wine world. It seemed only natural to join with renowned Chef Amar Santana to do a wine pairing dinner.
Before the dinner, Chef Amar said to the Examiner, “We do a lot of wine dinners, but it's so much easier to do the food and the menus when the wines are good. We did a few wine dinners last year and the wines were OK. So I'm sitting in the office trying the wines and saying to myself, 'I don't really like this wine but I'll have to make it work'. When I tried all the Caymus wines it was 'Oh wow that's so good!', so you get excited about it”.
Chef Amar continued, “It's easier to come up with food and flavor combinations when the wine is great. It's like cooking in the kitchen; when you have poor ingredients you're going to have poor food. But sometimes, you get good ingredients and you just put it on the plate! When it's good, it's good”.
Brent Ferro, who handles the Pacific Region for Caymus Vineyards, agreed and added, “It's the same thing for me too. When I first came in here, I couldn't believe it, I was blown away. We just moved to Southern California and we took some time to get to know the area. We tried other restaurants, just like you said and when you get something that's 'spot on', and then Michael had called me about a wine dinner. I didn't know who he was, or what he was doing, but he told me about the food and I said 'oh my God', and when it came to start pairing the foods up and how they tasted together, it's like a marriage. You have to have a good side on each side”.
Brent continued, “Caymus makes some of the best wines, if not the best wine and this is by far the best food. You can't go wrong with a plan like that!”. He added, “I do a lot of camping. What I consider a 'barbecue wine' is a wine that can stand up all alone. Most of ours can do that. But when you pair them with great food it's just divine”.
Chef Amar said, “When I tried that Pinot and we all tried it together, it's funny because even before we all tried it I'd had two bottles of that wine that someone gave me before”. He continued, “I had two bottles of it with my girlfriend and we loved it and when I saw it again, I was talking to Ahmed and Michael. I love pork and Michael said, 'do something pork'. You can go big, you don't have to go light. So I did the barbecue pork belly, sort of like Southern style. Brent answered, “It was over the top!”.
The dinner began with appetizers such as lamb shank fritters with Blue cheese sauce, liver mousse on garlic toast, falafel balls with yogurt and tiny porchetta sandwiches with pickles and onions. A Mer Soleil Silver 2012 Unoaked Chardonnay was poured for all the guests at the sold out event. The lamb fritters were delicious, as was the porchetta, made and roasted in Broadway's kitchen.
The first course was paired with a delicious 2011 Mer Soleil Chardonnay Reserve. The wine, made from grapes grown in Monterey County's Santa Lucia Highlands, The wine, assertive and complex, paired extremely well with the Butter Poached Sturgeon that was served. The sturgeon, afloat in a clam chowder with bits of nori and smoked trout eggs, was cooked perfectly, with just enough of the rich clam chowder to moisten the taste buds.
The next course introduced the first red wine, the Caymus 2012 Belle Glos Pinot Noir. From the southern part of the Santa Lucia Highlands, the grapes from the Las Alturas Vineyard Yielded an exceptionally smooth Pinot Noir. Chef Amar created a delicious Crispy Braised Pork Belly to go with this wine. The pork belly, with a crispy crust and buttery interior, was plated with braised collard greens and a whimsical ball of “mac and cheese”. On the plate, several BBQ'd hazelnuts joined the party. Guests commented on the uniqueness of the flavor of the hazelnuts, smoky and crunchy and an unexpected delight.
The next course was a rather rare cut of the ribeye called the Ribeye Cap. Most people know it as a small part of a ribeye steak, that little, delicious part near the fat and bone. The cap can be trimmed off before the steaks are cut into a one foot piece and that is what Chef Amar chose to use. It was pepper crusted, served with a rum-peppercorn jus and accompanied by a kale puree. A treat was the root vegetable gratin, looking like a slice of white lasagna with a crispy top. The gratin was very flavorful and worked well with the tender, slightly peppery beef.
With such a delicious piece of meat as the ribeye cap, only an exceptional wine could accompany that. Caymus trotted out their flagship wine, the 2011 Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon to join the course. It was robust, yet seemed so smooth that it was hard to guess that it had only been aged a short time. It was very drinkable, yet showed a maturity beyond its years. There were only empty glasses left of this rich wine.
The last course, dessert, was as pretty as it was delicious. An Almond Pear Tart, sitting on a lake of delicious saffron caramel was served with a side of cardamom ice cream. The tart crust was firm and crispy, with the softer half pair on top yielding nice textural contrast. A sweet, Late Harvest Viognier from Mer Soleil went well with the tart, the sweet wine working with the less sweet, flavorful pear tart. This 2004 wine, again from grapes from the Santa Lucia Highlands, has the sweetness of a great Late Harvest wine, sweet but with enough body and a slightly tart finish to leave a delicious aftertaste. It was an excellent way to finish the meal.
Chef Amar introduced each course, while Brent spoke before the meal about the history of Caymus, telling some personal stories of working with the Wagner family and the winery. Overall, it was a delightful night and one that the guests will look forward to again in May, when Broadway by Amar Santana presents their next wine dinner.
Broadway by Amar Santana
328 Glenneyre Street
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Wagner Family of Wine (Caymus, Mer Soleil, Conundrum, Belle Glos, Emmolo)