Harlan restaurant teaches diners as they drink
There is another way to look at the cost of a multi-course food and wine pairing extravaganza at one of Napa Valley’s top restaurants: the restaurant as a wine class.
The Restaurant at Meadowood, nestled in thick woods in the eastern hills of St. Helena, holds three Michelin-stars and has reopened after a major three-month renovation this Spring.
The resort’s founding partner is cult winery owner, Bill Harlan. A nine to ten-course dinner, the Chef’s Menu, is offered with or without wine pairings chosen from their 1,200 bottle collection at the resort.
Chef Christopher Kostow not only brings fresh ingredients from the resort’s gardens into each of the dishes but seems to put the very essence of nature onto the plates.
A course of salmon served five ways, called Salmon in Late Spring, is laid out as if a colorful vine with the salmon roe as grapes and numerous lettuces and vegetables as the leaves.
The final dish, Foraging, comes in a beautifully crafted wooden box, and the edible items inside appear as if they are leaves, sticks and stones gathered from the wooded forest outside of the restaurant.
They are, however: rosemary honeycomb, white chocolate green tea, dirty caramel, maple leaf, and coffee brown butter twig.
It is with dishes like these that wine director, Michael Ireland, must pair the wines. Guests couldn’t be in better hands; Michael Ireland was sommelier at The French Laundry and during his time there, he maintained the restaurant’s Michelin three-star status and achieved the Wine Spectator’s Grand Award.
He was wine and spirits director at Viognier Restaurant in San Mateo where the wine list he authored earned Wine Spectator’s “Best of” Award of Excellence. He also received rave reviews from restaurant critic Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Ireland will visit your table numerous times as headmaster of the (unofficial) wine class that unfolds as you dine. Your main instructor could be Olin Harris (if you are lucky) or any number of other head waiters who will guide you brilliantly through each wine.
As with any good class, you get wrapped up in the lesson and don’t realize you are actually being instructed too. Yet, by the time a wine has been poured, you feel like you know the producer, where the grapes are grown, have a big picture of the region and the wines produced there – along with other interesting facts or figures. By the end of the evening, you have a cellar worth of information on top wines of the world.
Lest you think you won’t be relaxing with “class” in session, there is no way to resist the charms of the restaurant décor and the calm, gracious manner of each of the staff. You will sit back and sip and savor your way through an incredible food and wine journey.
An example of a three-Michelin star wine class:
1. Roederer Estate, “l’Ermitage,” Brut, Anderson Valley, California 2000 (poured from a magnum). Served with canapés, as the cool climate of Anderson Valley and the French-parentage of this estate are discussed with class master, Olin Harris. Perfect refreshing sip to the savory flavors and gourmet salts used in the various dishes served.
2. Jerez Cortado Hidalgo, Manzanilla, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Jerez, Spain (multi-vintage). Familiar with the solera system of wine aging? If you aren’t, Olin is ready to explain its intricacies and unwrap the mysteries of Sherry before you. Served with Summer Squash Cannoli whose nutty component is a perfect bridge to the toffee-nut aromas in the Sherry.
3. Didier Dagueneau, “Silex,” Pouilly-fumé, Loire Valley, France 2009. Meet the late Didier Dagueneau through a taste of this wine. Dagueneau is King of Sauvigon Blanc and his relentless work with this grape led to a deeper understanding of the intense purity and focus that can come from Sauvignon Blanc depending on where it is grown and how. Served with grilled cuttlefish and smoked avocado.
4. Scholium Project, “Rhododactylos,” Cinsault, Lodi, CA 2011. Olin deftly notes that this Cinsault comes from the second-oldest vineyard in California, planted in the 1800s. The producer was a Greek philosophy professor at St John’s in Annapolis, and Scholium shares the same root as “school” and “scholarship” in the Greek language. Served with Salmon in late Spring.
5. Domaine du Pegau, Châteauneuf du-Pape, Rhone Valley, France 2011. Olin briefly discusses the grapes that go into this wine, and their individual virtues. The climate of the Rhone Valley is also mentioned. Served with the local Sturgeon and onions prepped a number of ways.
6. Lopez de Heredia, “Viña Tondonia,” Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain 1991. A very special pour. Olin will discuss the traditional winemaking of this producer with you. While most of Spain is producing modern wines, Lopez de Heredia is embracing the traditional procedures of long, oxidative aging. The reason for the golden cage over the bottle? Olin will tell you: to prevent counterfeits. Once the cage is cut open, a bottle would surely not be considered for sale as an authentic at auction.
7. Wind Gap, “Griffin’s Lair,” Syrah, Sonoma Coast, CA 2009. Take note of your glassware, Olin instructs. The red stem denotes that the glass is perfect for red wines such as this Syrah. Riedel’s green-stemmed glassware had been used previously for white wines. Then Olin provides a snapshot of the produce – one with a reputation for big, robust wines. But here, and in general, the winemaking is shifting in style to showcase elegance. This wine is still full of hedonistic pleasure.
8. Chateau Pierre-Bise, Savennières-aux-Roche-aux-Moines, Loire Valley, France 2006. Do you know the grape in this wine? If you hadn’t, you’ll be told about the virtues of Chenin Blanc and can discuss the different styles of wine produced in the Loire.
9. Cave de l’Abbe Rous, “Cuvée Christian Reynal,” Banyuls Grand Cru, France 1998. One hundred percent Grenache and 100% delicious, this is a wine that could be used to explain why wine lovers are wine lovers. France’s Vins Doux Naturels can also be discussed at will.
10. Vineyard 29, “Aida Estate,” Late Harvest Zinfandel, St. Helena (multi-vintage). The solera system noted earlier? That will come in handy here, since this wine is produced using a modified version. Vintages from 2002 to 2010 are blended into this final dessert wine.
When class concludes, there will likely be one remaining question on your mind: does this class repeat every week for a full semester?
For the curious, the menu, in brief, crafted by chef Christopher Kostow:
Pillow On A Pillow
Meadowood Garden Crudité
Geoduck Clam Fritter
Shrimp Toast with Mustard Horseradish
Brown Butter Rocks on a Rock with Huckleberry Jam
Whipped Yogurt Black Sesame Pickled Plum
Summer Squash Cannoli with Dried Tuna Raisin
Beans Smoked Avocado Grilled Cuttlefish
Salmon in Late Spring
Coal Roasted Sturgeon with Various Onions
Veal Potato, Kohlabri Sorrel
Young Goat and Sunflower
Goats Milk and Radish
Charred Berries Effervescence
Blueberry Buttermilk Bowl
Dark Chocolate Beet Violet
White Chocolate Green Tea
Coffee Brown Butter Twig