The Word on Vines

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Word on Vines
Pairing local pinots

(Editor’s note: This month, wine columnist Jason Jenkins visits four Petaluma restaurants, bringing a bottle of a different local pinot noir to each restaurant to pair with a dinner entree.)

The first restaurant I visit is Pazzo, owned by the sweet pair of Bill and Beverly. Here, I paired their raspberry duck with the spectacular pinot noir from Ridgeway Vineyards.

To the tune of some soft salsa music, I raise my wine to my nose and the Ridgeway fruit seems to almost permeate through the skin on my face and into my mind.

Raspberries and mountain strawberries make this a truly fruit forward wine, its creative processes embellishing in the love of a sweet grandmother’s garden. The fruit is round and whole, yet luscious and soft. My first bite of duck simply melts on my tongue. Initially, the crisp skin delicately clings to my mouth until my teeth seamlessly fall through the soft meat.

The oil from the skin resonates, the ground pepper heightens, and as I pull the last of the Framboise (pronounced fram-bwah) juices, the soft glide of one of the best pinot noirs in California takes this dish to a whole different level.

The creaminess of the Ridgeway pinot balances perfectly with the crispy, salty skin. The acidity dances on the softness of the tender duck meat and rests gently on the cold-climate tannins. This is a match made in heaven in a restaurant just two miles from where this extraordinary pinot noir is grown.

In fact, all four wineries that I’m pairing with these spectacular restaurants are all very close to our home. Overall, the service was spectacular, and who in town is more friendly than Beverly?

My second stop is Vino Grigio, where I paired Antonio’s beautiful rabbit dish with the Roessler Griffin’s Lair pinot noir. I first cheat and have a glass of the wine before I begin eating. It’s amazing. Layered and deep and dark, its silky texture runs to every part of my mouth, seemingly hanging like thick fruit stalagmites slowly dripping apart and fusing into my palate. This wine is a perfect pairing for the wonderful rabbit.

With beautiful decor, this restaurant on Western Avenue is the newest of shining stars that have popped up in Petaluma in the last decade. My first taste of the meal is incredible. It’s mixed with big green and tan pasta noodles, tossed with olives and wild mushrooms, and is cooked to perfection. This dish is big and full of life and so is the Griffin’s Lair pinot.

Notes of cherries and ripe Santa Rosa plums collide with each beautiful mouthful of the rabbit dish and the lovely tannins stand right up to the rich sauce, making this meal something to smile about. Antonio is a very good chef and the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner.

Call me Daffy, but for my third combination of local pinot and local restaurant, I took the 2005 Keller Estate La Cruz Vineyard pinot noir over to Risibisi for yet another duck dish — duck confit. I absolutely love duck, so I wasn’t passing this opportunity up. Again, singing out of the wine are cherries and big raspberries, which seem to grow on a stem and climb out of my glass.

Stacked atop a pile of mashed potatoes and invaded with chopped grilled and steamed vegetables, each forkful of my delicious dish begged for a sweet backing of the perfect acidity in the Keller Pinot. The wine seemingly dismantled the shreds of duck down into culinary brilliance and, just for a moment, I thought I was back in Europe.

The wine is tannic, it’s structured and layered and all the while each tasty bite skips its southerly migration and heads straight to my belly. No question — the food here is delicious, the service impeccable and Marco and Fabio are two of the nicest gentlemen in town. It’s another restaurant that’s open for lunch.

For my fourth and final stop, I bring the Clary Ranch to Tony’s Central Market. In its lovely ambience, I’m greeted warmly at the door. Soft jazz echoes from distant corners somewhere above. The mood is peaceful, the patrons lively and the fire light dances from the open kitchen out in to the restaurant.

This is another destination that has cooked great food each time I have visited. Tony and I sit for a minute as I open my last wine to review, the Clary Ranch pinot, and discuss which of his dishes would pair best with this big dark pinot staring at us on the counter. Tony tastes the wine and suggests that there is evidence of syrah in his glass, which is exactly what Paul Clary had just told me that morning. This wine is deep. It’s dark and powerful, yet it’s not hot and we determine it should pair just perfectly with Tony’s lamb shank.

My meal comes and I’m enlightened. I immediately indulge and chase my first mouthful with a big sip of wine. The dark cherry fruit seems to draw the sweetness right out of the lamb. The tannins balance wonderfully against the rich oil in the wine-based sauce, its depth standing right back up against the garlic, lemon zest, parsley, and spicy black pepper.

Here, I ask myself, “Why not?” After all, Wine Spectator did rate this little gem one of the top pinot noirs in the state of California. The dish is, overall, lovely.

Pleasantly fed, my eyes wander at the tall ceilings and revel on how much my little town has changed. It is so nice to have such delicious food at so many places in this eclectic little piece of California history. It is even more amazing that surrounding us are some of the highest quality wines made in the world. What else can we ask for? Folks, get out here and support Petaluma. We could not be more fortunate then to have been blessed with a world full of such culinary delights.

(Jason Jenkins is the owner of Vine and Barrel, a wine shop at 143 Kentucky St. He offers Wednesday night wine education classes from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturday tastings from 4 to 7 p.m. He can be contacted at 765-1112. The Web site is