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Fisher Vineyards Tasting at Pappas Bros. in Dallas

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For almost three quarters of a century Fred Fisher’s family was in the business of building cars. The company was eventually acquired by General Motors. Fred studied engineering at Princeton and Harvard; did a three-year stint with the US Army; and two with GM. However he wanted to branch out in his own direction.

He was still interested in building body, but his interest turned to body as it refers to wine. Fisher moved to California, met Juelle Lamb,the woman who became his wife, and together, in 1973, they purchased 100 acres in the Mayacamus Mountains. They were married in the Wedding Garden on the property and named wine growing area “Wedding Vineyard” to commemorate the event. Their personal partnership also founded Fisher Vineyards.

The story book tale and wine dinner details below.

Later they added land in Napa, giving them grapes in the two best-known premium wine growing regions of the state. Marketing manager, Scotti Stark, was at Pappas Bros. on Friday night leading a testing of recent, and older, wines along with food prepared by chefs Mike Gaspard (who travels around Pappas restaurants preparing special and private dinners) and Pappas Dallas executive chef James Johnson.

We started with 2009 Fisher Vineyards “Unity” Napa Valley Rosé. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir was light with a fruitiness mainly of Rhone fruit (the Syrah in the blend). It was ideal with the passed hors d’oeuvres of cucumber with crab, cheese croquettes and toast points with venison.

Once seated we dived into the first course: Roasted, Lightly Smoked Black Cod, Arugula, Crispy Chorizo, Saffron Broth. This dish was topped with some onions soubise as an unlisted ingredient. Johnson explained that the onions had been mixed with a little olive oil and cooked for over seven hours over almost a ‘pilot light’ flame. The long cooking time gave them a melt-in-the-mouth quality and sweetness that contrasted with the saltiness of the chorizo. In a meal that would turn out to have several credible candidates for ‘best course’ this would eventually be my winner.

It was served with two wines: 1997 Fisher Vineyards ‘Whitney’s Vineyard’ Sonoma County Chardonnay and 2008 Fisher Vineyards ‘Whitney’s Vineyard’ Sonoma County Chardonnay (in other words, the latest release of their Chardonnay, and an older release). The 2008 had a nose of butterscotch and lemon. A taste profile typical of Sonoma Chardonnay, in that there was a lot of forward ripe fruit, ever present oak, and a long finish. This is a very well balanced wine. By contrast the 1997 Chardonnay is a wine that 95% of Chardonnay producers could not produce. Chardonnay is usually dead and gone long before it reaches 13 years of age. Maybe something to be cooked with. To its credit, Fisher’s was still quite drinkable. The nose was ripe cantaloupe and the tastes flavors harmonized as is characteristic of old wine. That said, however, there were signs of oxidation in the mouthfeel and tasters at our table thought the 2008 the better wine with the cod. No comment from the cod on how it preferred to be paired.

Second course was Heirloom Tomato Terrine, Local Texas Blue Cheese, Home-Made Bacon Vinaigrette. It is a pity this is not available on the regular Pappas menu. On the face it is just diced tomatoes with the old primary flavors bacon and cheese. Taken together however, it combines intense tomato flavors with the cream and tartness of blue cheese and the saltiness of bacon. One of the diners at our table was correct in saying ‘bacon’s good with everything’ but this dish offered lots more. There may not be a way to eat tomatoes on a hot summer’s day that is more enjoyable than this. Apparently, the recipe involves hanging the tomatoes for two days to drain in order to concentrate the flavors.

Raw tomatoes are notoriously hard to pair with wine so it was with some trepidation that I tasted the 1998 Fisher Vineyards ‘Coach Insignia’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 2007 Fisher Vineyards ‘Coach Insignia’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Once again, a current release to contrast with an older library wine. The nose on the 2007 was still closed but did show the ‘lead pencil’ that Scotti told us to detect. In the mouth this was a lush and showy wine with soft tannins and red fruit. The 1998 is allegedly from a ‘poor year’ in Napa. Lots of rain leading to diluted fruit. The nose was oak and blueberries. The taste was a fully resolved combination of blackberries and cedar with a slightly stewed quality. Wines meant for ageing follow a trajectory of steady improvement, leading to a peak, and then decline. This wine is near the beginning of its decline albeit slowly. The fruit was probably better a few years ago.

The third course was 139º Butter Poached Prime Tenderloin, Melted Leak, Uni Butter. Yes, that really is sea urchin butter. I put things like this on my “gotta’ try” list. Now, having done so, I can report it may be the coward’s way in to eating uni in the sushi bar as it is really quite a tasty, earthy butter. This tenderloin could almost be cut with a fork, was it so tender. In the mouth it yielded an unimaginable level of succulence. Gaspard explained that it had been cooked sous vide for 150 minutes.
Sea Urchin having a think…

With steak like this there was no way that the accompanying wines could not be a superb match. 1996 Fisher Vineyards “Wedding Vineyard” Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Fisher Vineyards “Wedding Vineyard” Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the classic steak and Cabernet pairing. The 1996 had a nose of cedar, tobacco and cassis and a taste of ripe dark fruit. Still ageing gracefully this wine will keep for several more years. The 2005 is still young and best kept. However, its soft tannins make it drinkable now. The nose contains aromas of blueberries and the taste vanilla and effusive cabernet fruit.

We finished up with an exorbitant dessert of Summer Fruit Cobbler, Bacon Streusel, Home-Made Strawberry Gelato. I think gelato should always be served family style: That way I can I can get twice as much.

This was an interesting tasting. Fisher Vineyards offers a line of high quality northern California wines focused on two separate growing areas. I love tastings of old wines as you do not know what to expect. Fisher Vineyards showed that they make age worthy wines. The two chefs behind the food made dishes that were aspirational. Next up at Pappas Bros. is wine that is not from the West Coast. On July 16,  they will present wines from other states ranging from  New York to Arizona. On August 6, it’s a case of  “now for something completely different”–they hold their second annual beer dinner. Call (214) 366-2000 for reservations.

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