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Brewer-Clifton and Melville Vineyards Dinner at Abacus in Dallas

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The Andouille Stuffed Quail, Cherry-Ghost Chile Demi, Roasted Pumpkin-Sage Spoonbread was a spot-on choice for the 2009 Melville Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills.

Two California central coast wineries, Brewer-Clifton and Melville Vineyards and Winery, were tasted last night over hors d’oeuvres and a four-course meal at Abacus in Dallas. Sales Director, Partner, and General Manager for Melville, Stephen Janes, took 50 guests through some of the best wines from the two companies’ portfolios and described the connection between the two companies. Steve Clifton and Greg Brewer founded Brewer-Clifton in the Santa Rita Hills area of California in the mid  ’90s to make individualistic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on an artisanal scale’. (Their first year they made just four barrels of wine). One day, when Greg was out looking for fruit, he ran across Ron Melville, a grape grower and owner of Melville Vineyards. Ron needed a winemaker and so Greg Brewer, former Professor of French and Magna Cum Laude from UCSB, and part owner of Brewer-Clifton, became wine maker at Melville. This was in the late ’90s. Whereas Brewer-Clifton produces only the Burgundy twins of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Melville grows those two vines but additionally the Rhone varieties Syrah and Viognier. They continue their historical role as a grower, supplying other wineries in Santa Barbara County including Bonaccorsi Wine Company, Brewer-Clifton, Jaffurs Wine Cellars, Ojai Vineyards, and Samsara Wine Co.

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Hot Sesame Oil Hamachi ‘Carpaccio’, Mango, Key Lime, Thai Basil, Citrus Falk Salt

Abacus’s Hot Sesame Oil Hamachi ‘Carpaccio’, Mango, Key Lime, Thai Basil, Citrus Falk Salt was paired with 2009 Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay for the first course. This Chardonnay is representative of the Brewer-Clifton philosophy in that they are light users of oak, preferring a more transparently fruity and even racy style from the cool climate grapes grown in hills that are subject to almost constant wind. Harvest has taken place as late as December (in 2010 for example). Such is the temperature variation that Janes described how, on a summer day, he can leave work where it is 80 degrees and take the one-hour drive home to Santa Ynez where the temperature would be over 100 degrees on arrival. Janes was an enthusiast for the sashimi-style hamachi which he said had a preparation that followed the same minimalist style as the approach to making the wine.

The Andouille Stuffed Quail, Cherry-Ghost Chile Demi, Roasted Pumpkin-Sage Spoonbread was a spot-on choice for the 2009 Melville Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills. The sausage meat had earthy flavors that mixed with the gaminess of the quail. The texture of the bird was so soft it didn’t require any effort to chew to get to the meat inside. The seasonal pumpkin-based spoonbread had the texture of a well whipped mashed potato, but a tangy sweetness that offset the incendiary 800,000 Scoville’s of the Ghost Chili. Could such a chili go with wine without demolishing it? In trace amounts, and suffocated under a bed of pumpkin, yes. The Melville was a simply brilliantly made Pinot Noir. The tannins were puckery, almost woody, but they underlay a body of raspberry and black cherry fruit that was so intense that they did not seem out of proportion. Rather, just the well-crafted backbone to a fine wine. It was young however, and while enjoyable now, will likely improve over 3-5 years.

The main course of Grilled Rack of Lamb, Mustard Seed Demi, Yukon Gold-Caramelized Cipolline ‘Risotto’ was accompanied by 2009 Brewer-Clifton, Mount Carmel Pinot Noir. This was a truly young wine. Its flavors were inscrutable and unyielding but I suspect that, with age, complexity will replace the linearity of its current flavors.

Dessert of Browned Butter-Huckleberry Tart, Smoked Bacon Sabayon was an unusual combination of flavors. The sabayon tasted distinctly ‘bacony’ (an acquired taste in dessert). The tartness of the huckleberries offset the buttery cake-like texture of the tart, creating a dessert that was sweet, but not too sweet. 2009 Melville Estate ‘Verna’s’ Syrah came from Melville’s Verna’s Vineyard in Los Alamos. The bacon in the fruit complemented that in the dessert. I liked both the wine and the food, but kept them separate in this case.

The Abacus chefs prepared a meal that was sensitive to the subtleties of these award-winning wines making for an impressive show and an enjoyable evening.

Brewer-Clifton and Melville wines are represented by Sigel’s in the Dallas market.

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