Jim Richardson (J.R. as he is known) is a living practitioner of the axiom that to make a small fortune in the wine business one should start with a large one. He and his wife founded Oak Cliff Cellars in 2008 in California’s Napa Valley. J.R. spent a year finding the right wine maker. He eventually picked Bruce Regalia, a winemaker at Madrigal who was trained by Chico State University and Duckhorn Vineyards. They named the winery after their home town because Snooty Duck seemed too ridiculous.
J.R. hosted an Oak Cliff Cellars wine tasting and dinner at The Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek last week (one location where his wines are on the list) and invited me as his guest. Bruno Davaillon, Mansion execuchef, prepared a menu to pair with grape varieties as diverse as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah.
Let’s get this party started.
We started with the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County, CA with Chilled Lobster (with pickled mango, avocado and lobster roe vinaigrette). The Oak Cliff Cellars Sauvignon Blanc is made in a typical Californian style, which means high acid complemented by some fruit, high alcohol, and only a little herbaciousness. It was big enough to pair well with the lobster and accompanying fruit flavors. Its fruit-acid balance reflected the wine maker’s skill.
The 2007 Pinot Noir, Mendocino County, CA is a huge wine.The ruby color makes it look younger than its years. The unusual nose has candied apple fruit on it. The mouthfeel of massive open Pinot Noir fruit tastes toasty and jammy. Fortunately, Bruno Davaillon was not going to be lynched by such a monster and provided Crispy Duck Leg Confit (with green lentil casserole, Parmesan espuma and ruccola).
With Roasted Venison (celeriac puree, poached pear, quince, and red cabbage, in a sweet and sour reduction) we sampled two reds. A soft 2010 Mourvèdre, Wild Diamond Vineyard, Lake County, CA and the 2009 Petite Sirah, Lovers Lane Vineyard, Mendocino County, CA. The latter would be my choice for wine of the night because of its complex dark fruit nose, its mouth filling soft flavors, and long earthy finish. It is still young, so rather inscrutable at the present time.
Oak Cliff Cellars is succeeding with a diverse portfolio of grapes and blends, each made in small, few hundred case quantities. They have sensibly put the wine making in experienced hands while J.R. brings a boyish enthusiasm to the selling process which often involves on-site visits and hand selling. His wines are available directly from the company web site or at Bolsa Mercado in Dallas.