Last Wednesday, I sat down for a one-on-one media dinner at with Maria Helm Sinskey, executive chef and co-owner of the famed Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa Valley.
Named Food & Wine’s “Best New Chef 1996”, Maria is no secret in the culinary world. Her notable cookbooks, Family Meals and The Vineyard Kitchen, have been staples in our kitchen for years; and she continues to provide insight by way of numerous periodicals devoted to the art.
We dined at Gemma, owned by Napa-alums Allison Yoder and Stephen Rogers (who were both previously at Press, an acclaimed restaurant in St. Helena, California), and discussed topics ranging from viticulture, to growing truffles at RSV, to culinary-induced jaunts to Europe and Asia.
Maria is known for specializing in fare that is harmonious with wine; so I deemed it appropriate to allow her to take the lead given her intimate knowledge of the various Sinskey examples we were to taste throughout the evening. She is a stickler for sourcing and preparing local, organic ingredients that are in-season (in her case, from her numerous gardens on the Sinskey property). Allison exhibits an identical mindset. So with that, we began.
We started with Sinskey’s 2012 Pinot Blanc, paired with a trio of apps including Kampachi crudo with blood orange and Hawaiian pink salt, grass-fed beef tartare with a raw egg yolk, and baked oysters with leeks, Gruyere, and guanciale. The Los Carneros-based Pinot Blanc exhibited notes of citrus, green apple, and lavender, supported by idyllic structure, sharp acidity, and balance. A surprisingly versatile wine, the Pinot was one that danced harmoniously with the crudo, but was able to stand up to the richness of beef. A very unique find and one I highly recommend for the summer months.
We ventured on to vegetable-driven dishes, consisting of asparagus with pine nuts and fresh Parmesan, roasted baby artichokes with wild arugula and a poached farm egg and, my personal favorite, a shaved asparagus salad with purple kohlrabi, green almonds and Cacio Di Bosco. Maria presented Sinskey’s 2012 Abraxas, also from Los Carneros, given its notes of citrus, pear and white flower, which also displayed subtle minerality, more specifically, flint and gravel. A Riesling-driven blend further supported with Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Gewürztraminer, the wine paired exquisitely with the selected mid-courses. An ideal choice for a light lunch, or as opener to be shared with the table in lieu of cocktails.
Entrees consisted of Gemma notables including ricotta cavatelli with Texas wild boar ragu, papparedelle with braised rabbit and pancetta, duck “two ways”: thinly sliced duck breasts and a bone-in duck confit leg, braised veal cheeks, and a Brandt prime flat iron steak served with frites and spicy chimichurri. We simultaneously sampled Sinskey’s 2008 Marcien (a proprietary blend, crafted in the “new-world” style) and RSV’s stalwart 2009 SLD Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stags Leap AVA. The former displayed notes of blackberry, plum, tobacco, and unsweetened cacao, pairing ideally with the pasta dishes, my favorite being the braised rabbit papparedelle. The latter exemplified a luxury Napa Cabernet; elegant and supple, supported by a ample backbone. Bursting with flavors of black currant, cherries, aged leather, and tobacco, the SLD paired brilliantly with the impeccably marbled Brandt flat iron steak and the rich duck confit.
Food and wine are natural complements to each other, as are Maria and Robert. Individually and collectively, they are emblematic of what is right in the world. Since inception, Gemma has built quite a reputation for itself by way of its exemplary wine list, its utilization of seasonal organic ingredients, and its adaptation of ideals that mimic those of Robert Sinskey Vineyards. My kind of setting when seeking solace in wine.