When one is invited to an in-kitchen chef's preview for a local hotel's wine dinner, one clears one's schedule.
And when that preview and dinner showcase the Caymus vineyard, one could be forgiven for getting the slightest bit bombed. The other women with whom I previewed the dinner left bits of wine in their glasses, like ladies should.
I've never understood ladies.
After a Gloria Ferrer palate cleanser—nine years in the bottle, soft instead of harsh on the tongue like your usual sparkling wines, almost like a Chardonnay, and which the ladies never so much as looked at—we got cracking on the food.
First up was a puffy fried shrimp with cheddar powder and herb-drawn butter. Somewhere in there was a béarnaise vinaigrette.
Because it was an abridged preview, we skipped the lobster bisque and the lobster salad with foie gras lardons (served with French summer truffles and pickled sun chokes). We also skipped the organic veal scaloppini variation followed by cognac-braised veal cheeks and Mano de Leon scallops. We did get the 2004 Mer Soleil Chardonnay, though. Damn! "This is not your typical oak butter bomb," said the wine director in charge of the pairings with chef Adam Navidi (who has the cleanest hands I've ever seen, and who won the 2005 California Milk Advisory Board award for most inventive use of cheeses). But all of a sudden, when paired with the popcorn-fried rock shrimp, the big Chardonnay seemed to have the flavor leached from it. Then, with the shrimp with vanilla bean vinaigrette, the wine's acidity burst forth. It turns out wine pairing is much more difficult than "white with pork and red with everything in the world." The taste of the wine kept changing with every bit of whatever, leading to only one possible conclusion: people shouldn't eat when they drink.
We moved on to the 2004 Caymus Cabernet, decanted an hour and soft on the tongue. It went with the duck leg from Sonoma, marinated 24 hours in herbs and lemon, served with German potato salad, and air-dried after cooking to alleviate the grease. It was like pork fat, but even better! At our preview, there were no gizzards or duck tongue. Bummer.
The ladies simpered over the carrot cake—a magnificent creation—as ladies will. Navidi made small tepees out of candied carrot shreds. The ladies simpered over those too. (Regular diners will have pistachio-crusted cannoli with whipped "Brie de mie," a California fig tart "tatin" with goat-cheese-candied lemon sorbet and Port Wine Carmel, and a 36-month Fiscalini Bandage Cheddar with toasted brioche and apricot marmalade. Stupid carrot cake.) And with that we had a dessert wine—fuck if I know what, but it's possible it was the Caymus Conundrum, since I've got that in my notes. Conundrum is a blend of 3 grapes, picked after first experimenting with 11 grapes . . . with a screw top! For reals! Ten percent of corked wine is lost to spoilage, they said, so . . . screw tops! For reals! Yet I've also got in my notes that it was as potent a yellow as the first Chard, which meant it was potent. And I liked it. And there certainly wasn't any left over. Silly ladies.
Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach presents its quarterly wine pairing event with wines from Napa Valley's Caymus Vineyards, the Hyatt, 21500 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (714) 845-4776. Thurs., Sept. 28, 7 p.m. $105.
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21500 Pacific Coast Highway
Huntington Beach, CA 92648