By Andy J. Gordon
A new winery, The Naked Grape in Modesto CA, recently hosted a special dinner that paired their wines with the fresh, sustainable foods of Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen in Santa Monica. The winemaker, Hillary J. Stevens, is a big supporter of locally grown, organic produce. Rustic Canyon’s Executive Chef, Evan Funke, sources all of his food from farmers and ranchers that practice sustainable agriculture. It was a perfect marraige of flavors and philosophies.
Hillary, only 30, is obviously a rising star at E & J Gallo, which owns The Naked Grape winery (www.thenakedgrapewine.com/.) Her approach to winemaking is to let the natural characteristics of the grapes produce easy to enjoy wines. She is serious about sustainability and improving the wineries’ operations to reduce the impact on the environment. It was easy to see why the pairing event was held at Rustic Canyon (www.rusticcanyonwinebar.com/.) The food prepared at the event was fresh, vibrant and beautifully complemented the wines.
The evening started with some light and refreshing, lightly fried, stuffed squash blossoms paired with The Naked Grape Pinot Grigio. I usually find wines made with this grape to be too sweet, but this one was light and pleasant. The next course was a beet and burrata salad that was loaded with tasty apples, walnuts, and celery. It was dressed with a honey rosemary vinaigrette and paired with The Naked Grape Chardonnay. My aversion to beets was offset by my love of burrata cheese. The beets were less woody than I expected and the luscious cheese mixed with the other ingredients made it an unexpectedly tasty dish. The Chardonnay is really nice without the typical oakiness of many big name labels.
Funke stepped things up for the next courses. First was a ricotta gnocchi duck ragu with fried cauliflower. This was paired with The Naked Grape Pinot Noir, my favorite wine of the evening. The gnocchi were light and intensely flavored from the duck ragu. The cauliflower was garlicky, salty and bold. The Pinot Noir stood up to these flavors and enhanced them nicely. It has a fruity bouquet and flavor that would be just fine as a daily wine, or with a special, bold dish like the ragu. The second main course was a beautifully roasted chicken with spring vegetables. The chicken’s crispy skin and flavorful, juicy meat was heightened by a variety of seasonings. The fresh vegetables, baked in parchment, were served steaming hot and al dente. The Naked Grape Cabernet Sauvignon was served with the dish, and like the Chardonnay, had a full, robust flavor without any oakiness.
All of the Naked Grape wines are sold at a suggested price of $10. The new wineries’ selections do not have a vintage and are meant to be enjoyed right away – no need for aging. At this price point, and based on the quality of each varietal, it is a steal. Look for them at Whole Foods, BevMo, and other retailers around the country.
Photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon and Hunter PR