Sunday, April 26, 2009

Monticello Vineyards Tasting at Stacey's in Dublin CA

Taster's Guild is a wine-and-food pairing club, with chapters around the country -- the San Francisco East Bay Area chapter, "Diablo," run by Gail and John Engstrom of Dublin, hosted the April pairing at a new location, Stacey's at Waterford, a midlevel restaurant (entrees $20-$30) known locally for being owned by the wife of Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams. This was our first time at Stacey's, and it won't be our last, judging from the wonderful food they served.

The winery host was Corley Family Monticello Vineyards, Napa Valley, who brought eight of their best examples of the vintner's art, which young Executive Chef Cody Cost matched up with his cuisine. The results were moan-inducing good.

The 2006 Estate Grown Chardonnay ($28) and 06 Corley Reserve Chard ($40) were served with butter-poached lobster with shellfish reduction, and pan-seared sea scallops with green-pear puree. Delicious. Actually, it was the warm garlic breadsticks that really showed the Corley Reserve Chard to its best advantage - surprising, huh?

Then we had wild-mushroom risotto along with a pancetto-wrapped trumpet mushroom topped with pinot-noir beef broth, paired with an 06 Estate Grown Pinot Noir ($58) and an 06 Estate Grown Cab Franc ($38). The risotto was delicious; I don't like mushroom, sorry, so I skipped that. The pinot followed the classic archtype: light yet very flavorful. The cab franc was very good too; I find cab francs highly variable, so it was a relief that this one tasted so good. It was, in fact, very like a good cab sauvignon.

Next up was the hit of the night: Crispy lechon-style pork belly with dark-cherry glaze, and Vermont duck confit with blackberry compote with sweet reduction (I don't know what a sweet reduction is, do you?). I swear there were people all around me moaning with stunned pleasure at this pair of foods. They were so rich and intensely flavorful -- especially the pork belly -- that we knew we were killing ourselves even faster than usual -- and we didn't care! The wine pairing could not have been more perfect, either: an 06 Estate Grown Syrah ($38) and an 05 Corley Proprietary Red ($85 -- 56% Cab Franc, 28% Merlot, 10% Syran, and 10% Cab S.). Sweet Mother of God! These dense, dark-fruit, intense wines went toe-to-toe with the densely flavorful fats and they fought each other to a delicious standstill. It will be a long time before I taste the likes of that again!

Finally they served a petite filet mignon, sliced medium-rare over tiny cubes of butter-braised purple potatoes, on top of crisp broccolini, with a cab-bacon reduction and rich porcini demi-glace over the whole thing. This was also over-the-top delicious -- sorry, I'm a potatoes guy, so I really focused especially on those odd-looking purple potato cubes, which had enough butter in them to satisfy even me. I finally couldn't take it any more -- I had to have them box up the steak to take home to my daughter -- I had just eaten too much astonishing, rich food at one sitting and had to take a breather. Wow!

The wine accompanying this last entree was an 06 Jefferson Cuvee Cab Sauvignon, which is currently sold out in this vintage, and an 05 Corley Reserve Cab, $65. Both were terrific.

We ended with blood-orange creme brulee (shot with white-chocolate crisp) and a broken-dark-chocolate tote with espresso cocoa glaze, accompanied, fortunately (for we were fully wine up by now) by coffee.

Well, I hardly know which deserve the greater raves, the chef or the winemaker. This was another astonishing performance by the Taster's Guild people. Each wine was terrific -- even the Chards were notable, and I'm not much of a whites guy. Not a loser in the bunch. And Stacey's knocked our socks off. We couldn't believe, when he came out for our accolades, that a chef that young-seeming (25?) could be that creative and inventive, and capable of reaching such heights of flavor.

Lord! What a meal!

So, recommendations: Corley/Monticello is one of those smallish wineries you're lucky to be able to find, so try them online or through your wine merchant. Stacey's restaurant is sensational!

And the *real* lesson is this: If you want a monthly visit from the food and wine gods, find a Taster's Guild near you. Not only did we have a fantastic meal, but we drank wines that would normally be well beyond my regular wine budget, and in some cases wines that are hard to find or even sold out. The whole evening cost me $65, which is a lot -- but only a fraction of what we got for the money!

(We did discover, however, in attempting to get to Stacey's, that Google Maps has not a clue where 4500 Tassajara Road is in Dublin: From my desktop, Google Maps showed me a spot about six blocks north of where Stacey's actually is; after I drove up and down Tassajara for a while, I looked on the cell-phone version of Google Maps, and that one told me it was about a block south of where it turned out to be. That's the worst performance I've ever seen from Google Maps, and I can't guess the basis for the flaw -- Tassajara is a major street and runs straight from here to there. Oh well.)

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