Here's The Jist:

As a Drink Editor I receive a lot of requests for restaurant, bar and nightlife recommendations. So I started a blog to chronicle Chicago's social scene which eventually morphed into New York's drinking and dining scene. After years in Chicago, I'm now a full time resident of NYC, the East Village to be exact. Look forward to sharing the latest and greatest from the wine & spirits world, straight from the Big Apple.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Summer Wine Dinner with Solaire

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a beautiful dinner at the Signature Room on the 95th . Truth be told, I’ve only been to the Signature Room once before (gasp!), and similarly, it was for a liquor launch party. But this dinner had a subtle sophistication that only comes when a brand isn’t trying too hard to impress.

They’re confident. They know they’re good.

To celebrate the Solaire by Robert Mondavi Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon selections, guests were greeted with a crisp glass of the aforementioned white. For a girl who swears by her favorite red wine, I was thrilled to discover that the notes of the Chardonnay weren’t overly oaked, or too intense. I greedily asked for more.

From our north side scenic view, the sun set and the lights of Wrigley Field illuminated. Ginger Zee, the charming (and so cute!) meteorologist from NBC 5, spoke to us about the unique climate of the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County, which is on California’s Central Coast. It was a clever concept. Ginger was the official host of the evening and throughout the dinner, in tandem with Solaire winemaker extraordinaire, Rick Boyer, she spoke to the unique climate of Central California and Rick commented on how the weather patterns affect the natural growth of the grapes.

As our first course came out, Rick, who has a degree in Plant Science and has made a name for himself for serving as chief winemaker in several well-respected wineries, spoke about the Bianchi Bend Vineyard (located in the Santa Lucia Highlands) and how the climate allows him to produce cool weather grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling. It’s in the Bianchi Bend Vineyard that the Chardonnay is produced.

Ginger then explained that every morning, by10:30 am, the fog around the Santa Lucia Highlands lifts as Paso Robles (south of the highlands) begins to warm up. This allows the vines to have a couple of hours of great sunshine before the land cools. The ebb and flow of warming and cooling results in a desirable, long, slow growing season.

As the main course made its way to the table, Rick and Ginger highlighted the characteristics of the Cabernet Sauvignon that was perfectly paired with my roast chicken. South of the Santa Lucia Highlands in Paso Robles is the Pine Creek vineyard where warm-weather grapes such as Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc and Malbec grow. What separates the two vineyards is the intense sun and heat. Pine Creek is about 15 – 20 degrees warmer in the summer and this temperature allows the grapes to ripen and develop into chewy wines. From these grapes you can expect dark berry notes like blackberry and boysenberry.

It’s also interesting to note Rick’s barrel selection for the two wines. Because each barrel produces a distinct flavor, he balances the wine by using three specific barrels:

· Billon (soft and textural barrel, gives off a fat feel in your mouth)

· Dargaud and Jargle (structural barrel that preserves acid, makes the grape more lively in your mouth)

· Mercier (aromatic barrel, brings out a coasty-smoky flavor)

He moves the wine from one barrel to the next so the wine takes on a little bit of each. It’s a harmonious, homogenous blend.

We nibbled and chatted, sipped and discussed. And as the evening progressed, I reflected on how refreshing it was to enjoy a wine and then shake the hand of the winemaker whose vision steered its creation. Rick Boyer was warm, intelligent and his love for the land, the grape and the end product shined through.

For your summer entertaining needs, this wine guru gives Solaire by Robert Mondavi a big thumbs up.

Head to Binny’s to pick up a bottle of the Chardonnay and/or the Cabernet.

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