Preemptive Minimalism with Donelan Family Wines

Preemptive minimalism:  to understand the process of wine making so deeply, you remove yourself from it.

-Tyler Thomas ~Winemaker Donelan Family Wines

Despite the blustering winds, I made my way down to the Boston Harbor Hotel on Wednesday, January 18 for an evening of great wines and incredible food.  For this being my first year going to the Boston Wine Festival,  I am one lucky gal that I have been able to go to two events.   Escaping the elements,  I walked into the hotel bar and there they were-Sue, Becky and Kathleen-all with a glass of wine in front of them.  Jealous of their head start, I sat down, ordered a glass for myself and joined in the conversation.

Kathleen, Sue and Becky

After a few minutes of lively chatter, it was time to head upstairs.  Greeted at the entrance of the room, a gentleman offered up a glass of Donelan Family Wine’s  2009 Venus Blanc-a light, bright blend of 90% Roussanne and 10% Viognier.   Although the French rarely blend their Viognier because it overpowers other varietals, the cool climate and slow ripening of the Roussanne benefits from the richer Viognier grape when grown in California.  This delicate wine danced on my palate with a complexity that is rarely seen in such such a soft, floral (freesia and lilies)  wine.  Venus Blanc was the perfect aperitif for the dinner we were about to be served.

Specializing in quality, Donelan Family Wines produces small batches from each vineyard in Sonoma County.  So if you haven’t had the pleasure of tasting any of their wines, you are not alone because the most any of their vineyards produce is under 700 cases.  Although this boutique winery has had some unbridled praise, they aren’t about to expand just yet.  Quality first and foremost, Winemaker Tyler Thomas and Owner Joe Donelan have something on their hands that is making seasoned wine drinkers sit up and pay attention.  100 points Parker rated 2007 Richard’s Vineyards Syrah certainly made the wine critics take notice.

Joe Donelan and the ladies of Table 4

Joe got up to speak and we learned that not only is he talented in the wine field but utterly charming as well.  Joe spent 25 years in the paper business (yes..think Dunder Mifflin) but found his life’s passion in wine.  His love of Rhone and Burgundy varietals began with Pax Wine Cellars and the journey has taken him to his own boutique winery with a portfolio of outstanding wines that I can’t wait to have again.

After joking that he was proud that his winemaker shaved and got a haircut, Joe brought Tyler up to the podium where Tyler described each of the wines as we were served the courses.  There was a sense of pride that showed in this young talented winemaker as he ushered what is essentially a chemical process into a total wine experience for all of us.  And after tasting the wines, he should be proud of what he has accomplished.

Joe Donelan

So let’s get down to dinner.  Chef Daniel Bruce of Meritage once again hit a home run.  If you haven’t been to one of his wine dinners you are truly missing out on a gastronomical experience.  Chef tastes each wine that will be showcased and plans a menu that will highlight each wine at it’s best.  He doesn’t just say….”White wine.  We must have fish.”  He tastes the wines, thinks it through and crafts a dinner that puts your tastes buds in a state of ecstasy.

Chef describing his choices in courses

For the first course, we had pan seared Diver Scallops with celery root mash and Chardonnay Orange Butter.  Paired with Donelan’s 2009 “Nancie” Chardonnay, a Burgundian-style Chardonnay that was grippy and rich but still acidic.  The grapes struggled to ripen on the vine so they retained their acidity and the result was a Chardonnay that has melon, citrus and a solid core of minerality.  Bright fresh citrus is followed by hints of chamomile on the nose.  The Nancie is elegant, fresh and will be wonderful with any dish of lighter fare.

Diver Scallops

For the next course we were treated to a barrel sample of the  “Two Brothers” Pinot Noir and the 2009 Cuvee Moriah.  On our plates was a shredded duck, fennel and leek filled cannelloni that had a fresh herb sauce.  While Becky and I loved the smooth and silky young Pinot Noir, Kathleen and Sue leaned towards the Cuvee Moriah (75% Grenache 25% Syrah) because it was robust and similar to a great Chateauneuf du Pape.  Both wines pick up the richness of the duck and the spices of the fennel and leeks.  Silky or spicy this course was just plain delicious.

Shredded Duck Cannelloni

Next on deck we had 2008 Cuvee Christine Syrah  and the 2009 Walker Vine Hill Syrah  with a Syrah and Parmesan cheese risotto that was topped with wild mushrooms (handpicked by Chef) and shaved Bresaola.  Both wines were terrific with the Risotto.  The 2008 Cuvee Christine is 100% Syrah from four different vineyards and could be called a true expression of the varietal: spicy, chewy and meaty.  The Christine also had savory elements such as cherry licorice, dark berries, anise and clove that made it rich with layers of flavor.  Next to the Cuvee Christine, we were treated to the Walk Vine Hill Syrah.  An intense wine that explodes with blueberry immediately and follows with cherry and herbs.  There was a lot of depth to the Walk Vine Hill that gave tension to the palate and enhanced the risotto.

Syrah and Parmesan Cheese Risotto

By this point, the other ladies at the table and I had “relaxed” enough to have some lively wine conversations.  As we discussed the Donelan’s wines, the char roasted Colorado lamb sirloin was placed in front of us and the 2007 “Richard’s Vineyard” Syrah was poured.  Awarded 100 points by Robert Parker, I knew it was going to be incredible.  The lamb melted in your mouth and the Richard’s Vineyard had lavender characteristics that highlighted blueberries, blackberries and a hint of chocolate.  Full-bodied, rich and wonderful. Tasting this wine was an eye-opening experience.

Lamb Sirloin with Richards's Vineyard Syrah

Although no wines were served with dessert (probably a good thing), Chef’s Espresso Pot au Creme with toasted Almond Biscotti was decadent.  Of course, he waited until we finished it off before telling us that the tiny little pot of dessert had about 800 calories to it….and that wasn’t counting the almond biscotti.  Thanks Chef.

Dessert

If a night like mine sounds like a good idea to you, Chef Bruce’s Wine Festival will be continuing on until the end of March and there are plenty of great dinners left.  Do yourself a favor and buy some tickets for one.  You won’t regret it.  www.bostonwinefestival.net is the easiest place to search what’s coming up and the place to buy your tickets.

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