Photos and Article by Carmen Micheli
What is a Wine Artist? Some say it is the ability to create wine and food pairings so appetizing and visually stimulating they invoke an air of art and bliss. Others say it is a magical talent and capability to construct an atmosphere where food and wine pairing activities become a vessel to stimulate creativity and imagination. For The Wine Artist, MJ Hong, it is all of these things, and more.
I recently met “The Wine Artist” for a “Cooking with Wine Pairing” class. It was a great team building activity for our Occasional Wine Council (OCW) group of Southern California based Food, Wine, and Travel writers, photographers, and consumers who review wines worldwide and publish articles a few times a month. This fun and educational experience incorporates guided food and wine pairing activities in a gorgeous 2,500 square foot boutique winery located in Lake Forest, CA. It is “perfect for hosting private parties, team building, birthday parties, fund raising and charity events where you can incorporate wine tasting, and bottling your favorite wine.”
Upon arrival, I was immediately enticed along a path of elegant Tuscan décor and eye catching Wine Art. The Wine Artist’s own Green Apple Sangria and an Antipasto Platter awaited and made for an outrageously delicious welcome. This was the perfect way to warm up our appetite and enjoy each other’s company while we reviewed the recipes for our 6-course wine pairing menu.
After a quick introduction to the ingredient cart and our cooking stations, we were divided into 2 groups to execute the recipes. Like a scene from those popular cooking competition shows, we immediately scrambled to collect the ingredients, assign jobs, chop, mince, simmer, and roast our way through all 6 of The Wine Artist’s simple and elegant recipes: Arugula, Pear, and Walnut Salad; Lobster Bisque; Ricotta, Gorgonzola, and Mushroom Crostini; Polenta with Sage and Mushrooms; Stuffed Eggplant with Rice; and Lamb with Tzatziki Sauce.
The Lobster Bisque round in particular was my personal favorite. My group dawned ourselves “Team Bisque” and dove right in. I was deemed the “garlic queen” and got to work mincing, while my team members measured and chopped the remaining ingredients. Into the pot they went and about 15 minutes later the most delicious Lobster Bisque was born to our OCW “Cooking with Wine” Family. We hung up our aprons and gathered around the table to sample our food and wine pairing creations:
1. 2010 La Rochelle Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch-Morelli Lane, Russian River Valley-$65-
This 100% Chardonnay is from Dutton Ranch, Morelli Lane Vineyard, in the notorious
Russian River Valley. “The leanest Chardonnay in our Grand Cru Collection, this Hyde
Selection (of an old Wente clone) wine, reflects its site and scion material beautifully.”
Fewer than 120 cases were produced. It has initial aromas of Pear and Sweet Orange
with notes of apricot and buttery croissant ending on the palate. It is righteously paired
with Arugula, Pear, and Walnut Salad. The peppery, sweet, and nutty layers in each bite
bring out an interesting “honey-nut” like sweetness in the wine that I can’t seem to get
enough of. It is a light and invigorating combination and gets my vote for the #1 spot
in the wine and food pairing lineup.
2. 2010 La Rochelle Chardonnay, Ferrington Vineyard, Anderson Valley- $65-
Ferrington Vineyard was first planted in the late 1960’s and is known as one of the most
sought after sites in Anderson Valley. It is golden and glossy in the glass with a light citrus
and mineral nose, finishing with orange peel, apple, and smooth caramel flavors. The Lobster
Bisque is a grand pairing that plays on the buttery sweetness of the lobster and creaminess of the bisque. This is a top 3 group pick.
3. 2009 La Rochelle Pinot Noir, Donum Estate Carneros- $75-
Carneros is one of the oldest growing regions in California dating back to the 1830’s. “Donum” not only refers to the Estate but also the “Donum Selection” grape variety that is said to have originated from the Roederer clones brought over from France. I would call this a romantic Pinot, with aromas of sage and juicy black fruit accented by addicting flavors of plump, dried Michigan Monterey Cherries and a lengthy finish. Ricotta, Gorgonzola, and Mushroom Crostini is a great match and when nibbled in between sips, brings out a strong earthiness and sweet yet bitter blackberry flavors in the wine. This pair earns the group 2ndplace spot.
4. 2009 La Rochelle Pinot Nior, Santa Lucia Highlands- 381 cases-$38-
The Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County is “one of the most exciting Pinot Noir
appellations in the world”. This Pinot has wonderful complexity and fruit forward notes
of raspberry and cherry. I am amazed at the silkiness and nicely balanced tannins on
the finish. Polenta with Sausage and Mushrooms is a satisfying companion and earns
the group #1 vote. This is an excellent find at $38!
5. 2010 Steven Kent Winery Small Lot Merlot, Livermore Valley- 70 cases- $50-
Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard is known as Livermore’s pristine Bordeaux varietal growing
region and is the sole source of this Merlot. Spice, plum, and black cherry are a nice
greeting to the nose, and the same delightful aromas are also reflected on the palate
with a touch of caramel on the finish. Stuffed Eggplant with Rice was truly made for
this Merlot. The eggplant is roasted to tender perfection and stuffed with rice, oregano,
parmesan, and garlic. I would also serve this wine with bold Italian pasta dishes and rich
6. 2010 Steven Kent Winery Small Lot Cabernet Franc, Livermore Valley-48 cases-$50-
This Cabernet Franc from Livermore’s Ghielmetti Estate Vineyard has an elegance that reminds me somewhat of a Pinot Noir. I find it a bit on the lighter side for a Cab Franc. It is beyond brilliant in the glass and displays initial fruit forward notes that carry into a very strong nose of white pepper and sandalwood while sipping. It has an admirable but strong finish that seems to last forever. It is paired with Lamb and Tzatziki Sauce which help to put the finish in check, and tones down its earthy richness a bit. My guess is that this wine needs a couple more years in the bottle, but overall a very enjoyable Cabernet Franc.
The Wine Artist offers a variety of hands-on “Painting and Wine”, and “Cooking with Wine Pairing” classes that accent any event or relationship with the team-building satisfaction of creating a culinary or visual masterpiece inspired with unique food and wine pairings. To learn more about The Wine Artist, book an event, schedule a class, or for custom wine labels, please visit www.TheWineArtist.com or call (949)297-3656.