Gary Farrell Wine Dinner at Blue Ginger

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Gary Farrell Winery partnered with Chef Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger in Wellesley for a paired wine dinner this week. Wellesley's own Wasik's Cheese Shop was on hand to present cheeses for a total of six courses. Chef Tsai conceived, prepared and introduced each course to a group of forty food and wine enthusiasts and was joined by Gary Farrell General Manager Nancy Bailey and Winemaker Theresa Heredia.

Gary Farrell Winery is a Sonoma producer best known for their well balanced Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Gary Farrell began producing wine in the area in the late 1970s. Along with folks like Joe Rochioli, Tom Dehlinger, Davis Bynum, Robert Stemmler and others, Farrell established what Russian River Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would become today. In 1982 he produced his first wine under the Gary Farrell label and gradually built its prominence.

Gary Farrell Winery sources their grapes from well regarded vineyards like Rochioli, Keefer Ranch, Westside Farms, Bien Nacido, and Ramal. They source many of these grapes through long standing "handshake" arrangements with the growers and though they don't have their own vineyards as of yet they do have a winery and tasting room in the Russian River Valley that are open to the public. Appointments recommended.

Gary Farrell himself sold the winery in 2004. After a string of ownership changes from 2004 to 2011 the winery is now owned by The Vincraft Group - a name you might recognize for its ownership of Kosta Browne (visit/trip report here).

Winemaker Theresa Heredia joined Gary Farrell in 2012. You may have tasted her wines before since she was the winemaker at Freestone (Joseph Phelps' Pinot Noir project) from its first vintage through 2011.

So the wines we'd be tasting this evening were made by Gary Farrell winemaker Susan Reed who was Farrell's assistant prior to selling the winery in 2004 through 2011. Gary Farrell himself went off and started Alysian Wines.

So a bit of a changing of the guard has occurred at Gary Farrell Winery. But after tasting through these wines, along with being familiar with the Freestone style, along with talking with Theresa about her vision for Gary Farrell Winery - I think the winery is in very good hands and headed in an even better direction. If I could sum it up in one word I think it would be: Balance

Here are my thoughts on the evening...
(click/tap images to enlarge)

Maine Crab Balls with Grapefruit Pearls
'Waldorf' Salad
2011 Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc

This was Gary Farrell Winery's first Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc. I thought it was lively and rich yet clean and delicious. I'm always a sucker for a California Sauvignon Blanc as a starter. Maybe it has something to do with memories of visiting California wineries and having it be the first wine you taste before you get to the stuff you came for.

It paired wonderfully with the crunch of the crab balls and the 'Waldorf' salad was delicious, especially after hearing Chef Tsai's story about being visiting the Waldorf Astoria in New York the week before and "doing the tourist thing" and visiting their restaurant to enjoy the original.

Lobster Bisque Flan
Toasted Sesame Quinoa Salad
2009 Russian River Valley Chardonnay

Chef Tsai started off this course with a story about how you make Lobster Bisque using a Burr mixer, mentioning this article in the New York Times about how dangerous they can be. I was confused what a Burr mixer was initially. He'd later clarify on Twitter that a Burr mixer is a larger/industrial form of an immersion blender...which I'd gotten for my wife this year for Christmas at her request! Better be careful there Honey!

The Chardonnay was outstanding. Moderate oak influence, green apples, some slight tropical influence but not at all buttery or oaky. Very unique. It deftly avoided a lot of the pitfalls often found in California Chardonnay. Great value too if you can find it south of $30 at retail (it carries a $35 release price).

Five Spice Duck Breast with Sweet Potato 'Souffle'
Pomegranate and Brussels Sprout Salad
2010 Gary Farrell Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir

This was a spectacular course and the Hallberg Pinot Noir was my wine of the night.

Chef Tsai, as he often does, described how easy Brussels sprouts are to make and how much his kids enjoy eating them. The dish came together wonderfully.

The Hallberg Pinot Noir was so good I had to stop and post a tasting note on CellarTracker using the iPhone app. Really gorgeous stuff. Black cherries. Inviting fruit. Rich yet graceful. Seek this one out, and more from the Hallberg vineyard as well. Very nice. 93/100 WWP: Outstanding

Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Beet Gratin
White Peppercorn-Dijon Mustard Beurre Noisette
2010 Gary Farrell Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir

Another winning course. A play off a traditional steak frites dish Tsai recalled from his time in Paris, the sous-vide beef was melt in your mouth delicious. Remember that Top Chef season a while back where practically everything they made was prepared sous-vide? I think I now know why so many used that technique. Wow.

The Gary Farrell Rochioli Pinot Noir was positioned as the star wine of the night. Given Rochioli's California Pinot Noir royalty status, this wine jumped off the page of the event invitation (I attended as a media guest of the winery). But the Rochioli was leaner than the Hallberg. More orange oil/peel whereas the Hallberg was black cherries. Nice structure and acidity to stand up to the beef but given that I like Pinot Noir on the riper side the Hallberg was more purely enjoyable.

Wasik's Cheese Selections
2010 Gary Farrell Bradford Mountain Vineyards Zinfandel

Mr. Wasik was on hand himself to present the cheeses. Fantastic stuff. Folks in Wellesley line up out the door especially around the holidays to buy cheese from Wasik's and there's a Whole Foods with a substantial assortment of cheese down the street. Their stuff is that good.

Warm Ginger Bread Pudding with Salted Caramel Sauce
2010 Gary Farrell Bradford Mountain Vineyards Zinfandel

Salted Caramel! Love that stuff. The Zinfandel was incorporated into the ice cream and was tasty on its own as well. A delicious end to a magnificent wine dinner.

Conclusions & Recommendations

It was a pleasure to taste through Gary Farrell Winery's latest offerings. From what I tasted they strike a very nice balance that's sure to intrigue and please. Their appellation wines can be found at retail (try a Wine-Searcher search in your area) but the single vineyard bottlings require a little more effort to find. Best bet would be to join their wine club.

Blue Ginger does a great job with their wine dinners and Chef Tsai's engaging presence was unforgettable. The intimate forty person private room combined with outstanding service make these events ones to seek out. Look for upcoming events at Blue Ginger and keep an eye out for his new restaurant (and one his second): Blue Dragon in Boston.

I'd love it if you subscribed to The Wellesley Wine Press for future updates.


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