Jackson Family Wines Culinary Series by Karisma – Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013
It was a warm, humid night on a Thursday evening at one of my favorite resorts in Riviera Maya, the Eldorado Casitas Royale. While I was trying to decide what to wear to the culinary series, my anticipation of the upcoming flavors grew to a fevered pitch. At the same time I was thinking that if my wife and I could just make it to the dinner before it started to rain, it would be the perfect night, and so it was.
A local mariachi band and flutes of champagne greeted us at the red-carpet entrance to Fuentes Culinary Theatre. The host checked us in and sat us at a table in front of the chef’s preparation station. We were set for a five-course dinner prepared by Jackson Family Wines’ Chef Robert Nieto. He created each course to complement the wines selected by Jackson Family wine expert, Kristina Werner. While Chef Nieto’s cooking was projected on several large screens, Ms. Werner described each wine.
Here is a course-by-course summary of the event.
Food: An appetizer of shrimp, caramelized carrots, and cashew butter, garnished with cilantro and a Chardonnay grapeseed oil.
Wine: Kendall Jackson Stonestreet “Broken Road” Chardonnay from Alexander Valley, California
The dinner was just getting started, but this first course pairing was the star of the evening. (Although the best dish was still to come.) My favorite elements were the caramelized carrots on top of a cashew butter smear. What made the wine pairing so delicious? I think it was the combination of complimentary and contrasting notes. The appetizer borrowed tanginess from the lemon in the cashew butter that matched the hint of lemon verbena in the wine. However, the wine’s acidic finish offset the sweetness of the carrots nicely. It was sweet and tangy perfection.
Food: Risotto, roasted pork belly, mushrooms and caramelized squash
Wine: Hartford Court Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley, California
This was my second-favorite pairing of the night. The characteristics of the wine were black cherry up front with underlying notes of violet, cumin and faint notions of freshly plowed earth. You might be asking what freshly plowed earth tastes like. Dirt perhaps, but the first ingredient that came to my mind was the mushroom. Now it made sense. The black cherry aroma complimented the squash while the earthy tone complimented the mushrooms in the risotto. The addition of the Pinot Noir to the risotto stock helped complete this perfect pairing.
Food: Beef short ribs and sweet potato puree with braised Brussels sprouts
Wine: Matanzas Creek Merlot from Sonoma County, California
This was my favorite dish. God bless Chef Nieto. Instead of enjoying the beach, he spent the week in the kitchen cooking for us, spending most of his time on the short ribs. The fruit of his labor was a to-die-for main course. The short ribs were the best I have ever eaten. My wife, who does not eat a lot of ribs, raved about this dish. She also swore she would never eat Brussels sprouts, but she ate every one. (As Ms. Werner said, prepared properly they can taste as sweet as candy.)
The wine paired with the short ribs was my least favorite of the evening. In general, I’m not a fan of Merlot. For those of you who like it, this Merlot had aromatics of dry cherries and blueberries, bittersweet chocolate and cedar commingling with tobacco. On the palate it had notes of sage, peppercorns and a hint of licorice.
Food: Two Rock goat cheese from California, a cheese from Mexico, bacon almonds, Jackson Cabernet crackers and blackberry plate de fruit
Wine: Stonestreet “Monument Ridge” Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley, California
Now who doesn’t like wine and cheese? It was hard to go wrong with the fourth course. I enjoy pairing fruit with cheese, so I wasn’t surprised when a good wine with the flavors of dried blackberry leaves, juniper, cardamom and wild red berries paired nicely with the cheese in this course. The wine is known to have a dark chocolate finish. Could this wine be transitioning us to the dessert course?
Food: Chocolate cremeux bar, cocoa nib meringue, hazelnuts garnished with blackberry gel and fresh blackberries
Wine: Edmeades late-harvest Zinfandel from Mendocino County, California
This sweet red wine was an ideal companion for this chocolate dessert. It has the aromas of blackberry, raisins and spice. The flavors are raspberry, clove, toffee and dark chocolate. This Zinfandel would also pair nicely with a chocolate soufflé or chocolate crème brûlée.
We expected the dessert course would be like fireworks; a bright, spectacular finish to the evening. “Chef Nieto is a pastry chef,” we said. “This dessert is going to be awesome!” However, it wasn’t the best course. Don’t get me wrong, the chocolate cremeux bar was elegant and flavorful. It just wasn’t the pinnacle of the evening.
When we spoke to him on our way out, Chef Nieto shared something that might explain why the dessert didn’t blow our socks off. He said it was so nice for him to create the other courses because usually he is focusing on dessert. He asked us more than once how we liked the ribs. That’s where his passion went. We were pleased to meet him because he is very personable and approachable.
The crowd backed up at the doors to Fuentes because a downpour was in full swing. Many guests waited for a covered golf cart to take them to their rooms. We decided to huddle under our small, travel-size umbrella and hoof it. Thirty minutes later, we arrived at our room completely soaked, but wonderfully sated. Thank you Exotic Travelers for making this event complimentary for your members.
In the upcoming months I will be working to create recipes similar to the ones that Chef Robert Nieto cooked for us during the fabulous Jackson Wines Culinary Series. It was definitely an inspiring event that I would like to share with my foodie friends by cooking the dishes.