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Working the Wine Lunch: Somebody's Gotta Do It


Yes, there are perks (or are they perqs, from perquisite?) to writing about food and wine. One is invitations to wine luncheons at which actual winemakers are present. In season (which is to say, not during harvest and other activity-intense times). This is that season, and some good folks have been in town.

One of the most comprehensive events was a recent one at Auden's Kitchen featuring the wine stable of Jess Jackson, he of the ubiquitous Kendall-Jackson. Some 29 wineries, we were told, have huddled under the wide, Jackson umbrella, and Stonestreet, Byron, Matanzas Creek and Freemark Abbey (no, the name does not refer to an actual abbey) were those selected for this lunch. Several winemakers were actually in attendance; I was impressed.

And I was also impressed with the Matanzas Creek sauvignon blancs, an '04 and an '08â??the younger grassier and more citrus influenced, the older offering up more mature tropical flavors and a floral aspect that almost verged on lavender. The Stonestreet 2007 Red Point Chardonnay, served with Auden's exemplary salad of red and golden beets, led to a discussion of whether the wine, full of almond, mineral and vanilla components, went better with the red or golden beets. (Yes, I knowâ?¦.) I voted for the red because of the minerality; most decided to go with the gold.

Two Byron pinots were served, the '08 Santa Maria and the '08 Bien Nacido. The '08 was still bright and feisty with brilliant cherry flavors; the '06 had begun to exhibit some saddle leatherâ?¦but each was good with at least one aspect of Auden's pulled pork with kale and polenta. Braised short ribs met their match in a duo comprised of Matanzas Creek's 2006 Merlot and the 2006 Christopher's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Stonestreet. Let it no longer be bandied about that merlot is dead. “Ethereal” said my notes, and I guess I should believe them. Cherry, mint and menthol were other desirable components. The cab I found a little tight but elegant and concentrated, surely to blossom in the glass hours later--an option not provided, alas.

And then there was dessert, an Auden-concocted chocolate insidiousness designed to go with the Freemark Abbey Bosche Cabernet Sauvignon. I was skeptical, rarely finding that chocolate and wine are compatibleâ??with Port being an exception. But this worked, and we had two vintages to pair and compare: the 1996 and the 2005. (Yes, this is another advantage of this kind of lunch: you often get to taste wines not readily available on the local market.) The older wine was deeper, dustier, but still very fresh; the younger showed berry/cherry/cassis along with coffee and caramel. Both hover around $60-$70 (online retail pricing), so I won't be repeating this experience any time soon. But I appreciated the hell out of it at the time.

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