We began by sampling some of the extraordinary labels in the tasting rooms of the Steven Kent Winery, which is located in the heart of the Livermore Valley Wine Country. It turned out to be a great outing! We couldn’t have asked for a more pristine day or more lovely venue. We had planned to go to three wineries, but Steven Kent turned out to be such an incredible experience that we couldn’t stand to leave and go somewhere else.
I have been in love with wine since I worked in a Virginia restaurant located just outside the Beltway. Management asked me to do pairings and to come up with a list the wait staff could use in suggesting to diners particular wines that would compliment the flavors of the individual dishes and entreés. It turned out that I was born with some kind of intelligence about wine and can correctly identify particular vintages by their taste. I also have some kind of gift for memory and am able to recall particular wines that I tasted decades ago.
The Steven Kent winery has two separate tasting rooms on opposite sides of the winery driveway: the Barrel Room and the Reserve Room. We learned that there is actually a second winery on the site, La Rochelle, with the advertised goal “to make California’s best, most interesting, most collectable Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.”
Memorable Flights with a Sparkling Guide
Tracey Hoff, Steven Kent’s vice president of outside sales, offered us a private tasting in the winery’s Reserve Room. She introduced us to Cindy Turchino, the tasting room manager, who turned
out to have a sparkling personality. A rapport developed between Cindy and ourselves when she learned that we were experienced wine aficionados. She recognized our appreciation for wines and the depth of our love and knowledge of the industry, and provided us with more attention than she would have given to novices. She brought wines to life for us by giving some history behind each of the labels we tasted and provided technical details about the underlying processes of harvest, fermentation, and release.
We came to appreciate Cindy’s practical, down-to-earth approach to the art of wine tasting. She is a specialist on the topic and her palate is highly sophisticated, but she never displayed a single trace of pretention or arrogance. She made the wine tasting event particularly personal for us by listening carefully to what we said about the wines we were tasting and actually taking notes about some of our responses, acknowledging that our observations were sometimes on-point. She began pulling out some “hidden gems” and giving us tastes of wines that were off-flight, including some samples from precious bottles that were the end of a particular label. The winery has named their top tier wines as a Grand Crew collection.
We sampled some truly memorable labels including the 2009 La Rochelle Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine, which turned out to be a bubbly and refreshing alternative to traditional Champaigns. It had a light and crisp taste that left us begging for more.
The 2011 Steven Kent “Merrillie” Chardonnay was rich and buttery with a great nose and an aroma of gardenias. We learned that the label was named after Kent’s grandmother who celebrated her 100th birthday on June 14.
The 2010 La Rochelle Pinot Noir, Soberanes Vineyard was a first release of that particular varietal; it tasted amazing with notes of blackberries and molasses at the finish.
The 2010 La Rochelle Pinot Noir, Donum Estate Vineyard was another first release. It was smooth with mid palate peppery quality and was classic Pinot from start to finish.
The 2010 Steven Kent “The Premier” Cabernet Sauvignon was extraordinary. It cost $100 a bottle and advertised to be one hundred percent Livermore Valley and one hundred percent Cabernet. The Premier is a library wine; if a collector held it for ten years, the label would become a classic. The taste was full-bodied, tight, very complex, and sophisticated.
Cindy introduced us to her favorite label — the 2010 Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley. The taste was dry and complex; a wine lover’s wine indeed.
The 2012 Pinot Noir Rosé was the color of peach, with a beautiful pear nose followed by the taste of strawberries. It was a refreshing summer wine, and a great value since it was one of the lowest priced selections on the wine list.
We had some amazing cheese parings during the tasting, such as Manchego, which is imported from Spain and made from sheep’s milk, and Blue Castello imported from Denmark. The St. Andre Triple Cream Brie, which is imported from France, was creamy and delectable. After returning home I tried to replicate the experience but could never find store-bought brie that didn’t turn out to be a lumpy and unsatisfying substitute. A Fig & Olive Tapenade was made of pureed kalamata olives and dried mission figs, blended with rosemary, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. The tapenade was awesome and left me with a craving that I tried to satisfy with a fig jam that I bought in a local grocery store but, as with the brie, it didn’t produce the same effect. The quality of the wines and the foods they were paired with, graced with elegant table service, gave us the impression of dining in a fine French chateau.
Following the pairings, we retired to the lovely patio area where we enjoyed firewood pizzas and flatbreads that were prepared onsite in an outdoor oven. A performance area provided a live music venue. A band was entertaining us while we were there. The winery is beautifully framed by surrounding vineyards, with the entire scene set against the mountains along the valley’s edge. We had a pleasant time, with the good food and music, basking in the bucolic ambiance of the place.
We learned that Steven Kent’s last name is Mirassou. He is a sixth generation descendent of the family that founded the famous Napa winery. The Mirassou name is trademarked so Steven can’t sell wines under his family’s name, but winemaking gifts have obviously been passed down to this scion from his forebears who started Mirassou more than 150 years ago. Maria and I had a fine birthday celebration with our friends in that beautiful place. Good times! Good memories!