Last week I was invited to do one of my favorite things, a food and wine pairing. What could be better on a post-election Wednesday than some exquisite food bites from a Michelin-starred restaurant paired with elegant wines?
After a rough week of political rants and a nation on edge, I was certainly looking forward to a relaxing experience at VGS Chateau Potelle, located off Highway 29 just south of Saint Helena. VGS Chateau Potelle has been open since 2013 after a rebranding from the original Chateau Potelle located on Mount Veeder. I’d driven by many times and thinking I would love to write about it; I found out that a friend, Todd was now at the tasting house and graciously invited us for a visit.
The cozy house, converted into a tasting area in 2013, had lots of character, large outdoor space, fountain, and lush landscaping. We went inside and enjoyed the beautiful open interior, admiring the eclectic mix of artwork from many artists. Todd ushered in some chilled Sauvignon Blanc while we caught up.
The 2015 VGS Chateau Potelle Sauvignon Blanc ‘Eau de Tony’ Napa Valley, commemorates the 60th birthday of a long time employee whose favorite varietal is, of course, Sauvignon Blanc. Concrete fermented with a dash of stainless steel and aged in neutral French oak, it was well balanced, with lemongrass, lime and subtle tropical notes on the palette such as guava and pineapple, round with a kiss of oak.
The Sauvignon Blanc, paired with an appetizer consisting of smoked salmon, salmon mousse or “rillette,” cucumber, créme Fraiche and Chives, worked harmoniously. The smokiness of the salmon and the creaminess of the rillette sustained much of the acidity of the wine yet gave it an overall richness as well. The bottle had a unique square-like shape, and the food/wine combination was a great start. Only 400 cases of the Sauvignon Blanc was made, priced at $40/bottle.
Heading outside, we were set up for our pairing under the gazebo on a large table. Each Riedel glass was specially designed to go with its corresponding varietal and labeled with each food pairing. All bites come from La Toque in Napa, a well-known, Michelin-starred, fine dining restaurant. During each pairing, food is presented all at once, where the wines are all poured individually. The full tasting is about 1-1/2 hours long and is $60/person.
Jean-Noel Fourmeaux du Sartel, Sole Proprietor, and Winemaker came out to greet us before our pairing started. He was very personable, and we talked about some of the artwork inside the tasting house, some politics and even told us a political joke sent from one of his friends in France.
Jean-Noel came to Napa Valley from France in 1980. He was a journalist and an official wine taster for the French government, by which he was sent to California to check out the wine in Napa Valley. He immediately fell in love with the landscape and food culture here in Napa and decided it would be the place where he would carve his path in the wine industry. In 1983 the first vines were planted on the new Chateau Potelle property on Mount Veeder and took several years to cultivate the vines, eventually producing 30 some acres of fruit and 20k cases per year. In 2007 the original winery was sold.
After some health issues, a long hiatus from the wine industry and an extensive trip mountain biking and hiking around India, Jean-Noel was once again ready to return to the industry. In 2007 he rebranded his vision and started VGS Chateau Potelle, VGS standing for “Very Good S**t.” Concentrating on making elegant, feminine, food friendly wines, VGS Chateau Potelle makes about 5k cases a year, sourcing fruit from places like Bald Mountain, Mount Veeder, Russian River, Pope Valley and Sonoma Mountain.
In 2013 they opened the tasting house and gardens focusing on high-quality, small production wines featuring Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah and a Chardonnay which we were about to taste.
The 2014 VGS Chardonnay Mount Veeder Napa Valley is barrel aged with only 20% malolactic fermentation. It is a lot more balanced than a lot of Chardonnays you often find in Napa Valley. It has a creaminess, yet not overly buttery, with notes of caramel, melon, vanilla and a nice acidity that will allow some age on this wine. With 497 cases made, the VGS Chardonnay retails for $50/bottle.
Paired with the Chardonnay was an Heirloom Pumpkin Veloute with Spiced Créme Fraiche and Chives, which was delicious. Veloute, in this case, refers more to a cold soup than a sauce. The pumpkin and spice brought out the subtle toasty oak notes in this wine.
Our next wine was the 2014 Potelle Two Napa Valley paired with a Moroccan Spiced Lamb Loin with Carrot-Cumin Puree on a Panisse Cake. The Potelle Two is a blend of 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Cabernet Franc, 16% Syrah, 14% Zinfandel and 6% Petit Verdot. This blend had big fruit, spice, and vanilla on the nose and excellent tannin structure.
The Potelle Two is based on the Bordeaux practice of establishing a “second wine,” trying to be increasingly selective of the quality of fruit going into the estate wine but also producing a good “second wine” that can be enjoyed younger age and at a lower price. This new wine, with 400 cases was released in April at $65/bottle.
This pairing was seamless, the fragrant cumin spices in the lamb appetizer complemented the wine well, smoothed out the tannins and highlighted the long finish. I don’t usually eat lamb because I am not a fan of gamey meats. However, the cumin in the appetizer balanced well with the lamb loin and it was delicious. I wish all lamb were this delicious.
The third pairing consisted of the 2014 VGS Zinfandel with Slow Roasted Pork Loin with Apple-Black Pepper Compote on a Crostini. Lots of maple, blackberry and raspberry on the nose, and full body richness, with significant acidity on the palette. The apple-black pepper compote tones down some of the acidity of the Zinfandel. The VGS Zinfandel is priced at $65/bottle with 640 cases produced.
Our last pairing was the 2012 VGS Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder served with Grilled Niman Ranch Beef with Smoked Aioli, Mushroom Salad, Micro Celery and Rye Crisp. On the nose, floral nuances, some nuttiness, and smoke. Beautiful ruby color and rich cherry, tobacco, and mocha flavors have a nice complexity as well as a bold, tannic structure that goes well with heavier food.
Because I do not eat beef, I had to go vegetarian on this bite, but the mushroom and smoked aioli elements allowed me to enjoy it with the Cabernet. VGS Chateau Potelle offers a vegetarian option and considers dietary restrictions if you let them know at the time of reservation.
The smokiness of the appetizer emphasizes the lovely fruit in this Cabernet and smooths out the tannins. The VGS Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from two vineyards on Mount Veeder, 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 6% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc and 2% Malbec aged 22 months in new French Oak, this Cabernet sells for $95/bottle.
Our pairing was over, but we still got to enjoy a couple of unique bonus pours. The 50/50 Cuvee is a unique concept that I have never seen anywhere. One-half of the wine comes from St. Julien, Bordeaux, France. It was bottled straight from the fermentation tank, shipped and uncorked here in the Valley and blended back into the tank with barrel fermented Napa Valley fruit. It is then put back in oak barrels for a short time. The concept was to celebrate Jean-Noel’s life, past and present, both in France and America.
With 50% Bordeaux fruit, we see more earthiness and herbaceousness on the nose and more funk and acidity on the palette which lets the wine age 10-15 years. Mushroom, Truffle, and cocoa give way to subsequent layers of black plum. Only 2400 bottles or 200 cases were produced with a price of $125/bottle. If you are into collecting unique wines, this is a great one to have in your collection.
We finished off with the 2014 VGS Syrah. Beautiful in color and an excellent tannic structure, this wine will continue to age. Hints of toasted oak, nuttiness, vanilla, coffee and mocha along with beautiful legs and a long finish gave this Syrah wonderful complexity. I love taking this varietal to dinner, and the VGS 2014 Syrah would be an excellent choice.
I ended up purchasing a Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. The VGS Chateau Potelle wine & food pairing experience is one of a few elevated pairings in the valley that is affordable and enjoyable. It was a relaxing treat, well received after a stressful week.
Enjoy… Wine Ho