I was eagerly awaiting the rescheduling of the inaugural wine dinner that French Connection Wines had to cancel due to COVID quite a while ago. Unfortunately, they had to push their plans four different times, but Saturday, July 2, 2022, it was a go and the Summer Winemaker’s dinner was well worth the wait.
A limited number of enthusiastic guests arrived to dine in the air-conditioned winery and cellar versus the tasting room atop the hill. Tables were smartly arranged with black tablecloths and bright rustic floral arrangements with bottled water and name cards denoting everyone’s seat.
Everyone was greeted on the crush pad with a glass of the 2021 Vin Gris Rosé, a delightfully light wine with moderate acidity and bright strawberry fruit notes. As guests sipped their wine and introduced themselves to their tablemates, festivities kicked off with a welcome by French Connection winemaker Ben Calais and his wife Victoria. They thanked everyone for patiently waiting for the event and shared they had some yet unreleased wines for guests to enjoy and have the option to purchase that night.
Soon after, the hors d’oeuvres were served, Tacos con Bistec de Lomo with yuzu salsa Verde and sweet drop peppers. The flavorful homemade corn tortillas enrobed the juiciest chunks of meat dripping with a bit of spice and salsa Verde. The dish delightfully paired with the wine and was one of the best pairings of the evening. It was a great way to introduce everyone to a new chef and caterer invited from Abilene for this event, Simplicity, led by the young and very talented chef Makoa Brooks with his Sous Chef Taylor Brooks.
The second course was a fresh and lightly pickled Fredericksburg peaches rocket salad. This translated to a mixed green salad with two types of peaches, fresh and lightly pickled versions, sprinkled with bits of creamy goat cheese with a hint of salt and a bright light dressing. This lovely salad popped with the chilled 2021 Picpoul Blanc. The stainless aged and straightforward boldly acidic wine was served chilled and the citrus notes expertly complimented the peaches.
With the third course came a transition to the big bold reds, and both were unreleased and only available to those at the event in this unique early release opportunity. A 2019 Chateauneuf De Hye, a stunning Texas High Plains blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre captured many guests’ favor including mine. The 14.8 percent alcohol content provided a lasting appeal to this rustic red blend. The wine had a big fruit flavor and can cellar for at least a decade. This was paired with a Rohan duck breast with carrot purée, porcini cream, pickled ramps, and duck jus. The fabulously seared duck was tender with a light pink middle and the carrots were ever so airy, creamy, and their natural sweetness really was lovely with the duck.
Course four featured Santa Maria Tri Tip with Chimichurri, hearth potatoes, zucchini, and duck fat shallots paired with the boldest red of the night, a 2019 La Pradera Vineyards Petite Sirah Reserve. Wow! This inky dark wine was bold, dry, and grippy with big blueberry and herbal notes. Another amazing wine that can cellar for a decade too. From informal surveys of other guests, the Tri Tip appeared to be the fan-favorite dish. This moist, tender slightly pink meat with a salted crust and the chimichurri sauce really satisfied.
In true French fashion, a cheese course was included with a selection of two cheeses, one French hard cheese and a very creamy soft cheese crafted by Orobianco in Blanco. Both were wonderful to help cleanse the palate and were interesting to likewise pair with leftover Petite Sirah in the glass. As guests chatted over cheese, the final dishes started rolling out to the tables.
The last course was a rustic dessert with a nod to Fredericksburg’s history featuring a sweet corn sheet cake with Crème Miracle and brûléed Fredericksburg peaches. This dish was paired with the 2015 Roussanne Port Style. The orange-hued fortified Roussanne was smooth and a bit nutty with a luscious mouthfeel. The richness of the port was a nice partner to the deconstructed crumbled corn cake accentuated by the sweet Hill Country peaches and smooth light crème. Simplicity at its finest, but again a fantastic crowd-pleaser to cap off the meal.
Guests were provided the opportunity to mingle afterward with the winemaker and the chef and purchase any wines poured at the event. Chef Makoa had one more surprise up his sleeve, to the delight of guests, little paper bags of chocolate chunk cookies were brought for everyone to take with them as they left that evening. Who doesn’t like a goodie bag for the road?
So, there you have it, on the first Saturday in July 2022, French Connection Wines enjoyed their long-awaited inaugural winemaker’s dinner to the delight of attendees. I for one, am sure hoping Chef Makoa is featured at a future winemaker’s dinner. Abilene is a long drive to enjoy his cooking again, but definitely worth it. As guests ventured out of the winery, I saw smiles and contented faces. I also noted every table had folks lining up to purchase wine bottles to take home as additional souvenirs of this memorable evening. I left with a few bottles, fond memories, new wine friends, and a bit of inspirational dishes to try recreating at home in the future. Well done French Connection team, Ben Calais, the Simplicity team, and Chef Makoa!