Arrowood Wine Dinner

As part of the Boston Wine Expo 2002 festivities, a series of vintner dinners have been held from January through April. The one I most looked forward to was the Arrowood dinner, hosted by Alis Arrowood. Alis is the wife of Richard, the winemaker. The dinner was held on February 19th at the Boston Harbor Hotel, with Daniel Bruce featured as the chef. A truly wonderful combination!

We arrived a bit late, missing the 'cocktail hour' wine, the Viognier. This was unfortunate, because the viognier is truly one of my two favorite wines in the world. I had just finished off my own personal stash of it, too. I was happy to hear that the new release was just getting into stores, and made a note to start a round of phone-calling the next day to grab as many bottles as I could out of this vintage.

The first course was pan seared sea scallops with frisee, along with a toasted almond and Braeburn apple salad. It was paired with the 1998 Pinot Blanc "Saralee's Vineyard", the 1998 Chardonnay Reserve Speciale "Cuvee Michel Berthoud", and the 1996 Chardonnay Reserve Speciale "Cuvee Michel Berthoud".

The scallops were delicious, very light, fresh and flavorful. It paired nicely with all of the wines. Alis explained that the 1998 was a very nice vintage, but that it was sandwiched between two spectacular vintages. She likened it to brushing your teeth and then drinking orange juice - the OJ is still great, but it doesn't taste quite right in the situation. She commented, "In the 1980s, we would have killed to get a vintage like 1998".

The Pinot was light, fresh, grassy, not very full bodied, and gentle. A great pairing with the food. The 98 Chardonnay to be mellow and slightly crisp, with an apple flavor and a good finish. The 96 was very smooth, with a bit more crispness, again with the round, apple flavor to it. It had a long, gorgeous finish. At the end of this course, when waiters were clearing extra glasses, everybody hung on to their 96 Chard.

Alis talked about how Arrowood puts its whites through malolactic fermentation. She explained that this is like going from apples to milk, that it mellows out the acidic flavors. At Arrowood they "coax the wines to go through malolactic fermentation", giving the wines the nice, round, mellow flavors.

The next course was charred lamb lion, parsnip and sweet corn "Shepherd's Pie" with red currant essence. I am a huge fan of shepherd's pie to start with, and this was truly delicious. The balance was excellent. This was paired with a 1998 Merlot and a 1997 Syrah "Saralee's Vineyard". The merlot was light and fresh, with smooth pepper flavors. The Syrah was light, fruity and rich. We found that the merlot was delicious for drinking on its own, while the syrah went beautifully with the meal.

Alis joked that "the very worst thing to go with a very good bottle of wine is another very good bottle of wine." It was almost a shame to have all the wines at the same time, to not be able to simply savor one of them.

Alis spent quite a bit of time discussing their partnership with Mondavi. She admitted that some people felt they had 'sold out', but that this was far from the truth. On the contrary, the Arrowoods had resisted being bought for many, many years. It was only when the Mondavis approached them and promised to take over all of the 'tedium' while allowing the Arrowoods full control over the wines, that they agreed. The Mondavi family has been completely supportive and hands-off.

Alis said that "Richard is now like a kid in a candy store" - where before he was tied up with the boring work of administration, he now had free rein to spend all of his time working on the craft of winemaking.

The main dish was a mixed grill of Niman Ranch culotte and beef flank stead over carmelized Pearl Onions, Turnip Greens and Steamed Couscous. It was rich and delicious. Paired with it were the 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon. Both cabs were, of course, excellent. We found that the 1994 cabernet truly complimented the meal - brought out the delicious flavors in the meal and paired subtly. The 98 cab was more the focus when you drank it with the meal - the meal helped the cab show its best flavors.

Alis talked about how wine should be a delicious part of a meal. "Wine is a food," she explained. "It's not a weapon you use to intimidate your friends. It's not an altar at which you should pray." We definitely found that while it was easy to be swept away by the highlights and nuances found in these wines, that they were also just plain delicious with the meal. It was easy to eat a course, drink the wine, and to end up just thinking "Yummmmm".

The dessert was a warm golden pineapple upside down cake, with raspberry ice cream. This was rich, fresh, and very flavorful. David Bruce later joked that he had kept the rest of the meal low-fat and had made up for it with this dessert. Paired with this was the 1997 late harvest riesling "Preston Ranch" and the 1999 late harvest Riesling "Hoot Owl Creek vineyards".

Alis explained that these are made with riesling grapes that are affected by the botrytis fungus. They call it "the mouse" because by the time the grapes are done being fungisized, they are fuzzy and grey, and look like a little mouse curled up in your hand. The fungus concentrates the flavor into a honey-tangerine-orange-honeysuckle flavor. Both of these wines showed the tangerine and sweet orange flavors, and being a huge sweet wine fan, I was eyeing other half-drunk glasses at the table when I had finished my own. I exercised restraint, however.

At this point David Bruce came out and talked about the meal, and about how relatively easy it had been to pair with such delicious wines. Alis talked about Arrowood's second label, Grand Archer, which is about half the price of the normal Arrowood label. She explained that the flavors in Grand Archer are about where Arrowood was 15 years ago.

The evening drew to a close, and all present that I spoke with had a truly wonderful time. The favorites of the evening seem to have been the two Cabernets and the 1996 Chardonnay. I personally will continue to hold out for the viognier, my favorite white wine. Now to start getting to the wine shops, to pick up my orders!

All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.