June 4, 2020
By Bruce Neyers
Neyers Sage Canyon Red Wine
The hospital where I had last year’s knee replacement surgery is in Vacaville, so from time to time I need to make the 90 minute drive east on Interstate 80 to this quaint little agricultural town to see my doctor. From Vacaville, it’s only a 20 minute drive to Sacramento, home to Corti Brothers Gourmet Grocery. Before Barbara agrees to go to Vacaville with me, I agree to include a shopping trip to Corti Brothers, so I called Darrell Corti to see if there were any concerns about grocery shopping these days. They were open during normal business hours, he reported, and other than social distancing, there were no special rules in place. He suggested that we plan to arrive around noon and drive over to his home after shopping, and join him for lunch. I learned a long time ago to never turn down an invitation for lunch with Darrel, so I greedily accepted.
Barbara was thrilled. We had already placed an order for a few things that we regularly buy on a Corti Brothers outing, but since much of the flavor of a trip there comes from the spontaneous purchases made while pushing a cart through their several departments, we still needed an hour or so to complete our mission. I’d brought along a cooler for anything needing protection from the heat, and we loaded our four bags of ‘loot’ into the trunk of my car, then followed Darrel through the streets of Sacramento for the ten minute drive to his home. He lives on a beautiful side street of suburban Sacramento, only a few minutes from downtown, and his house faces a long, grassy park, lined with stately old Elm trees. We parked in front of the house, then entered through the front door where we were greeted by Darrell’s longtime companion, John Ruden, a retired instructor and administrator from Sacramento City College. We’ve known John for years and have long appreciated his affable nature, his love of opera, and his many kitchen skills.
After seating us in the dining room, Darrell brought us an aperitif. Each was served in a miniature glass, with a single crescent-shaped ice cube lying on the bottom. Barbara’s was a glass of Byrrh Grand Quinquina, a wine-based Vermouth made from quinine and Muscat, a drink popular in Paris these days. Mine was a glass of La Copa Rojo, a Sherry based Vermouth that Gonzalez Byass recently re-introduced. We drank them quickly, and we were both refreshed immediately with our appetites stimulated.
At that, Darrell began the meal. We started with a platter of anchovies from Spain. They came from the Bay of Biscay, just off the coast of Cantabria. Darrell’s presentation was the essence of simplicity — a slice of freshly baked baguette cut lengthwise was lightly spread with sweet butter, and the anchovy filet was placed on the baguette. The chewy bread and the meaty anchovy were ideal partners. The sweet butter brought all of the flavors together. They were the best anchovies I’ve ever eaten.
They were served with a rare 1991 Palo Cortado Sherry from Gonzalez Byass. Palo Cortado is the only Sherry that begins life as a Flor wine – a Fino — but for reasons unknown, loses its flor yeast covering and begins to oxidize like an Oloroso. I’m not sure which I enjoyed more – the anchovies or the sherry – but together they were amazing.
John prepared our main course, and seemed to take a special delight in making what was referred to as Darrell’s favorite dish – Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. John insists on making them with Taiwanese Flat Cabbage, however, which improves both the flavor and the texture. The rolls were stuffed with a mix of rice and pork, braised with fresh sauerkraut from Sonoma Brinery. Both were mildly flavored, with perfect texture, and it was an ideal combination of tastes. John insists that it’s easy to make, and showed us the recipe he uses, from ‘The Cooking of Vienna’s Empire’, an edition of the original Time-Life ‘Foods of the World’ series. It’s still in print, by the way; Barbara just ordered it.
Fresh Bing Cherries from Lodi
With the Cabbage Rolls, Darrell served the 2018 Neyers Vineyards Sage Canyon Red, a bottle that I brought with me in hopes of tasting it with him during our visit. It’s safe to say he liked it, as he grilled me for the next 15 minutes about how we made it, where the grapes came from, how we kept the alcohol so low – it’s only 13.6% — and how we managed to include the element of rusticity – we crush these grapes by foot, not by machine, using a traditional French technique known as pigeage. It’s aged one year in neutral French oak barrels, so there’s no discernable oak flavor to the wine. He agreed to order it the following week. I was beaming with pride as we started in on dessert – fresh Bing cherries grown in Lodi. It’s the heart of Bing Cherry season here, and these are the best cherries in the world.
We finished this memorable dining experience after less than three hours at the table. Darrell needed to get back to the store, while Barbara and I needed to get home to unload our car full of grocery treasures. On the drive home we talked about this remarkable meal, and our good fortune at having experienced it. Barbara asked me if this was the best lunch I’d ever eaten. Probably, I thought — until we have lunch with Darrell and John again.
The 2018 Neyers Sage Canyon Red is a blend of Carignan – from 140 year-old vines – with Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah. You can get pricing and availability information from your local Trinchero Family Estates sales representative. Enjoy, and stay safe!
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