By Larry Levine –

The emailed invitation couldn’t have been more timely. Melisse was having a special wine pairing dinner featuring wines from the Alexander Valley in Northern California.

It was one of those “life sends me a message” moments. The event was on my birthday, May 5, and I already had decided I wanted to go to Melisse for my birthday dinner. (You can read more about Melisse at – )

I had been familiar with Alexander Valley wines for years and knew them to be as commendable as those coming out of the nearby Napa Valley. I discovered Jordan Cabs from the Alexander Valley about 20 years ago at dinner in the old Oak Room at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. The Jordan remains one of my favorite Cabs even today and that experience opened the door through which I pursued and enjoyed other wines coming out of the Alexander Valley.

With Jennifer and me at our table were Brook Drummond, Director of Marketing and P.R. for the Skipstone winery, Ed Killian, winemaker at Souverain, and Bryan Carr, head of Marketing and P.R. for the Alexander Valley Winegrowers.

The evening included eight different wines from four different wineries and Melissa chef/owner Josiah Citrin did an outstanding job of pairing the food courses to the wines. Clearly, I left my post-cardiac surgery diet at the curb before entering the restaurant.

From Souverain, we tasted a terrific 2008 Sauvignon Blanc that was paired with duck confit fritters, smoked salmon potato blini and rolled goat cheese with grape and chopped pistachios. Souverain also offered a very, very good 2005 Winemakers Reserve Cab Sav that was paired later with a dessert course of Reblochon Tart, which was Josiah’s way of not offering a sweet with a Cab.

Maine lobster with porcini mushrooms and eggplant in a rich broth was served with a Stryker 2007 OZ Vineyard Semillon and a Munselle Vineyard 2007 Shadrach Chardonnay. The Chardonnay was excellent. I could do without the Semillon

Roast Stuffed Quail with forbidden rice, kale and spiced black olive tapenade was next. With it came two Cab blends from Skipstone – a 2005 Oliver’s blend and a 2006 Oliver’s blend – two wines from the same house on consecutive years yet completely different to the taste. My favorite? The one I was drinking at the time. I’ll add some of each to my locker.

Next up was ribeye and braised short ribs with dijjonnaise, fava beans and a Bordelaise sauce joined by a 2005 Estate Vineyard Cab Sav from Stryker and a 2006 Coyote Crest Cab Sav from Munselle. This deep into a meal, it’s challenging for a wine to stand out from all that came before. But these two held there own.

What a way to spend a birthday. Anyone who has looked at knows Melisse is one of my two favorite restaurants in California. The other is Biba in Sacramento, where I celebrated last year’s birthday.

There can be an Avis/Hertz tone to the conversation of some Alexander Valley winemakers. They should guard against that. The Alexander Valley has no reason to take a back seat to the Napa Valley when it comes to quality wine.

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