Winemakers are a true treasure, and the way they choose to manipulate or not manipulate grapes is a thing of great beauty. One of our favorite events to host at On the Square is a winemaker dinner, and last night, that is exactly what we did.
But it wasn’t just any winemaker dinner.
It was a winemaker I have admired from a distance for the past thirteen years of my life.
Jim Clendenen, winemaker extraordinaire, exudes grace and charm and charisma and everything in between. His gifts are most certainly in his bottles, but they are also in his amazing personality.
When I first started working in the cellar at Windows, we had a Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia that stayed on the desk under the computer. It was used for instant reference for the sommeliers selling wine on the floor as well as required reading for the assistant cellar masters who worked their shifts binning out wine as needed.
Au Bon Climat “Sanford & Benedict” Pinot Noir 1996 was one of the first Pinots I ever tasted, and I remember the occasion vividly.
Paolo Villela, our part-time sommelier and head captain at Windows, opened a bottle for me to try while we were in the cellar one evening. There was another sommelier and assistant cellar master in the cellar at the time, and Paolo wanted us to try one of his favorite red wines so we could taste it for ourselves. The minute I went to sip, Paolo grabbed my glass from my hand and said, “You have to smell it first, girl. Never ever taste a wine without smelling it first.”
This was my introductory lesson in nosing wine, and I have never forgotten it. Regardless of if the wine is a $7 Pinot Grigio or a $250 bottle of Cote Rotie, one must always smell before tasting.
“Why?” you may ask. The reason being, you taste sweet, sour, salty, bitter in your mouth, but actual flavors like fruit and spice and vanilla are only gotten through your nose.
Think about Robitussin. There’s a very good reason you hold your nose when you’re taking it.
So here I am in the cellar on the 106th floor at almost 23 years old, drinking a Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara that tastes like a combination of heaven and earth, literally.
My first instinct is to look up this winery in Sotheby’s and understand more about what I’m tasting. When I find the label in the book, I am blown away. Not only is Au Bon Climat featured in the Santa Barbara section, but Jim Clendenen, the winemaker, is highlighted as being one of the great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay growers in the area. It was an amazing revelation to me to put a person with a wine, and from that day forward, I knew his name as well as my own.
Fast forward to the last day in July of 2012, and in walks through the front door of On the Square but none other than Jim Clendenen himself, and once again, I am awestruck. Of course, we have been planning his arrival for the past six weeks, but it was still mind blowing to actually see him in the flesh in our dining room.
For good reason, I assure you, this gentleman is the real deal.
Kind, gracious, polite and entertaining, he introduced his wines with flair and fun. Words cannot express how wonderful he was, but I will do my best by highlighting the menu and the pairings.
My only regret of the night is I didn’t get my picture taken with him.
Of course, there’s always next time. Most people who come to Tarboro once like to come back again.
Fried Green Tomato, Oyster Shooter, Mini Tomato Sandwich, Fried Okra
Clendenen Family Vineyards Gewurztraminer 2010
Lobster, Crab & Shrimp Salad
Avocado, Sope, Ponzu Cream
Au Bon Climat “Hildegard” 2006
Clendenen Family Vineyards Chardonnay 2006
Fried Duck Meatloaf
Duck Fat Roasted Potatoes, Pommery Cream, Blueberry Compote
Au Bon Climat “Knox” Pinot Noir 2008
Au Bon Climat “Isabelle” Pinot Noir 2008
Ginger Beer Barbecued Short Ribs
Corn Hash, Bacon Jus
Clendenen Family Vineyards Syrah-Viognier 2005
Peaches & Cream
Fried Peach Pie, Peach Ice Cream
Clendenen Family Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling 2007