James Tidwell, Master Somelier and Beverage Manager at the Four Seasons Las Colinas, takes a lot of wine-related trips. Each time he visits an area he usually discovers a new or off-the-radar winery making a special wine. Last year on a trip to Washington State, Tidwell ran across Côte Bonneville, a family-run winery centered around their DuBrul Vineyard which the Shiels family planted in 1992. Kerry Shiels, winemaker and daughter of the founders, came to town and Tidwell contacted the Texas distributor, Hear Hear, and arranged a a dinner featuring Côte Bonneville wines at Café on the Green at the magnificent Four Seasons Resort and Club in Irving. I was an invited guest, which gave me the chance to digest two birds with one stone, so to speak. Besides tasting the wines from Côte Bonneville, I also got to taste new chef Jonathan Rivera’s cooking.
Kerry Shiels began like most west coast winemakers with an engineering degree from Northwestern University. This was followed by a stint at Fiat where she worked in Turin and Chicago. Only later did she have an epiphany (or 500 Abarth moment) and plunge into making wine full time. She enrolled at the temple of US wine education, UC Davis and earned a Masters degree in viticulture and enology. She spent her breaks working at some A-list wineries: 2006 vintage at Joseph Phelps Vineyards in Napa; 2007 harvest at Tahbilk in Australia; 2007 vintage at Folio, Michael Mondavi’s Napa winery; 2008 harvest as the assistant white winemaker to Rich Arnold at Robert Mondavi Winery, Napa; 2010 harvest at Tapiz in Argentina. All of this time she was involved with the family winery and now works there full time.
The Côte Bonneville winery makes its wines from the family’s DuBrul vineyard. This steep-sloped, rocky vineyard grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and Riesling. One testimony to the quality of the grapes is that over a dozen other wineries buy them, including some of the best in Washington State.
We started with Côte Bonneville’s Riesling and Cabernet Franc Rosé served with hors d’oeuvres. Then it was down to the meal and 2009 Dubrul Vineyard Chardonnay which was paired Jonathan Rivera’s foie gras torchon over five-spice waffle, pecan brittle, green apple scented with cardamom. This wine has a mineral backbone, Chardonnay’s classic back-off-the-mouth bite, and pineapple and tropical fruit in the nose, all wrapped up in a very tight style.
Next, it was on to the first of two Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines. The 2006 Carriage House is named after the part of the DuBrul vineyard from which it comes. By contrast, the 2005 DuBrul Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is produced from grapes scattered across the vineyard. It was striking how different the characters were, given just a few hundred yards (and a year) difference in the grapes. The Carriage House had pronounced red fruit in both the nose and mouth. Also, notes of toffee in the bouquet! It is fruit-forward with a smooth texture. It reminded me of a characteristic of many Washington State Cabernets: it was non-prototypical. That is, the winemakers eschew following a prototype from Bordeaux or California and just let the (very expressive) fruit unfold in a style of its own. The 2005 DuBrul, by contrast, is reminiscent of Napa valley floor Cabernets with pronounced tannins, very ripe fruit and a wider spectrum of notes in the nose, including cedar and black pepper.
The wine pairings finished on a high note with the 2009 DuBrul Vineyard Late Harvest Riesling. Sweet but not cloying, commanding weight in the mouth and all wrapped up by a long fruit finish.
It was remarkable to find such a wide variety of grapes growing in such close proximity with apparently no compromise in wine quality. It is no surprise that Côte Bonneville has won many awards from the wine press and more broadly.
It is too early for me to form a judgment of Jonathan Rivera’s cooking, but the execution of the dishes you see in the pictures was spot on. The style seems to be elegant and light, and he seems to have a knack for ‘the right touch’ – a case in point being the solitary marinated amarena cherry nuzzled against the duck breast. I was seated next to Mike Hiller, a familiar Dallas food critic known for his terminal addiction to golf, and he was completely overcome with unintelligible gurgling noises. That is how perfectly the tartness of that cherry infused with the fat in the duck. Yummy as they say over at his publication.
Great things come in small quantities. These wines are available through Off The Vine in Grapevine, but some are limited to as little as eight bottles for the whole state of Texas.