The crescendo of my divine first winemaker dinner at Balboa Cafe Mill Valley was the silky Fourme d'Ambert, one of France's oldest cow's milk blue cheeses, paired with the Meyer Family Califronia Zinfandel Port, a complex and rich Solera style dessert wine. It was the last course of a creative, seasonally inspired three-course meal, and though I'd cleaned every plate so far, the perfection of that final cheese pairing was irresistable.
Before my final dish arrived, I had the opportunity to talk with winemaker Matt Meyer of Meyer Family Cellars and learned more about the wine, his family and their history. You can also have that pleasure as each month, Balboa Cafe features a different wine of the month, showcasing wine flights and wines by the glass from celebrated California wineries. The restaurant brings in a winemaker to a select Thursday evening winemaker dinner to mingle with patrons over a meal paired specially for that wine by Chef Rick Edge.
Balboa's next winemaker dinner is tonight, Feb. 2 as Balboa welcomes Stephen Honig. Stop in for the prefix meal paired with selected wines for $55 or just sample the Honig wines that will be featured on the menu for the month of February.
At the winemaker dinner I attended, Matt Meyer displayed his 2010 Anderson Valley Chardonnay, which had the aromas of ripe honeydew and pear with a mineral backbone. Chef Edge paired it with an outstanding first course of Mahi Mahi with roasted chestnuts, salsify and a fuyu persimmon puree, which added just a bit of seasonal tang. It was delicious with the refreshingly acid tones of the chardonnay.
Next was the 2007 Yorkville Highlands Syrah paired with roasted jumbo quail over a bed of toasted faro, definitely the star of this dish. The fruit of this wine developed complexity over a long, cool summer in the Yorkville Highlands region of Mendocino County, a property that Matt and his father Justin bought in 1998. The vineyards are planted between 1,000 and 2,200 feet in elevation and are cooled by breezes that blow up into the region off the Pacific. This cooling effect protects the grapes from over ripening, is essential for grape acidity, and allows for an extended growing season for this cool climate Syrah.
Matt's mom and dad, Justin and Bonny Meyer, co-founded Silver Oak Cellars in 1972 and the vineyard still produces fine California Cabernets. Matt recalls growing up on a winery with fond memories.
"Everyone in the wine industry is usually in a pretty good mood," said Meyer. But his real passion for wine developed when he met his wife Karen in New Zealand, where they worked together on a wine-making internship. The experience led them both back to California and with it an appreciation for the kind climate here. "If we have a bad season here, ours swings 20 percent, theirs swings 90 percent," said Meyers of the vintners of New Zealand.
Today Meyer Family Cellars is again a husband and wife effort. In addition to Port and Syrah, Meyer Family Cellars also makes limited productions of Rose, Chardonnay and Bonny's vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Dishing with winemakers like the Meyers over dinner is a unique treat, the atmosphere at Balboa Mill Valley informal and inviting as Matt visited from table to table. It's a highly recommended night out.