Posted by: acooksca | 12/13/2010

Food and Wine Pairing Lesson from a Wine Maker

Versatile Hendry Pinot Noir and Humblot Fog

Hendry Ranch  is a small estate winery in the rolling hills to the west of  Napa. Their 117 acres of vineyard are segregated into 50 blocks, each with a unique combination of soil, micro-climate and elevation. Every block favors the planting of different varietals. Several years ago we spent the morning walking the vineyards with Mike Hendry getting an education on how one hillside block is perfect for Zinfandel while a neighboring block, slanting toward the creek, seemed designed specifically to grow Pinot Gris.

Most of the acreage has belonged to the Hendry family since 1939 and they have had a long time to understand block variations. The wines are well crafted, the property lovely and the winery so welcoming that it is one of my top choices to visit in Napa. After a recent two hour tasting at Hendry Ranch four members of my family declared it was the best tasting they had ever been to. We met with Mike’s uncle, George Hendry, who was born on the property and still lives there. While we sampled 12 Hendry wines George challenged us to see why he pairs specific foods with each wine.

George is a scientist. He designs and manufactures particle accelerators. The same attitude of careful experimentation was evident in his wine and food pairing. George rescues opened bottles left in the tasting room to use in and with dinner. Hendry Pinot Gris (2008), a light and refreshing wine, pairs with lower-fat dishes, such as a vegetable risotto. George uses the Pinot Gris to deglaze the pot before adding stock to the risotto, a technique he employs often to add layers of flavor that connect the wine with the dish.

Hendry is one of the few California wineries to grow the Spanish varietal Albarino. The winery uses a cool temperature block near the creek to bring out the crispness in this grape. We tasted and bought the 2009 to try out George’s recommendation for matching it with shellfish, feta cheese or the high acid goat cheeses of California, foods that need  wines with good acidity to cut through flavors without overwhelming.

George Hendry

George used two Chardonnays to show us how your taste receptors can be turned off or on. The way we perceived sweet and sour flavors altered radically when we sampled the two Chardonnays side by side. In the recently bottled 2009 Unoaked Chardonnay we found bright fruit and a clean acidity, a wine to pour with medium-bodied fish such as sea bass or trout in butter sauce. But age chardonnay in oak and it changes radically. Their 2006 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay incorporates tannin and vanilla flavors from the barrel with rich almond and clove notes. This nuanced wine pairs with heavier fish such as tuna, salmon with stir fried peppers, herb rubbed roasted pork or cheeses. Once we tasted this wine we were unable to detect the beautiful fresh flavors of the Unoaked Chardonnay and it turned dull and flat.

Over the years the winery has experimented with various barrel styles to make a Pinot Noir (2007) that is nuanced and elegant. George feels the balance in their Pinot Noirs makes them one of the most versatile wines in the Hendry line. “When you need to match a table of different menus and palates, such as at a restaurant, order a Pinot Noir. It can enhance artichokes, salmon or Provencal  roasted leg of lamb” George says.

Next we tasted several Hendry Zinfandels and the difference between blocks became very clear. These grapes come from hillsides with unique soil structures requiring different irrigation and fertilization with nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. The vineyards also have varying amounts of sunlight, wind and other climatic issues. The 2007 Block 7 & 22 Zinfandel has big fruit, a fat mouth feel and modest back palate. It works well with turkey, cranberries, and traditional fixings of a Holiday meal. Block 28 Zinfandel (2006) is a much different wine with deep, dark fruit and tannin that can stand up to braised short ribs, osso bucco or cassoulet. At $30 it is half the price of an equally well-made Cabernet.

Primitivo (2007) is a popular selling wine in the Hendry tasting room. It is simpler, fruit dominated and not as textural as the Zinfandels. George recommends trying it as a dessert wine with cherry pie or chocolate brownies. He suggests pairing it with Roquefort cheese topped with ground dried currents and brown sugar, popped under the broiler until warm through.

Tasting at Hendry

Hendry’s Bordeaux style blend, called Red Wine (2005), explodes all over your tongue in a complexity of tobacco, spices, fruit and herbs. George made the point that it was not a heavy wine, but flavorful. He drinks it when making pot roast or beef Bourgogne, dishes that need a good dose of tastiness without any more weight on your palate.

George was also specific about what to enjoy with his Cabernets. Juice for HRW (2007) is pressed from grapes after the first free run. It has less tannin and is approachable earlier than the Hendry Cabernet. A delicious everyday wine at $23, drink it with spaghetti and meatballs, or a risotto with balsamic caramelized eggplant. Use the HRW to deglaze the risotto pot for more levels of flavor.

Hendry Ranch lies just north of the Carneros district so the weather is cooler than further up Napa Valley. The vineyards here produce a Cabernet Sauvignon (2005) with soft tannin and gorgeous fruit. Ageing in French Oak barrels gives the wine a rich repertoire of flavors that you want to highlight with food. A filet mignon or high quality heritage pork loin with good marbling would be George’s choice for a perfect match.

Hendry is one of the few wineries I know that keeps its entire crew working year round. There is so much tending needed for each block that the crew is not only constantly busy but they are intimately aware of changes in each vineyard. This level of care is reflected in the diversity and quality of their wines. Hendry wines start at $13, most are $18 – $33, with only the 2005 Cabernet above that. They are happy to ship wine to you, but don’t hesitate to give them a call to schedule a tasting.

(707) 226-8320
3104 Redwood Road, Napa


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