Bouchaine Vineyards in Cool & Beautiful Carneros with a Recipe: Pan Seared Scallops with Fennel and Mashed Sweet Potatoes

I spent last week in Napa, in California. Hence I thought it apt to devote this week's post to a recent tasting I enjoyed of Bouchaine Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines from Carneros, in Napa Valley. The tasting was led by talented winemaker Michael Richmond, and I was particularly taken by his very different philosophies for 'parenting' these two very distinctive grape varieties.

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According to Michael, "Making Chardonnay is like raising a kid back in the 1950's, with a lot of parental control, and the expectation that the next generation will conform to that training." In contrast, making great Pinot Noir requires a more 'modern' parental approach, "where parents just set boundaries and try to keep the kid out of jail." With Chardonnay, Michael knows he will be proud of the outcome, whereas with Pinot, there is always an element of gamble, and relief when it turns out great. This confirms the long held belief that while Chardonnay can be shaped by the winemaker, Pinot Noir must be allowed to manifest itself.

From tasting the wines, I have to say that Michael has done an excellent parenting job on both children. Michael is also an avid cook and shared two recipes that he loves to pair with his wines - Pan Seared Scallops with Fennel and Mashed Sweet Potato with his 2007 Bouchaine Estate Chardonnay, and a Wild Mushroom Risotto with the 2007 Bouchaine Carneros Pinot Noir. (Recipes below)

2007 Bouchaine Estate Chardonnay, Carneros $30 - Ripe stone and tropical fruit, grapefruit, apricot and melon, intertwined with notes of vanilla, cream and butterscotch. full-bodied, yet refreshing with persistent flavors.

2007 Bouchaine Pinot Noir, Carneros $30 - Packed with vibrant red fruit, pomegranate, red cherries, plums layered with toasty oak nuances of coffee, smoke, and spice. Smooth and elegant across the palate and a long lingering finish.

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Environmentally conscious, Bouchaine Vineyards are farmed sustainably and every precaution taken to minimize water and energy use. The winery is open to the public and has both a tasting room and a wine club.

For anyone not familiar with Carneros, it is about 30 miles north of San Francisco and has a relatively cool climate due to its proximity to the San Pablo Bay. Cooling winds, rain and fog from the Pacific assure wines with bright acidity and firm structure. So, remember to pack a sweater, if you visit, as the mornings can be chilly.

Pan Seared Scallops with Fennel and Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Created by Executive Chef Jeff Jake, The Carneros Inn

To Prepare Fennel:
6 baby fennel bulbs or 3 large fennel bulbs with fronds
1/2 cup bish stock
1 tbsp Pastis, Pernod or other licorice-flavored aperitif, optional
Salt and ground pepper to taste

In large pot of boiling, salted water, cook fennel halves until tender. Remove to ice water bath to stop cooking. In food processor or blender, puree 2 baby fennel bulbs or 1 large fennel with fish stock until smooth. Stir in licorice-flavored aperitif and salt and pepper to taste. Cut remaining fennel bulbs lengthwise in half. Serve with scallops (below).

To Prepare Scallops

16 sea scallops
Salt and ground pepper
3 tbsp grapeseed oil
Mashed sweet potatoes
Orange oil or extra-virgin olive oil
Crispy shallots, optional

Pat scallops dry; sprinkle with salt and pepper. In 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat grapeseed oil until hot. Add scallops; cook until golden on both sides, about 2 minutes on each side.

To serve, place a large spoonful of mashed sweet potatoes in a four inch round in center of each plate; top with scallops; drizzle with orange or olive oil. Serve with fennel puree and fennel halves. If desired, top with crispy shallots.

Serves four

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Wild Mushroom Risotto
Created by Executive Chef Jeff Jake, The Carneros Inn

4 tbsp Butter, divided
4 oz Assorted mushrooms, sliced (shiitake, lobster, oyster, cremini, or chanterelle)
1/4 cup Fresh Chives, snipped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
6 cups chicken broth or stock
1 cup dry white wine
1 large onion, minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup mushroom broth
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup Mascarpone cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp truffle oil, optional
Snipped chives

To Prepare:

In 12-inch skillet over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add mushrooms, chives and thyme; cook about 5 minutes, stirring constantly. With slotted spoon, remove mushrooms and any liquid to bowl.

Meanwhile, in 4-quart saucepan, heat chicken broth and white wine to boiling. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer.

In same skillet over medium heat, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add onions; cook 5 minutes. Add rice and stir well, making sure that all of the grains are evenly coated with the onion mixture. Add ½ cup of the simmering broth and cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has been absorbed into rice, 3 to 4 minutes. Continue to cook, adding broth 1/2 cup at a time until rice is al dente, about 15, minutes.

Stir in cooked mushrooms, mushroom broth, Parmesan cheese and mascarpone; cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, spoon mushroom risotto into serving bowl or platter. Drizzle with truffle oil. Garnish with chives. Serve immediately. Pass additional grated Parmesan cheese to serve with risotto.

Serves four

I've made these two dishes a few times. They are easy, delicious and work perfectly with the wines. Love to hear what you think.

Have a great week.

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