Wine is all about enjoyment, and when wineries host special dinners, the idea, of course, is to indulge the palate with harmonious flavor combinations of food and wine together. Under these circumstances, it’s easy to get carried away. Creating a menu often involves imaginative dishes containing ingredients that no one outside of the culinary world will have heard about. Sometimes, it’s nice to stick with the basics, foods that anyone can identify with and find comfort in enjoying. At Hannah Nicole Winery, in Brentwood, California, they’ve taken the notion of sticking with basics to heart, but they’ve done it with a twist, one worthy of such special dinners.

Last month, I attended their Comfortable Gourmet Dinner, the first of several such gatherings Hannah Nichole hosts over the coming months. (The next dinner is coming up on April 29th. See their website’s event section for more details.)  Many patrons in attendance were old friends, so there was a casual, homely atmosphere, and the menu fit the vibe perfectly. When Mark Enlow, the winery’s operations manager got up to go over the evening’s courses, it was clear, the coming meal would be about fun. He announced we would start with chips and dip, move on to a B.L.T, and enjoy tomato soup next. The main course would consist of fish and chips with mac and cheese, followed by a dessert course of homemade ding-dongs and cream puffs. After a good laugh, everyone started in on the meal. 

Our gourmet BLT

The chips and dip starter consisted of crisp taro, blue, and sweet potato crisps topped with tobiko caviar. It was paired with their 2009 Sauvingon Blanc, which is a bit rounder and slightly sweeter than most offerings of the varietal. Together they provided a nice contrast between sweet and salty. Moving on, we were served the most gourmet take on a traditional B.L.T I’ve ever had. Thick slices of pork belly topped a bed of Heirloom tomatoes and mixed greens that were dressed in a garlic aioli and presented on a herbed flatbread. The varied flavors and textures of the garlic, pork, and flatbread came together superbly for this dish. Paired with Hanna Nichole’s 2006 Meritage blend, the wine was reserved enough not to impede on layered flavors of the food.

For the tomato soup course, a combination of red and golden Heirloom tomatoes, Maine Crab, fresh herbs and fried leeks were joined together. Delicious and bright, pairing the soup with their Russian River Valley Chardonnay, a wine rich with tropical flavors and a hint of creamy vanilla, made the flavors of each really pop. The creaminess of the wine, softened the acidity of the soup and the lively nature of the soup gave the fruit flavors in the wine more zip.

Fish & Chips with Mac & Cheese


The main course of fish & chips with mac & cheese saw diners presented with breaded tilapia and buerre rouge sided by orecchiette pasta in a gourmet cheese sauce, topped with gremolata panko and crispy pancetta. The fish was prepared perfectly, which made it bright, juicy, and crispy. While the rich, creamy pasta soften Hannah Nicole’s 2007 Petit Verdot very nicely, for an elegant pairing. The dessert course, of homemade Ding-dongs and cream puffs, was rich, creamy and indulgent without being too heavy or too sweet. The wine pairing of their 2007 Late harvest Viognier was especially delightful with the cream puffs, as the notes of apricot and honeysuckle in the wine were highlighted brilliantly. 

Our dessert


The evening was brought to a close when one of the patrons, blessed with an operatic voice, serenaded everyone with a few lovely melodies. It was a fine way to close out an evening that had truly lived up to its name, being a perfect balance of the comfortable and familiar with the flair of the fancy and gourmet. It’s not an easy harmony to find, but Hannah Nicole did very well to walk the line.

 By Jason Barlow