PORKY PAXY Pleasures….
It was like a dream*: the heady aromas of slowly roasting pork in the air, a perfect Indian summer evening, white linens topped with flickering candlelight. Oh, yeah–and some damn awesome wine. This past Saturday we hosted a fantastic dinner featuring the ever-rare and ever-delicious wines from Pax Cellars, a cult Syrah** producer based in Northern California. To sweeten the deal, we even had Joe Donelan, their owner, come out to join us and give all the attendees extra insight into the meticulous production and vineyard site selection that makes Pax so special. As the evening progressed, all twenty folks present got to hear anecdotes from the encyclopaedic brain of Mr. Donelan, who knows his wines the way a parent knows a child’s every quirk. From the tasting notes and detailed descriptions of the sites whence come the wines, he had us all engrossed–and it is no easy task to divert one’s attention away from a delicious glass of Syrah!
The Pax philosophy is listed in much greater detail on their website, but to sum it up, their ultimate goal is to produce the finest quality wines that directly reflect the sites whence they come. Quality, for Pax Cellars, means a return to traditional methods: no fining or filtering, organic growing practices, small production, and a hands-off attitude. The end result is series of remarkable wines that, as we learned after the dinner ended, are quite distinct from one another not only in terms of place, but also vintage. The wines we tasted on Saturday, arranged by vintage, are as follows:
2004: Pax Rosé [40% Grenache and 60% Syrah]; Richards Family Vineyards [Sonoma]; Alder Springs Vineyards [Mendocino]; Cuvée Christine [Sonoma]
2005: Pax Rosé [Sonoma; mostly Syrah with a “dash” of Grenache]; Griffin’s Lair [Sonoma]; Majik Vineyard [Sonoma]; Alder Springs ‘The Terraces’ [Mendocino; 97%Syrah, 3% Viognier]
2006: Kobler Family Vineyard [Green Valley/Russian River; 3% Viognier]; Nelleson Vineyard [Green Valley/Russian River]; Walker Vine Hill [Russian River]; Cuvée Moriah [Sonoma; 88%Grenache, 6% Mourvedre, 3% Syrah, 2% Counoise, 1% Roussanne]; Venus [Sonoma; 63% Roussanne, 37% Viognier]
2007: Pax Rosé [Sonoma; mostly Grenache]
And then there was the food: we kept it simple in order to not overshadow the wines. As our guests arrived, they sat down to fresh baguettes and Rhone-style nibbles like cured assorted olives, a sampling of extravagant cheeses, and cured meats running the gamut from jamon serrano to enticing cured duck breast. Of course, the star of the show was Mr. Roasted Pig, who marinated in Mitch’s special blend of white wine and herbes de Provence for days before the dinner. To balance out all those heavy meats, we served the pork alongside a light, seasonal salad of frisée and roasted beets topped with sherry vinaigrette. Colyn, Lance, Mitch and I served up the food with gusto–and enjoyed the perks of getting to eat the delicious feast ourselves in between rounds. Fortified by all the wine, meat and cheese, we then tackled the enormous task of cleaning up after such a big event; if you happened to be walking by Lush on Halsted somewhere around 1 AM, you might have scoped us rocking out to the Rhymefest album and washing some serious dishes!
All told, it was a remarkable evening, and a tremendous learning experience for the Lush staff and our guests. I still swoon, eyes half closed, every time I think about it. Thanks, Pax. Thanks, pig.
*And, as dreams go, there is no photographic evidence of the lovely evening; all that remains is a whole bunch of empty Pax bottles gracing our counter, and the leftover pig’s head currently taking up residence in my freezer. Guanciale, anyone?
** And sometimes other awesome Rhône varietals