Blending, Tasting and Pairing: The Chef and the Winemaker at Ravines

This past Sunday, Keith and I attended an amazing two-part event at Ravines Wine Cellars that was informative, humbling, and, of course, crazy delicious. Ravines is located at the northwest end of Seneca Lake, and is only about a 50 minute drive from Rochester. The winery is owned and operated by Morten & Lisa Hallgren, who are the perfect pairing of a European Winemaker and a Chef. They have focused on using Old World traditions in innovative ways, and demonstrating the interesting pairings one can have with wine and food. In addition to the wine, they have a fantastic restaurant/kitchen led by Chef Scott Riesenberger, which was just named one of the top winery restaurants in the country by Food and Wine.

To celebrate the wine and food, Ravines has been doing a series of tastings called The Chef and the Winemaker, where guests get to try a series of the same wine from different years paired with a selection of savory dishes. We were lucky enough to be able to attend the Meritage tasting.

What is Meritage? Great question. Meritage, pronounced like heritage, is a blend of red wines made from specific noble Bordeaux grapes like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. All you really need to know is that these blends are more dry and made in an Old World style, more so than the red table wine blends that you see elsewhere.


Blending! Note the clean white table cloth… not going to stay that way once we start mixing.

Our tasting began with a very humbling experience- we were given the components of a Meritage blend and had the chance to try to make our own that mimicked the finished product. This is a lot harder than it sounds and really shows the art and finesse behind winemaking. We were given the 2016 Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot (which were so young that they were still going through some the fermentation processes), and an empty glass. Then, we were set loose to try to make a blend that was similar to the 2013 Meritage.

It was an interesting process: a little Franc, a little Sauvignon, blend, add a dash of Merlot, sip and try, add some more France, sip and try again. The blend that our table of tasters ended up liking the best, though it didn’t match the finished product perfectly, was 70% Cabernet Franc, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot. Of course, I’m saying percentages like I actually know them… pouring wine from glass to glass isn’t an exact science so who knows what it actually was! The correct proportions? 60% Cabernet Franc, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Merlot, so we were pretty close!


Then, just as we were finishing the process of comparing blends, the food entered from stage left. Oh my. The food. Chef Scott prepared a slate with five large bites of food: pork belly sandwich with local goat cheese, duck liver and confit, crispy polenta with a black olive pesto and broccoli puree, baked onion and cauliflower mac and cheese, and a bacon dark chocolate truffle to finish it off.

These were paired with four Meritage vintages selected by Morten from his library, including a 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012.

Scott and Morten sharing their food and wine secrets!

2007 with pork belly: For being the oldest wine, this one smelled so young, with a nose of bright cherry and red plum, aged leather and pepper, which became spicier on the palate. It had a lingering chalky tannin and a nice bright acid. This one still needs more time aging, which is amazing given its already a decade old.

This wine paired best with the pork belly, which brought out the notes of cherry in the wine, and also emphasized some citrus notes like red grapefuit.

2008 with duck liver: This one was my favorite pick (although they were all amazing), because it had a nose of slightly darker fruits like plum and black berries, almost a little jammy. There was also some great pepper and earthy notes that was apparent when sipped as well. The tannin was big and chewy, but with a nice cleansing acid.

This wine was probably one of the coolest pairings- when sipped with the duck liver and confit it tasted like fig jam and pepper. So delicious.

2010 with polenta: The nose on this blend was cherry and plum, with some cedar and leather notes as well. It had the taste of unripe plum and blackberry on the palate, with a chewy tannin. It didn’t have as much pepper as the others, and had a slightly higher acid.

The pairing for this wine was polenta with black olive pesto and broccoli puree. It was a really fun pairing because the wine changed with the food, it became smoother and less acidic.

2012 with mac and cheese: The nose was fairly similar to the 2010 with a slight taste of something citrusy and a little more pepper. The taste had bright cherry on the palate and a great acid.

Our final pairing was an onion and cauliflower mac and cheese, which made this wine taste even brighter but did help smooth the acid.

Overall, this was a very informative experience that taught us a lot about wine and food. Morten shared with us his decisions behind the winemaking, how different weather affected the wines in different ways every year, the process from grape to wine, and the processes they used to ferment and age the wine. Scott shared where he got the food, the choices he made when creating the pairings, and some of the processes he used to create the dishes. It was such a fabulous event- if you get the opportunity to do one (check their events page here), I highly suggest you do.

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