Story By: Daniel Mangin // Photos Courtesy of Sequoia Groves
Chef Elevates Cabernet Sauvignon with Food Pairing Approach
A steak and a Napa Valley Cab—this iconic combo has earned the valley pride of place on wine lists the world over, but Britny Maureze, Executive Chef at Sequoia Grove Winery, aims to delight guests’ palates with atypical pairings venturing well beyond beef. For the flagship A Taste for Cabernet wine and food experience, she champions not only duck and pork as suitable companions for the Rutherford winery’s Cabernets but also fish and even vegetarian offerings. To drive the point home, she usually includes no beef at all.
EXPANDING PAIRING HORIZONS
Since arriving at Sequoia Grove Winery in 2018, Maureze has garnered countless awards and accolades for the highly popular A Taste for Cabernet. Maureze builds her pairings by starting with the wines—Cabernets from Sequoia Grove’s Rutherford Estate Vineyard and nearby Tonella Estate Vineyard, as well as storied properties such as Atlas Peak’s Stagecoach Vineyard and Oak Knoll’s Lamoreaux Vineyard. She constructs each dish to support and enhance the wine’s aromas, flavors, and balance while also pushing the boundaries of traditional pairing “rules.”
“I think I was hired as Sequoia Grove’s chef because of a vegetarian dish I cooked as part of my audition,” Maureze recently confided, the “out-of-left-field” preparation demonstrating her grasp of Cabernet’s broader appeal. Dishes paired with the wine needn’t be protein-heavy to work, she explained. “It’s more about what goes with the protein and how you prepare it.” In vegetarian and pescatarian dishes, salt and acid often play crucial roles, oil and other fats as well.
A Taste for Cabernet unfolds in the airy, rustic-elegant Cambium Room, set amid the redwoods lending the winery its name. To acquaint participants with the effects different tastes—sweet, salty, sour, and savory—have on wine, sessions begin with an “edu-plate.” The most recent iteration contained white chocolate chips, some salt, a lemon wedge, and Beemster aged gouda cheese, each item sampled with a Rutherford Cabernet. One surprise for guests is how sweetness can accentuate tannins’ bitterness, a consequence that calls into question the valley’s ubiquitous Cab-chocolate pairings. Lemon, on the other hand, tempers tannins, a reason why fish and chicken dishes pair well with Cabernet when acidity is managed effectively.
NOT TOO GEEKY
“We try not to get too geeky about it,” Maureze said, but the edu-plate exercise provides a window into her process when conceiving a dish. Unlike a restaurant chef, whose job usually is to create a tasty dish a sommelier can later pair with an appropriate wine, she works backward from the wine to the dish. Maureze often selects wines “with a little age because they’re softer and a little more balanced. Having that subtlety allows a little more creativity.”
For the first course on the Summer 2022 menu, Maureze paired pork tenderloin with the 2014 Rutherford Bench Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Black-garlic ricotta, pillowy smoked-potato gnocchi, and pickled mushrooms accompanied the tenderloin, each element’s aromas, textures, and flavors playing off a different facet of the wine. Still showing plenty of fruit, the 2014, its tannins gentler with age, uplifted the dish and vice versa. Another revelation was the potato-crusted halibut. A delicate fish like halibut might at first seem an inappropriate match for the 2017 Tonella Estate Vineyard Cabernet Franc, but the acidity of the primavera sauce and blistered cherry tomatoes made the pairing work. In a tip for home cooks, Maureze said another key was not overcooking the fish, allowing it to retain moisture and a “mouth-coating quality” that rendered the wine less astringent.
The summer menu’s sleeper hit reprised Maureze’s vegetarian audition success. The chef paired a 2017 Christian Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon with a salad of grilled stone fruit, toasted farro, and spiced pecans. A creamy balsamic vinaigrette with goat cheese provided a lush texture and lingering acidity that complemented the wine’s mouthfeel and finish. Although pecans, farro, and cheese all contain protein, the combination is hardly red meat, yet the ensemble paired splendidly with the Cabernet.
The final pairing on the summer menu allows guests to experience the pinnacle of Sequoia Grove winemaking, the Cambium red blend, paired with tea-rubbed duck breast, plum sauce, jade rice, and a duck dumpling. Red meat might seem the obvious pairing for a rich Cabernet-based blend, but Maureze again showed that with the right spicing and flavor combinations, Cabernet can shine with alternative dishes and is far more versatile than most people realize.
The success of the pairings speaks to the balance of Sequoia Grove Cabernets, which routinely earn scores of 90–95 points from prominent critics. Winemaker Jesse Fox focuses on growing the best possible fruit and constructing wines that tell the story of the vintage, the varietal, and the vineyard in which the grapes are grown. A Taste for Cabernet then takes things a step further as the pairings elevate the enjoyment of these wines with eclectic ingredients and artful preparations. Exploring the nuances of several Napa Valley sub-appellations, the wines in A Taste for Cabernet are featured in Sequoia Grove’s popular Classic Cabernet wine club. Because Maureze favors ones a year or more older than current releases, they also hint at the Cabernets’ ageability.
LEARN AND HAVE FUN
“I want people to come and be surprised,” concluded Maureze when asked about her goals for A Taste for Cabernet. “To learn something about wine pairing and leave here less intimidated by it. And to have fun.” Needless to say, Maureze has no trouble adapting the menu for vegetarian and pescatarian guests. All are welcome.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
8338 St. Helena Highway, Napa, CA
707-339-5757 // www.sequoiagrove.com