Mention the names Krug and Mondavi and even some of the most causal wine drinkers show a sign of recognition. Founded in 1861 by Charles Krug and later purchased by Cesare Mondavi, Charles Krug Winery is the oldest winery in Napa Valley. The winery was owned and run by Peter Mondavi, Sr. until his death in 2016 and today is under the tutelage of his sons, Marc and Peter, Jr. Stacy Clark is the fabulous woman charged with winemaking duties and also is the winemaker and owner of her own label, Galland Clark Wines.

A visit to St. Helena in northern Napa is not complete without a visit to this beautiful and legendary and historic winery.

I had the opportunity to taste six wines at the Napa Valley Charles Krug Wine Conference & Dinner. The wine conference was held at Le Bistro* at Culinary Institute LeNôtre, which is both fine dining restaurant and training center. I absolutely loved the plating and presentation of each dish (not to mention the fantastic flavors) almost as much as the wine! I had no idea Houston had such a hidden gem that regularly offered such wine events! Better late than never.

The first three wines were all paired with appetizers. The 2016 St. Helena Sauvignon Blanc was paired with a salmon ceviche with citrus zest, yogurt, tomato and avocado. The 2014 Carneros Pinot Noir was paired with a goat cheese & berry compote tart. And the 2013 Napa Valley Estate Merlot was paired with a Lamb Croquette with cucumber and tzatziki sauce.

Disclaimer: I like Sauvignon Blanc in the form of the Loire Valley’s Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume, and occasionally a Bordeaux Blanc. But that’s pretty much it. I occasionally find a Sauv Blanc here or there outside of these regions that I like, but it’s never a “go to” wine and it’s certainly not much of the green, grassy Sauvignon Blanc of New Zealand. Not that it’s bad – it’s just not my preference. Shockingly, the Sauvignon Blanc was one of my favorite wines of the night. Fermented in all stainless steel, this one showed nice smooth citrus, with balanced acidity that didn’t make me feel like I was sucking on lemons or eating the grass from my front lawn. But it still had enough acidity to be food friendly. And it absolutely shined with the salmon ceviche. I’m seriously in love with this wine.

The Carneros Pinot Noir was nice, but nothing I’d swoon over. I’ve long enjoyed Carneros Pinot even before really delving into Russian River and Central Coast Pinot and while this one was fine, there are certainly other Carneros Pinots I’d reach for before this one. The Merlot, on the other hand, was quite lovely. A beautiful, deep burgundy in the glass, this one offered up black cherry jam and a hint of baking spice. It was really a nice wine and was fabulous with the lamb croquette.

After the three appetizers, it was time for some small entrees.

First up was the 2015 Carneros Chardonnay which was paired with seared sea scallops and a pea purée. So, OK I’m not really into oaked Chardonnay. I’m just not. But my dining companion The Drunken Diva is a big fan of buttery, oaky Chard and totally dug this one. So if you’re into this style of Chardonnay, give it a swirl.

Probably my favorite wine (just edging out the Sauv Blanc) was the 2013 Family Reserve Generations Estate Red Blend, which was predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon but also had small amounts of Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Verdot blended in. Bold with silky, integrated tannins, dark fruit, and a hint of smoke, this one was made for red meat. It was paired with a seared New York strip with a balsamic peppercorn reduction and arugula and tomato salad. Dee-licious!

The final wine was the 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon alongside a blackberry torte which was layered with lemon sable, pistachio sponge cake, and blackberry jelly. The dessert was almost too pretty to eat. Almost. And while this one was paired with dessert, it too would be mighty fine with a juicy steak. This was a classic, well-made Napa Cab with black fruit, mocha, and a touch of pepper. Medium plus tannins and medium acidity made it quite approachable. It would be hard to go wrong with this one.

Wines Tasted:

2016 St. Helena Sauvignon Blanc ($18)
2014 Carneros Pinot Noir ($28)
2013 Napa Valley Estate Merlot ($25)
2015 Carneros Chardonnay ($20)
2013 Family Reserve Generations Estate Red Blend ($60)
2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($32)

*Le Bistro is a restaurant concept that doubles as a training environment for chef-students located in the heart of the famed LeNôtre™ Culinary Institute. The premier restaurant offers a unique experience where guests can not only enjoy a premium meal but also interact with the students in action.

Open five days a week, Le Bistro is located in the heart of Culinary Institute LeNôtre at 7070 Allensby St., Houston, TX 77022. The restaurant is open for lunch Tuesday-Friday from 11am-3pm, and takeout from 10am-2pm. Dinner hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 5:30-9pm and Friday-Saturday from 5:30-10pm. 

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