Now that harvest is over, I think back on many wonderful moments that took place during this time. One in particular is a dinner in the vineyard.
Dining among the vines blends agriculture, cuisine and camaraderie in an idyllic setting. For me that setting was an Albariño vineyard in Victor, California. Located on the outskirts of Lodi, the vineyard is an estate property owned and operated by Bokisch Vineyards.
This wasn’t just any dinner. It was a gastronomical and cultural “trip to Spain.” The hosts, winemaker-grape grower Markus Bokisch and his wife and business partner Liz, have been putting on this event for five years. The Albariño vineyard was their first block, which they planted in their backyard in 1999.
I had salivated over the thought of attending this for some time. So, I treated myself for my birthday and was joined by my friend Susan. Shortly after arriving around 6 p.m., we were greeted with our choice of a red or white Sangria.
I chose the Albariño Sangria made from Bokisch Albariño and infused with fresh oranges, lemons, limes, sugar and Gin. It was late August and, as is typical for this area, hot. Susan and I had visited some other Lodi wineries earlier in the day, so the Sangria was a refreshing and tasty palate cleanser.
We moved about the backyard, meeting new people. The venue comfortably accommodated 50 guests, give or take, with plenty of room for exploring the intimate vegetable garden, relaxing by the quaint pond, or finding shade beneath the canopy of tall trees that served as the hub for “cocktail” conversation.
An array of vibrant, delicate Spanish hand fans decorated a nearby table. After chatting with Liz, she encouraged us to take one home. On a prior trip to Spain, she and Markus (they often visit Spain because of Markus’ family heritage) had purchased a number of hand-made fans to give to the female guests that evening. After dinner, she would demonstrate how in the past Spanish ladies would use the fans to communicate their intentions to potential suitors.
For now, though, it was time to dine. A trail of red rose petals led guests to the dinner table, which was dressed in white linen tablecloths with red linen napkins. A number of rose bouquets arranged in small Mason jars trailed down the center. White paper lanterns suspended from a lightweight structure that arched over the table swung lightly in the delicate delta breeze.
Once seated, we made our introductions to neighboring diners as our appetizers approached. Our five-course meal plus desert was prepared by Executive Chef Ruben Larrazolo, of Alebrijes Mexican Bistro. Each dish was paired with a Bokisch varietal.
For our first course (plato), we noshed on a selection of Barcelona-inspired appetizers, called Montaditos, made by Liz and her mother Jane. In particular, the smoked trout pâté with shaved cucumber and dill, and the Sherry-marinated figs on aged goat cheese dazzled my taste buds. The Montaditos were paired with the 2012 Dry Rosado from Belle Colline Vineyard. Deep crimson, this vintage is a blend of Barbera, Albariño and Graciano. The result is a Rosé bursting with bold, luscious flavors of cranberries and pomegranates.
Following the appetizers was a Barcelona-style gazpacho with celery sorbet, paired with the 2012 Albariño from Las Cerezas Vineyard. The wine’s tropical, rich flavors are a definite reflection of the terroir.
Our third plato was Ensalada de Arvada with orange wedges, goat cheese and almonds in a tangy vinaigrette. Citrus flavors in the salad highlighted those of the 2012 Verdelho, from Vista Luna Vineyard. Verdelho is a Portuguese variety that hails from the islands of Madeira and the Azores. In addition to citrus, this varietal is known for its melon and stone fruit flavors. In its second year of production, the 2012 Bokisch Verdelho expresses flavors and aromas of green apple, kiwi and honeydew.
After the refreshing salad and Verdelho came a crispy duck breast topped with a fig salsa and served with wild rice. The dish was paired with the 2011 Tempranillo from two vineyards: Las Cerezas and Liberty Oaks. Aromas of cedar, cherries and licorice entice the nose, followed by a soft mouthfeel with plum and blackberry flavors.
A succulent lamb served with piquillo peppers and roasted potatoes in a red, white and green aioli came next. The dish was paired with the 2011 Graciano from both the Las Cerezas and Terra Alta Vineyards. Graciano, which hails from Rioja Spain, is a zesty wine with flavors of blueberry and exotic spices that stand up to a variety of meat dishes.
Throughout dinner, guitarist Jesse Hendricks serenaded us with classical Spanish music, which could be heard despite the exuberance of the guests. Our end of the table, in particular, boasted a lively group of locals who spilled tales on living “large” in Lodi. Common among their stories was a true sense of community.
As dinner began to wind down, a number of strange looking wine bottles, called “porróns,” were brought to the table. A porrón is a small decanter of sorts that resembles a watering can with spout. The top is narrow and can be sealed off with a cork.
Porróns are common in certain regions of Spain, such as Catalonia. Drinking from a porrón requires skill. If you are a beginner, like me, don’t wear white. Fortunately I was sitting next to Markus throughout dinner and so he walked me through the ritual.
Here’s how it’s done: Bring the spout close to your mouth and tilt it forward slowly so that the tip of the spout points toward your mouth. Once the wine starts flowing out, pull the porrón away from your face while looking up. To finish drinking, pull and lower the porrón, bringing it back down and closer to your mouth before stopping—quickly tilting the spout up at the last moment to avoid spillage.
Sound like instructions for a yoga position? Actually, yoga is much easier, even for a beginner. Mastering the porrón, however, takes time—and nerve. A seasoned pro like Markus can start and stop drinking from the porrón with the spout held at a distance without spilling a drop.
I watched as this intimidating little contraption circled the table, landing in the hands of mainly veteran users. By the time it got to me, the pressure had mounted. I resisted at first, but I didn’t want to insult Markus who was playfully egging me on. So, in the name of fun, I imbibed. The idea of spilling wine down my chin and neck was too much, so I chickened out by shortchanging myself on the pull-away. Even so, I still dribbled wine down, need I say, my cleavage.
At least my efforts were appreciated. The table erupted in hoots and hollers as I passed the porrón to the next victim. Having consumed my share of wine that evening, I was looking forward to coffee and a moment to digest before desert—a rich Crema Catalana de Xocolate (similar to a crème brûlée) paired with a Bokisch Solera Sherry. Solera is a system of blending casks that hold wines of different ages.
While enjoying our decadent desert, Liz showed guests a few ways that a lady can express herself to a gentleman using the Spanish fan: If a woman carries the fan closed and hangs it from her left hand, this means that she wants a boyfriend. Resting the opened fan close to her heart means, “I love you.” Resting the fan open over her lips means, “Don’t doubt me.”
There is no doubt that I will be carrying my fan closed and hanging from my left hand as I look not only for a suitor, but also for my next dinner in the vineyard.