WHAT: Two of my favorite pastimes are reading and drinking wine. It is especially nice when I can combine the two. So to get a jump on World Book Day on Saturday, I sipped this wine while reading Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. The grapes come from a vineyard on the ranch once owned by London, who died 100 years ago.
London wrote many thrilling adventure stories, which I loved to read when I was growing up. He used the income from his writing success to buy a ranch on the slopes of Sonoma Mountain. Kenwood Vineyards now buys world-class grapes grown on the site of the ranch.
Kenwood specializes in single-vineyard, small-lot wines, and the cabernet sauvignon is one of their best. Wonderful aromas of black cherry and mint pour out of the glass before you can take your first sip. On the palate you get layers of rich fruit such as cherry, plum, currants and chocolate. It has a rich mouthfeel, elegant and smooth, backed by powerful tannins that carry everything to a long, pleasant finish. While this is a powerful wine, it is not at all intimidating and ready for any occasion.
The grapes are grown midway up the steep side of Sonoma Mountain where the red volcanic soil, warm morning sun and cooling afternoon breezes allow the vines to thrive. The cabernet sauvignon vines are divided into 16 small blocks to allow each area to receive tailored care.
The blocks are picked separately as they ripen and kept separate in the winery through maceration, fermentation and aging. The best barrels are then blended into the final wine, which is 99 percent cabernet sauvignon and one percent syrah.
I would open this wine an hour ahead of drinking it. It will continue to get better in the glass. You should be able to keep this wine safely in the cellar for a decade.
The Jack London series features a distinctive label with a drawing of a wolf’s head in a circle, which became London’s logo after the huge success he had with The Call of the Wild. It almost looks like Buck, the hero of the book.
In case you don’t know the story, Buck is a California pet who is kidnapped and brought to Alaska to pull sleds during the Klondike Gold Rush. Buck adapts, sheds the veneer of civilization and, using the ingrained instincts of his ancestors, becomes an unquestioned leader in the wilds of Alaska.
WINERY: Kenwood Vineyards has been a mainstay in the heart of the Sonoma Valley since 1970, when it moved into the former Pagani Brothers Winery. It is a historic property, with a cellar dating back to 1906.
In addition to owning 23 acres surrounding the winery, Kenwood buys grapes from dozens of vineyards. Kenwood has an exclusive agreement to buy grapes from the neighboring Jack London vineyard, which is owned by his descendants. Some of the London ranch was donated to the state for Jack London State Park.
The Kenwood cellar has been modernized and now has more than 125 stainless steel fermenting tanks and large oak upright containers. The winery also has 17,000 small French and American oak barrels. All of this supports Kenwood’s small-lot style of winemaking.
The winery sources grapes from Sonoma County’s best appellations, including Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Mountain. This promotes many small lots of wine, but also allows the winemakers to make many choices when creating blends.
They have several tiers of wines: Artist, Single Vineyard, Six Ridges, Sonoma, Reserve, Jack London Vineyard and Yulupa (which is available only to restaurants and includes a sparkling wine).
GOES WITH: We had this with creamy tomato basil soup, a smooth, hearty soup loaded with complex flavors, much like the wine. I make soup that we serve after a Wednesday noon church service, and this is the most requested soup.
There’s something about the way the tomatoes, basil and sauteed shallots blend that makes the soup irresistible. I add croutons, paprika and grated Italian cheese when serving.
The rich fruit flavors of the wine are a good pairing to the tomatoes’ acidity and the richness of the heavy cream that is in the soup.
This wine also would pair well with hearty main dishes, including steak, lamb, duck, wild game and other roasted meats. You could also serve it with strong cheeses such as aged Gouda or Gorgonzola.
CREAMY TOMATO BASIL SOUP
3¾ Tbsp. butter
5 shallots, chopped
7½ garlic cloves, minced
3 (14 oz.) cans of beef broth
2 cups fresh basil leaves, julienned
3 (28 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
5 tsp. sugar
2½ cups heavy cream
Melt butter over medium heat in a heavy stockpot. Add shallots and garlic and cook until transparent, but not browned. Add beef broth, basil, sugar and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Puree batches in a food processor or blender. Bring to room temperature, then refrigerate at least two hours. When ready to serve, stir in heavy cream and heat over medium heat. Garnish with freshly ground black pepper, paprika and grated Romano cheese. Serve with garlic croutons or garlic bread. Serves 10.