December Dinner

The December dinner was a particularly special event. Not only was it baby Molly’s first Christmas, but it was the first of our “blogworthy” events that Cathy was able to be a full participant in since she was no longer pregnant.

In celebration, we decided to pull out all the stops in both the food and wine departments. The menu was an old reliable one that we have used several times before (From the December 1996 issue of Bon Appétit magazine) but keep coming back to:

The Food

Herb Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Wine and Shallot Sauce

Goat Cheese Potatoes au’Gratine

White Wine Steamed Broccoli with Butter

Crescent Rolls (Pillsbury, why mess with awesome?)

Honey and White Chocolate Nougat with Fig and Raspberry Sauce and Chocolate Sauce.

The Wine

2010 Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon- Napa Valley

1995 Ravenswood Icon Red Blend- Sonoma County

2007 Ravenswood Single Vineyard Belloni Zinfandel – Russian River Valley

1983 Grahams Vintage Port

The Process

We started cooking on Christmas Eve. The herb crust for the Tenderloin, as well as the Sauce needed to be done the night before to allow for the flavors to develop.  In addition, there was work to be done on Christmas Breakfast (Wine poached eggs with a sauce made from the poaching liquid, we will talk about that another time).

Mr.Dr. proved that he is far craftier than I am by proclaiming that I was very good at sauces so I should make the sauce and herb crust for the dinner while he worked on the breakfast preparations. I quickly realized that both the sauce and the herb crust required extraordinary amounts of chopped fresh thyme. I swear I was stripping and chopping thyme leaves for an hour….

The shallots chosen for the Sauce and Crust were highly refined and weapons grade. They left me weeping in the corner after chopping them, but lent extraordinary flavor.  As I put the sauce together, we realized that the recipe we were using did not call for a thickening agent. We decided to let it sit over night and develop, then make a roux and add it while the roast rested right before serving.

After Mr.Dr. finished the breakfast prep, he turned his attention to the Nougat. Virtually everything but assembly was done Christmas Eve. The Nougat is a frozen desert done terrine style in a bread pan. After packing it into the freezer, he assembled the two sauces -a chunky raspberry and fig sauce as well as a chocolate one- and we retired for our long winter nap.

The next day, the kitchen work was very manageable. The gratin potatoes were the most work intensive thing left to do, everything else just had to be cooked or warmed up. It was fairly easy to time the dinner so everything was warm and done at the same time.

We set the table, decanted the Cask 23, and rang the dinner bell.

The Analysis

The food was fantastic. That was no surprise since we have done that menu before and it is an old favorite. The tenderloin and sauce are the single most requested main course in the family.

The only experiment we did as far as food goes is using white wine instead of water to steam the broccoli. I did not notice a difference and thought it was a waste of the wine, but both Cathy and Mom found it added some sweetness to the broccoli.

Moving on to the wine pairings, the Cask 23 was very good, but it went best with the beef (shocking, I know) leaving something to be desired when eaten with the potatoes. There is a certain flavor and smell to wine that comes from the Stag’s Leap District in general that seemed to clash slightly with the goat cheese. It wasn’t exactly a negative pairing, but it was neutral at best.

After the Cask 23 was spent, we moved on to the Icon. This wine proved to be a huge disappointment. We had a bottle of 2011 Icon the week before during an impromptu dinner at my house after our daughter was born and it was phenomenal. It was well balanced with strong fruit and a good spice. Given the quality of the 2011 bottle, our expectations for the ’95 were sky high.

Sadly, the bottle was dead. The fruit was almost gone, leaving nothing but raisin, oak, and acid behind. We took a few hopeful sips after the first in case it opened up, but to no avail.

Mr. Dr. was unwilling to let the reputation of Ravenswood be long tarnished, even among such fervent Ravenswood supporters as we are. A mere quarter turn and two steps and he was looking through a three pack of Belloni zinfandel that just arrived the week before, a 1996, 2007, and 2011. He selected the 2007 and poured.

The 2007 started very tight, but after about 5 minutes, it opened up nicely. I have noticed that while the Belloni zinfandel from Ravenswood is quite good on it’s own, it really shines with food. There was nothing on the table that was not improved with the addition of the Belloni, and in return, the Belloni improved with each bite.

With diner done, it was time for dessert.  I was particularly excited about this course for two reasons; first, I had not had the nougat before and was looking forward to it. Secondly, I had been saving the Grahams Vintage Port for some time now and was eager to see how it aged.

Both the Nougat and the Port were fantastic. The Nougat was creamy and light, the figs and raspberries were cooked to perfection and all the flavors melded perfectly with the Port. The Port was drinking very well. It was difficult to decant, but with a few extremely fine sieves and a steady hand on the pour, it was manageable.

The Recipes

The Beef Tenderloin and Shallot Sauce, as well as the Goat Cheese Potatoes and Nougat are from the December 1996 issue of Bon Appétit magazine, Elegant French Country Christmas menu. The recipes can be found here:




The Wine (again)

2010 Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cask 23 Cabernet Sauvignon- Napa Valley

2010 was a year that proved you should never judge the end by the beginning. It was slow to start, with heavy spring rains and a cool summer. A summer long on sweaters and short on, well, shorts. The “normal” start of the harvest season was delayed by two to three weeks in most vineyards. Mother Nature brought us a heat spell in late August, followed by another which, after a much longer time on the vine than in most years, resulted in a rather compact harvest with white and red grapes coming in from the vineyards in tight succession. The slow grape maturity of the 2010 vintage aptly suited our Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars house style, creating wines of elegance with great extraction and fuller flavors.



1995 Ravenswood Icon Red Blend- Sonoma County

A GSM blend with smoky bright fruit. Round and full-flavored with a long, silky finish. Very pretty. If you are a fan of library wines this is an excellent example of a wine aged to perfection!

– From the Ravenswood Website


2007 Ravenswood Single Vineyard Belloni Zinfandel – Russian River Valley

The 2007 Belloni is characterized by particularly dark opaque color and a rich boysenberry, candied cherry, mocha flavor—characteristics achieved by the cofermentation of Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Sirah, and Alicante Bouchet grapes. Seemingly sweet, this wine is very round and full with lots of boysenberry, blackberry, and blueberry hints to it. The nice cool climate acidity gives the wine a good balance and structure. Enjoy its long, elegant, spicy finish that fills the palate beautifully.

– Joel Peterson


1983 Grahams Vintage Port

An outstanding vintage producing very muscular wines. Some shippers opted for 1982 however it would seem that 1983 has turned out to be the better wine. Stylish, big with good balance of fruit and tannin.

– Winemakers Notes


Leave a reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>