Arista and Lakewood: A Food/Wine Experience

Mark graciously poses with our table

Earlier this year, I had a chance to sit down with Mark McWilliams, owner and winemaker at Arista Winery in Sonoma.  Since Mark and his family have Texas roots and a house in Richardson, I asked him if he’d be willing to host a dinner at Lakewood Country Club, and he immediately said yes.

wrote earlier  that his family took the plunge in the early 90’s with the purchase of land in Sonoma and the relocation of the family from Texas.  They partnered with a vineyard management company and other experts to put together a team and for about ten years the family sold to their grapes to wineries –  some very established ones.

After college, and at the urging of his father to try out the family business during harvest, Mark had his wine epiphany moment when he was walking with the wine makers of La Crema and realized he understood what they were talking about.  From that moment on, he knew what he wanted to do with his life.  He joked that he’s continued that summer job for the last 12 years.  In 2002, they started making their own wine and soon received a cease and desist letter from Gallo’s McWilliams Winery.  The name was changed to Arista, the Greek word for excellence.

The first vintage was 500 cases of three Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs.  Today they make 5,000 cases including 14 pinot noirs, 2 zinfandels, 1 gewürztraminer and 3 chardonnays.  Ninety percent of the wines are sold direct from the winery. 

Back to the dinner – below are the wine and food pairings created by William Koval, the talented executive chef of Lakewood Country Club:

First Course:

Roasted Butternut Squash and Brown Sugar Soup with Warm Stone Crab, Ricotta, Mascarpone, Pasta paired with the 2010 El Diablo Vineyard Chardonnay.  A very well balanced, Burgundian style wine with citrus notes.  A match made in heaven.

Second Course:

Seared Fresh Shucked Sea Scallop, Cauliflower Puree, Chanterelles and Chicken Jus with Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, a non-vintage pinot with notes of black cherry, cranberry and raspberry.  Another great pairing.

Third Course:

Berkshire Pork Tenderloin with Bacon, Sage, Sweet Potato, Fresh Marshmallow, Brussels Sprouts and Cranberry Pinot Sauce (I had lamb due to my pork allergy) paired with the 2010 Mononi Vineyards.  This site, which was purchased from Merry Edwards, was the most elegant with soft fruit, five spice and a great balance. 

Fourth Course

A cheese course of Cottonwood River Cheddar, Montelarreina, Tournevent Chevre Noir and La Tur paired with a 2010 Smokey Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley.  The wine had notes of blackberry, blueberry, pine and pepper.  Incredible and only 16 barrels exist of this wine.

When I talked to Mark in June about his wines, he said, “I want them to stop you and get your attention. I want to make wines that take people on a continuum of what they first drank and the evolution of their palate.”   The sensory experience of the food and wine this evening was another reinforcement that Arista is reaching this goal.