Food meets wine: Tess’ Chef’s Table and Solune Winegrowers

FOOD AND WINE ARE ageless companions, and two masters of marrying the two in a sophisticated yet approachable style are accomplished locals.

Meet Tess’ Kitchen Store in-house chef Alan Tangren, who worked at the venerable Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley for 22 years, and Solune Winegrowers’ owner-winemaker Jacques Mercier, an experienced vintner who has judged regularly at the prestigious Vinalies Internationales wine competition in Paris, among others.

Though an estimated 25 percent of Americans drink wine without a meal, Alan and Jacques are dedicated food-and-wine enthusiasts. “We’re both very interested in food-and-wine pairings,” says Jacques. “Alan suggests a dish, and we discuss what kind of wine should go with it.”

“I love his wines,” adds Alan about Jacque’s winemaking expertise. “They’re just the right balance of fruit to go with a meal.”

As an added convenience, Jacques and Alan are neighbors in bucolic Chicago Park, southeast of Grass Valley. The area along Hwy. 174, or the Colfax Hwy., is home to the famed 49er Fruit Trail, dotted with family farms such as Bierwagen’s Donner Fruit Trail and Dinner Bell Farm, and wineries such as Solune and Montoliva Vineyards.

Alan, who spent his summers as a youth on the Bierwagen’s farm, and Jacques, who has planted a vineyard nearby, met some years ago over wine. Alan is a home winemaker and Jacques has been a regular advisor when it comes to growing and harvesting the farm’s half acre of old-vine Syrah grapes.

Now they are good friends and epitomize the food and wine collaboration in our region. The most enjoyable result of their food-and-wine pairing talents is experienced at Chef’s Table, a popular monthly cooking series in the restaurant-quality kitchen at Tess’ Kitchen Store in Grass Valley. The setting is redolent of sitting at a chef’s table in a restaurant kitchen, such as The Kitchen Restaurant in Sacramento. Under owner Steve Rosenthal, Tess’ is becoming a regional hub to make you a better cook.

At Chef’s Table, a dozen guests gather around the kitchen at Tess’ while Chef Alan prepares a six-course themed menu paired with wines. Throughout the meal, Alan provides expert cooking advice in a friendly, approachable style. Alan’s dinner includes some of Chez Panisse’s touches, such as servings of fresh fruit at the table after dinner.

Our Chef’s Table dinner experience included pan-fried Maryland soft shell crab with Thai green papaya salad and hot chilies, paired with a 2013 Solune Barbera Rosé. For dessert, a raspberry soufflé was paired with Solune’s P.O.S.H. Port.

Alan also enjoys pairing his menu with Solune’s Pandora No. 2, a blend of Chardonnay, from the 35-year-old Jewett Vineyard next door and Jacques’ own estate vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Alan likes to pair Solune’s Cabernet Franc with duck. “Jacques’ wines go in so many culinary directions,” he says.

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