Carrots and Viognier: The French Laundry

Our first commercial release was from the 2001 vintage. We made a whopping 400 cases. I went out in 2003 to sell them and was lucky to be able to land an appointment at The French Laundry in Yountville. It was Bobby Stuckey’s last day as the wine director as he was off to become one of the most impressive restaurateurs in the country, opening his pitch-perfect restaurant, Frasca, in Boulder, CO. His successor was another Master Sommelier, Paul Roberts from Texas, who took the tasting appointment. Paul tasted through my wines, looked at me and said, “Your wines taste like they come from somewhere in the mid-Atlantic.” I started to stammer and panic. I had just spent seven years pitchforking money into a vineyard in an unknown region of the Sonoma Coast and a Master Sommelier from one of the most highly regarded restaurants in the world just told me I make wines that taste like they come from Virginia or the Carolinas. Ack! He then explained, “What I mean is the structure—acidity, density of fruit, and tannins—and some of the secondary aromas of limestone minerality and forest floor earthiness taste like Old World wines. But, there is a definite brightness to the fruit that leads me to the West Coast of the United States. So, stylistically, your wines fall somewhere in between, like the Atlantic Ocean.” Good gods. Phew! Paul then asked if I would bottle wines in magnums and half bottles for The French Laundry program and, of course, I said, “absolutely” and off we went.
Full circle. This past spring I poured for the current head sommelier at The French Laundry, Erik Johnson, and sommelier Bryan McCall. Together, they selected a few wines for the list. A month or so later, I received an email from Erik asking to buy sixteeen or more cases of the 2017 Viognier! As we only make around 100 cases, this took quite a bite and sold out my remaining inventory. But, hey, this is The French Laundry, so I said, “yes, you bet, woo hoo, ahem, sure.” I was curious about the anticipated pairing and asked Bryan what dish the Viognier was likely to be paired with on the Chef’s Tasting or Tasting of Vegetables menu. He explained that the menu is ever-changing, varying each night according to their culinary garden’s harvest and, as such, pairings are based on a conversation with each guest.  Bryan mentioned though that he prefers it with butter poached lobster or coconut Thai curry dishes. Since then, I attempted the sinfully delicious butter poached lobster dish from The French Laundry Cookbook. It takes all day (two even) and an unbelievable amount of butter, so I decided not to select that specific recipe for the newsletter. Rather, I’m sharing a recipe that The French Laundry culinary team prepares for Family Meal – eat your heart out my industry friends forking spaghetti for Family Meal. It’s a perfect pairing. Carrots are a well-suited foil for Viognier, even the big, oily, fruit bomb and oak-inflected Viogniers—which, to be clear, is decidedly not what our Viognier tastes like. But, still, there is something about the earthy and sweet quality of carrots that just works with the Viognier grape regardless of its style. See for yourself.
And, in case you have not eaten at The French Laundry yet, it turns 25 on July 6th. I recommend you stop in on your next visit to California to try the carrots in situ. And, while you’re at, don’t miss the butter poached lobster.  Happy silver anniversary TFL and thank you for sharing this recipe. 
To Prepare:
This very simple dish that can be served warm or chilled on a warm summer night. Start with small tender carrots, preferably something from your local Farmer’s Market. Chop the majority of the tops off leaving 1-2 inches for visual appeal. Cover the bottom of a pan with lightly salted water and add a few splashes of good extra-virgin olive oil. Bring that to a simmer and then add the carrots. Transfer the pan to a warm, but not hot oven, about 375 degrees should be good. You don’t want to color or caramelize the carrots, you just want them to be tender. Meanwhile, prepare the dressing. This can be made in any quantity and the extra dressing reserved for future use. In a big mixing bowl whisk together a 1/2 cup good extra-virgin olive oil, a spoonful of Dijon mustard, a spoonful of honey, and chopped fresh dill. Once the carrots are fork-tender but not falling apart, remove them from the oven and let them cool slightly. Transfer them to the mixing bowl once they are cool enough to handle and toss them in the honey mustard. Adjust the seasoning to your taste and allow them to chill in the refrigerator until cool, but not totally cold. Serve as is or with thinly sliced sirloin or chicken and a glass of Peay Viognier!

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