I could not think of a better way for Sal Ercolano, owner of Flora Bar and Kitchen to kick off this year’s wine dinner series than with Paso Robles’ powerhouse Daou Family Estates.
Taste of Wine was excited to attend one of the two sold-out nights, especially after seeing that Daou’s flagship “Soul of a Lion” was one of the wines being served. Daniel Brunner, Daou’s division manager for California and Hawaii, narrated the evening. Additionally, Roman Palumbo, Daou’s business development manager for SoCal, was visiting tables to provide information and answer questions.
At the start, Brunner asked how many guests heard of Daou or had visited the winery, and almost every hand went up. Brunner said four years ago when he would ask these questions there were significantly fewer hands in the air.
At the core of Daou’s meteoric rise in the wine industry are proprietors and brothers, Daniel and Georges Daou. Daniel is the winemaker, while Georges oversees Daou’s business. The brothers’ love and passion for wine excellence are unmatched and extend throughout Daou Family Estates.
The first challenge facing the brothers was a terroir. They found a mountain in Paso Robles’ Adelaida district, on what is now called Daou Mountain. At an elevation of 2,200 feet and 14 miles from the ocean with calcareous soil matching Bordeaux and the climate of Napa Valley, they found the perfect spot.
“My purpose is to create a pure expression of this terroir-to allow this Mountain to speak through the wines that come from it,” Daniel once said.
In addition to terroir, master winemaker Daniel cultivated hundreds of native yeasts from Daou Mountain. He isolated one that creates superior wines thriving in higher-temperature fermentation and provides superior color stabilization.
Using his native yeasts, Daniel has been able to achieve phenolics, a way for measuring color, at 230+ parts per million (ppm) for “Soul of a Lion.” This is compared to 130-200 ppm (parts per million), the typical number for Bordeaux-style cabernet sauvignons, and a whopping 300 to 400-plus ppm for Daou’s top-shelf “Patrimony” collection.
During the wine dinner, Brunner shared other differentiators contributing to Daou’s excellence for their flagship, “Soul of a Lion.”
These include: (1) using oak barrels made from finer grain French bois rosewood imparting texture, spice, and softer tannins along with controlling fermentation (2) night-harvesting and use of optical sorters taking 2,000 pictures a sec to separate out non-conforming berries (3) 100% free-run juice, nothing is pressed and (4) 22-month barrel aging.
These impressive techniques led to a 96-point Robert Parker score. Guests were able to savor “Soul” paired with Chef Hilario’s slow-braised wild boar osso bucco and polenta as the main course. Everything else during the dinner was a bonus!
Speaking of dinner, I would be remiss if I didn’t share the rest of the over-the-top menu and wines. Dinner started with Chef’s mini bites along with sauvignon blanc, which would also be perfect for fruits and cheeses or a warm afternoon leading into dinner.
The first course was a blue crab croquette with baby arugula salad paired with one of two newer Daou wines. The first is a white version of “The Bodyguard,” a 100% chardonnay with crisp minerality, a palate of pear and apple, and a creamy mouthfeel from 10 months of aging in a combination of French (30%), American (30%), and Neutral French (40%) oak barrels.
“The Bodyguard” series is dedicated to the Daou brother’s mother Marie who protected the boys when an errant missile blasted into their home in Lebanon.
The second course, ravioli con funghi, featuring homemade short rib ravioli with wild porcini mushrooms, was paired with “Bodyguard Red.” I am always impressed by Daniel Daou’s winemaking skills. I enjoyed the silky tannins he achieved with the “Bodyguard Red,” a bold blend of petit verdot and petite sirah that he refers to as “approachable luxury.”
After the osso bucco and “Soul” main course, the evening concluded with Torta Caprese, flourless chocolate almond cake, paired with the second newest Daou wine of the evening, 2019 “Sequentis” (meaning next) merlot.
The next-gen merlot had rich opaque color and legs with black cherry and plum on the nose and palate. Spending 20 months in 50% new French oak imparted oak with spice on the finish with balance, structure, and boldness.
In closing, the Paso region thought Daniel Daou was crazy planting cabernet sauvignon in a region dominated by zinfandel and Rhone varietals.
However, Daou has put Paso Robles on the world wine map with “Soul of a Lion” competing with Napa Valley blue-chip wines, further transforming Paso with “Patrimony” and the building of Patrimony Estates. To date, Daou has racked up over 400 wine scores that are 90 points or better. Great dinner Ercolano, Chef Hilario, and Daou Team. More info at daouvineyards.com.
— Did you miss Flora’s Daou wine dinner? Metl Bar Creamery & Cafe in San Diego (North Park) has you covered. The restaurant is hosting a five-course Daou wine dinner prepared by Chef Erin Sealy from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 11, just in time for Valentine’s Day. The main course features Soul of a Lion paired with lamb shank osso bucco. Expect a fabulous evening of wine, food and educational insights by Daou’s Roman Palumbo. The cost is $100 per person plus tax and an 18% gratuity. RSVP at (619) 823-3541.
— Join Bellante Family Winery in Mission Viejo for their Rhone Red Release party from 12 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 6. Bellante will be releasing eight 2019 Rhone Reds (grenache, mourvedre, GSM, and five syrahs). Live music by Brandon Wildish and food by Magilla’s BBQ. The cost is $65 for the general public, $52 for non-Rhone Red Club members, and free for Rhone Red Club members (up to 2 people). RSVP at bellantefamilywinery.com/events or (949) 716-6677.
Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Frank and Rico are two of the leading commentators on the web. View their columns at The Coast News or tasteofwineandfood.com. Reach them at [email protected]