Asking Eric Dudley of Dudley’s Wine & Gifts, “What is the most important wine in your shop right now?” is like asking him, “Which one of your children to you love best?” For Eric, the simple answer is, “Whichever wine I am sharing with friends at the moment.” You see, while Eric knows a lot about world class wines and loves to drink them, he knows it’s not really about the bottle; it’s about the people.
Dudley’s Wine & Gifts aims to feel like home, so Eric and his wife Christina decided to open up their own beautiful home to a few media friends so that we could really get to know one another and sample some of his favorite bottles. The Dudley’s host regular wine dinners for a group of their friends, and this seemed the perfect setting to showcase a variety of wines from the shop. Chef Max Manrique designed the menu and prepared an amazing meal for us. A classically trained French Chef and former restaurant owner, Max currently oversees 12 Convalescent and Assisted Living facilities where he focuses on training cooks and managers to meet the nutritional needs of the senior population. Cooking for friends like the Dudley’s gives him an outlet for his creative side, and we were more than happy to enjoy his
As we arrived, the Dudley’s greeted us warmly with a glass of Windstream 2007 Chardonnay and introduced us to one another. You will find this same hospitality at the shop, as they aim to make strangers into friends. They find that singles come by often because they know they will feel at ease. Even if they do not know a soul in the place when they arrive, they will leave with friends.
The evening began with Chef Max’s amazing canapes: creamy artichoke with sundried tomato, and shrimp with caviar marinated in chipotle chili mango dressing. The two were a wonderful compliment to one another. The buttery taste and creamy texture of the artichoke canape was rich in contrast to the bright, sweet-and-spiciness of the shrimp canape. Both paired beautifully with Eric’s choice of wine: the Nicholas Feuillatte Brut Réserve Champagne. While we savored our first course, Eric entertained us with the story behind the bottle. Not just a wine lover, he is an avid history buff as well – a perfect combination as wine is deep with history. Although he is working towards sommelier certification, it is not the composition of the soil or photosynthesis that fascinates Eric. It is the stories of the people who create the wine, drink the wine, and die for the wine that really get him excited. The story of the champagne features the infamous Napoleon and the battle of Waterloo . . . you will just have to swing by Dudley’s to hear the whole tale because Eric tells it much better than I ever could.
The second course was Salad de Beatvies: mixed baby greens with comte cheese, walnuts, roasted red beets and walnut oil vinaigrette. Chef Max is a genius because I have never met a beet that I enjoyed, and this salad was incredible. The roasting process completely changed the flavor profile, and the walnut oil brought a very unique note to the plate. Perfectly paired with one of Dudley’s more affordable selections: 2008 Roc de Châteauvieux Vouvray, a Chenin Blanc based wine which offered bright notes to balance the roasty, toasty nature of the salad. Eric makes a point to offer some truly special wines at the shop, but he knows that 95% of us want to drink really great wine everyday without breaking the bank. As such, the majority of the wines at Dudley’s Wine and Gifts are rated at 90 points or higher, but cost between $15 and $40. With that said, the bargain hunter will be able to find some great wines for a steal right next to the special occasion wines.
Our main course was a highlight which I am now driven to recreate. I doubt I will ever be able to do it justice, but I am featuring the recipe for Chateaubriand as prepared by Chef Max: the most tender piece of beef served with béarnaise sauce, glazed carrots and truly the best mashed potatoes I have ever had. A decanted bottle of 2006 Chateau Franc La Rose St.-Émilion Grand Cru complimented this incredible entree to perfection. While dining, we enjoyed lively discussion on corks vs. screw tops, really great wine vs. name brand wine, and the use of video in media vs. the written word. Highly intelligent, yet extremely personable, Eric kept us all engaged and laughing. His wife Christina is warm and wonderful as well, and we bonded over kids, work and life.
I am a bit of a crême brûlée snob, so I was thrilled that Chef Max chose what I consider the ultimate dessert to complete our meal. Of course, the custard was unbelievably creamy and the sugar crust cracked just right. Topped with just a touch of Seven Deadly Zins chocolate sauce, it was heavenly bite after bite. Eric was inspired to pair this with a Hunter Valley Margan 2006 Botrytis Semillon. The wine was sweet but not cloying, and a wonderful companion to the dessert. Our very own Tom Plant brought along a bottle of Rotta Black Monukka Dessert Wine as well, so Eric charged his typical “corkage fee” (a taste of the wine) and we all enjoyed the bottle together.
As our evening came to a close, I knew that I would be drawn to Dudley’s Wine & Gifts time and again. The wide selection and welcoming atmosphere are second only to the amazing owners whose passion for wine and people are evident in everything they do. Though world travelers, Eric and Christina have chosen the Temecula Valley as their home and aim to make us all part of the family.
Dudley’s Wine & Gifts offers tastings every week from Wednesday through Sunday starting at 5:30 pm. They love a good theme and especially favor blind tastings because blind tasting will strip away all preconceived notions and allow the drinker to rely on palate alone to decide what they like. On any given weekend, Chef Max can be found hanging around the wine bar and will often bring appetizers along with him if he is so inspired.
You can find Dudley’s on the web, Facebook and conveniently located at:
40675 Murrieta Hot Springs Road, Murrieta, CA (951) 461-2225.