Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found. Anne Morrow Lindbergh
A change would do you good. Sheryl Crow
As the summer heat finally gives way to fall, change is in the air. Nowhere is this more true than at Thornton Winery. While Thornton maintains a long family history and tradition of exceptional wine, food and Jazz, owners John and Sally Thornton and president Steve Thornton are not afraid of mixing things up a bit.
The first evidence of this can be found it the wonderful new fall menu at Café Champagne. Executive Chef Steve Pickell has been the driving force behind the “Contemporary Fusion Cuisine” served there since 1993. One would fear that Chef would become set in his ways after so many years, but Steve has a passion for preparing delicious dishes from fresh, seasonal ingredients and it shows. Recently, a small group of media friends and I had the honor dining with the Thorntons, Chef Pickell and Winemaker David Vergari, and we were delighted with the food and wine pairings set before us.
Steve’s philosophy of cooking is to keep things simple and to work with fresh, seasonal ingredients. He tends to keep his dishes focused on no more than four main ingredients so that the flavors can shine through. This makes for a wonderful menu full of clean notes, free of heavy sauces or competing ingredients.
As we arrived, we were treated to a glass of Thornton NV Brut. As with all of Thornton’s sparkling wines, the NV Brut is created in using the méthode champenoise because is has proven to be the best for producing fine quality sparkling wine and champagne. A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the NV Brut delights with apple, pear and tropical aromas and perfect effervescence.
The first course was soon to follow: Forest Mushroom Focaccia. The earthy mushroom flavors and lavender fresh from the Thornton garden were perfectly complimented by the Thornton 2007 Estate Syrah. The Temecula Valley is well known for Syrah and Thornton delivers a classic beauty with rich berry and plum flavors with a hint of anise, earth and pepper. As we enjoyed each course, Chef Pickell described each dish and Winemaker David Vergari spoke a bit on each wine.
A new addition to the family at Thornton, Vergari is no stranger to change. A native of Sonoma County with an education in Enology and Viticulture from UC Davis, David interned at Sonoma-Cutrer and the Hess Collection in Napa Valley. He worked abroad for a time and returned to California to broaden his experience and ultimately make his own wine. Thornton is a perfect fit for someone with David’s experience and adventuresome spirit. Although he has a great respect for the traditions that have resulted in award-winning wine, he knows that all things can be changed for the better. His passion for winemaking and his commitment to letting each wine find it’s own “voice” will yield amazing things in the years to come.
The second course, Bosc Pear and Arugula Salad, was a wonderful balance of sweet from the pears and pepper from the arugula. Complimented by pancetta (everything is better with bacon), gorgonzola and toasted hazelnut dressing, this salad needed a special wine to enhance its unique flavors. The Thornton 2009 Moscato is just such a wine. The floral fruit aroma held me up for quite awhile before I ventured a taste. I joked with Steve Thornton that I needed to order some to wear as a perfume; it smelled so delicious. The flavors were slightly sweet, but crisp with a balancing note of lemon rind on the finish: a perfect salad wine.
Our main course was a light pasta of Linguini with Spicy Sausage and Shrimp. The house made sausage and oven roasted vegetables made this dish special. Fresh herbs from the Thornton garden imparted a bright note that was beautifully complimented by the Thornton 2007 Sangiovese. This wine has some depth and body to it. The bright fruit flavors of the wine were just right to counter the spiciness of the sausage and the toasted oak enhanced the smokiness of the vegetables.
Our final course, the Fresh Fig Tart, was the best dessert I have had in a long time: beautiful, inventive, delicious. Chef Pickell took fresh figs and combined them with Cuvee Rouge, lemon zest, orange zest, mint and a little sugar. These beauties rested on top of a puff pastry filled with pistachio mousse and the result was phenomenal. A Zinfandel caramel sauce and Thornton 2006 Late Harvest Zinfandel rounded out the bejeweled flavors of this truly special finish to a special meal.
Thornton Winery features all things that we find special about the Temecula Valley: wonderful wines, delicious contemporary cuisine and great live music. The old world charm of the property is a lovely backdrop for all that the winery has to offer: Cafe Champagne, Fountain Terrace, Herb Garden, Gift Shop & Champagne Lounge. With President Steve Thornton’s vision, Chef Steve Pickell’s commitment to Contemporary Fusion Cuisine and Winemaker David Vergari’s expert hand shepherding the wine, I predict that Thornton will wow us with excellence for many years to come.