Healdsburg’s Passalacqua Winery takes a minimalist approach

Jason Passalacqua is a fourth generation winemaker in the Dry Creek Valley.

Chef Dustin Valette and fourth generation vintner Jason Passalacqua. (Karen Norton/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Jason Passalacqua and Dustin Valette are friends, their relationship often described as a “bromance.” They are both natives of Healdsburg, both love to hunt, enjoy the outdoors and food and wine are at the core of both of their lives.

Valette makes food with the detail and finesse required of a fine chef. I have never been disappointed, nor tire of listening to him describe each dish in passionate detail.

Passalacqua is a fourth generation winemaker in the Dry Creek Valley. After a career in mechanical engineering, he returned to his roots in 2002 and founded Passalacqua Winery in 2004, sourcing cabernet sauvignon from the family vineyards and chardonnay, zinfandel, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from established vineyards in Sonoma County and the Anderson Valley.

Jessica Boone developed and honed her craft in the Napa Valley, first at Edgewood Estate, then as winemaker at Armida Winery. After a brief hiatus to start a family, she became the winemaker at Passalacqua Winery. In describing a minimalist approach that puts the vineyard front and center, she relies on explicit attention to detail and a hands-on approach to create the balanced wines she desires. Her skills were on display as Jason Passalacqua introduced the Passalacqua Winery new Fall releases at a wine pairing luncheon at Valette with special dishes created by Valette.

Passalacqua winemaker Jessica Boone. (Karen Norton/Special to S.F. Examiner)

We started with a glass of the aromatic 2018 Passalacqua “Triple Z” Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley ($35) served with charcuterie and cheese that included salume, aged on-site, pickled vegetables and orange zest olives. Sourced from 20- year-old musque clones, the wine was round and creamy with forward stone fruit flavors.

Valette described his first course, Seared Hawaiian Ahi Takaki with Dried Kombu Emulsion and Furikake Wakame Seaweed, as featuring the flavors of the ocean. It was appropriately paired with the well-integrated 2017 Passalacqua “Gap’s Crown” Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($52), from an established vineyard in the “Petaluma Gap” that is influenced by ocean winds and fog and is known for grapes that are exceptionally expressive.

Seared Hawaiian AhiTakaki with Dried Kombu Emulsion and Furikake Wakame Seaweed. (Karen Norton/Special to S.F. Examiner)

The “Gap’s Crown” was dry, like a French chardonnay, yet round on the palate with clear mineral notes that provided a genuine pairing for the sea.

Passalacqua produces Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley pinot noir under his Quince label. In the most exquisite pair of the afternoon, the 2017 Quince Pinot Noir Anderson Valley ($42) was poured with Jason Passalacqua’s Elk Loin with Huckleberry Jus, Espelette Pepper and Slow Roasted Shallots.

Valette explained that Jason’s wine elevates the outdoors, meaning it transfers nuance from vineyard to glass. The tenderness of the meat, the rich Huckleberry sauce and the shallots enhanced the pinot’s earthy texture and red fruit flavors for the highlight pairing of the luncheon.

With past vintages described as powerful and muscular, I anticipated that Valette would challenge the 2016 Passalacqua Blocks 18 & 19 Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley ($105) with a high powered dish. He served Charred Wagu New York Steak with on-site barrel-aged soy, fermented garlic and a piece of smoked beef belly that added character. The rich spice elements of the wine enhanced those in the dish and the dark fruit flavors lingered.

From a late-harvested block of grapes with higher sugar concentration, Jason selected the 2013 Passalacqua Block 23 Cabernet Sauvignon to pair with Valette’s eclectic dessert that included Dark Chocolate Bouchon, and toasted meringue, perfectly arranged on a plate and topped with shaved Volo Chocolate, a local Healdsburg company.

Described as the most unique planting site in the vineyard, Block 23 sits atop a hillside bench overlooking the surrounding property. This vintage combined dark fruit flavors and a luscious mouthfeel that bonded with the diverse textures and flavors of the dessert ensemble.

Boone poured a small glass of her 2017 Lumia Valdiguie ($34), a wine she made after discovering some abandoned vines in the Dry Creek area. Valdiguié is a rare red grape from the emerging Lanquedoc region of France. It had a lighter texture, but the flavors were full.

The luncheon provided perfect surroundings for Passalacqua to introduce their new releases. Jason and Boone’s wines are exceptional paired with Valette’s food and, of course, the wines bring out the best of the chef’s creativity. It was a true artistic endeavor.

Passalacqua is a small production winery that distributes most of their releases direct to the consumer. Their wine club offers four shipments annually of six or 12 bottles each. My best recommendation is to audition a bottle from the wine list, over dinner at Valette restaurant in Healdsburg.

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at sfewine@gmail.com. He is a guest columnist.

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