Friday, April 26, 2024

Sea Market Crab Cakes anchor wine dinner

Sea Market Crab Cakes anchor wine dinner with broad flight of white wines

On Friday evening of our gala SoWal (South Walton Beaches) Wine Festival weekend with our Pour Boys Wine Group at The Cove Vacation Rental in Destin (FL), we prepared John’s Famous Crab Cakes from John’s Sea Market on Emerald Coast Parkway in Destin.

What fun that this week, Taylor Swift released her latest double album to massive fanfare, which we listened to on Satellite Radar on our drive down, and she mentions DESTIN in one of her songs, FLORIDA.

Bob and Gloria brought a selection of artisan cheeses that we served with mixed salad and white wines prior to dinner. 

Destin is called “the world’s luckiest fishing village” due to its historic reputation as a destination for gulf coastal and deep sea fishing. 

Destin’s immediate history is attributed to a fisherman, Leonard Destin, who moved down from New London, Conn., and settled in Northwest Florida about 1845. For decades, he and his descendants fished and navigated the only channel passage to the Gulf of Mexico between Panama City and Pensacola, known as Destin’s East Pass.

Destin is a place where highest quality freshest seafood is readily accessible - direct off the many charter and commercial fishing boats in Destin Harbor, through numerous fresh seafood markets, and of course, at a myriad of daily fresh catch seafood restaurants. 

One of many seafood markets is Sea Market. own and operated by John, a commercial fisherman in his own right. At the Sea Market he sources fresh catch seafood through exclusive arrangements with a dozen local fishing boats - wherein he guarantees to take 100% of their daily catch, and hence has assurance of supply to service his retail and wholesale customers. 

In addition to the fresh local daily catch that regularly includes Grouper, Mahi Mahi, Pompano, Snapper, Cobia and Sea Bass, he also offers shellfish such as Stone Crab and Wild Caught Scottish Salmon which is flown in fresh from Scotland, and prime and exotic meats.

John prepares John and Araya’s Seafood Gumbo, and Chowder, and they are especially known for his “John’s Famous Crab Cakes”. His wife Anaya produces a collection of sauces including Araya’s Seafood Sauce, Tuna Dip, Araya’s Thai Steak Sauce, and John’s Roumalade, for pairing with the seafood. 

On this day, they had already sold out of the Gumbo and Chowder and Crab Cakes but John prepared a new batch of crab cakes for us. 

Pairing with the Crab Cakes we opened a flight of white wines that also featured a medley of premium Chardonnays. When our Pour Boys wine group meets, we have many shared wine experiences so its fun to not only taste fine wines with food, but invariably, it’s a chance to re-live many memorable shared experiences of winery estate visits and previous tastings.   

Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2016

This is the Sonoma County project of Joseph Phelps Vineyards. We visited the magnificent Joseph Phelps winery and tasting facility overlooking Phelp's vineyards nestled in its own Spring Valley above St Helena on the western facing foothills of the Vaca range that form the eastern face of Napa Valley. It was a highlight of our Pour Boys 2017 Sonoma/Napa Wine Experience.

This is a more recent vintage of this label that we have shared together and which I wrote about and featured in these pages in an earlier blogpost, excerpted below.

While Phelps produced Napa Valley and Carneros Chardonnays from 1974, they sought a site more suited to Chardonnay. They explored sites across Sonoma County finally settling in the town of Freestone on the Sonoma Coast, where, in the late 1990’s, few vineyards existed.

In 1999 they purchased land in Freestone when the area was primarily comprised of cattle, pasture and forest land. The area - just eight miles from the Pacific Ocean - was socked in by fog that lingered into the early afternoon on most summer days. The climate and Goldridge soils were thought to provide a terrior suitable for Burgundy varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

In 2000, the Pastorale Vineyard, a former dairy farm, was planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In 2007, the Freestone Winery was built by the Hensel Phelps Construction Company, the company originally founded by Joseph Phelp's father and managed by Joe for decades until he sold the business in the mid-eighties to focus solely on winemaking. Joe Phelps stepped down as Chairman of Joseph Phelps Vineyards in 2005.

Winemakers notes for this release: “The 2016 Chardonnay has a fragrant bouquet mix of honeysuckle, green apple and lemon peel with richly layered baked apple, stone fruit and a light toasty oak influence. A bright and focused wine with a pleasing mouthfeel and a delicate tropical touch to the finish.”

This release was rated 95 points by Antonio Galloni of Vinous, and 94 points by Wine Enthusiast, James Suckling and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

Light straw colored, medium to full bodied, with crisp tangy acidity, flavorful green apple with creamy tones of minerality and hints of Meyer lemon and lime with a lingering savory finish. 

RM 91 points.

Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Chardonnay 2021

This is another producer with which we have a long history going back decades. Bill and I both hold deep vertical collections of this producer and enjoy sharing and comparing them when we get together. Bill and Beth and we toured the winery and obtained wines from their library for a special celebration dinner at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) during our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 2008.

Later, this weekend at the Wine Festival, we met representatives from Freemark Abbey, (now part of the extensive Jackson Wines portfolio), and tasted some of their premium recent releases. Bill mentioned his long relationship with the brand, and many meetings with wine manager Barry Dodds, so the rep texted Barry a picture of all of us together to which Barry immediately responded citing fondness for Bill and remembrance of many times together. 

According to the producer, “Our 2021 Napa Valley Chardonnay is intended to be the best of both worlds stylistically. The nose opens with rich and layered aromas of pear, mandarine, tuberose, vanilla and oak spice. The palate is met with flavors of brioche, apple pie, lemon curd and fresh pineapple. It has a creamy texture reminiscent of creme brulee with a finish that is bright and complex with incredible length.”

This is sourced from the Ahmann Vineyard in Carneros (38%), the Rancho Sarco Vineuyard on the north east border of the town of Napa, and The Huichica Vineyard located off of Duhig Road in the Napa Carneros subregion, AVA.

The Ahmann Vineyard is located near the Huichica Creek and has that Carneros attributes of a cool growing season complemented which provides long slow ripening that tend to create flavors of apple and citrus.

The Rancho Sarco Vineyard has gravelly clay loam soil that supports Chardonnay ripening to produce flavors of pineapple, apple and peach.

Golden straw colored, medium body, full round flavors of apple and hints of pineapple, peach and lemon citrus with creamy buttery spice and oak on the long finish. 

RM 91 points. 

Gary Farrell Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2021

This is another producer that we have visited together and have a history and relationship with since we toured there together as part of our visit to the Gary Farrell estate and winery in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County during or Napa / Sonoma Wine Experience in 2017.

I wrote about the Gary Farrell portfolio of Chardonnays in this blogpost about a year ago based on another wine dinner with Pour Boy Dr. Dan, excerpts below.

Gary Farrell was a pioneer of winemaking in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley appellation. He produced his first vintage in 1982, before the Russian River AVA even existed. He crafted that first Pinot Noir from fruit grown in the now-legendary Rochioli Vineyard.

Over the years, Gary Farrell become somewhat of a legend producing a portfolio of varietal, single vineyard designated wines produced from only the best vineyards that showcase the unique terroir from the Russian River Valley and across Sonoma County.

Gary Farrell never owned a vineyard but produced consistently exceptional wines from that first vintage in 1982 by partnering based on handshake deals with the region's pioneer growers like the Rochioli, Dutton, Ramey, Allen and Hallberg families, whose Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards represented the best of the time and place. Since then, the winery has produced critically acclaimed Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in collaboration with the most esteemed growers in the Russian River Valley and throughout California’s greatest wine regions.The nearly 40 different vineyards extend beyond the Russian River Valley and include grapes from as far north as the Fort Ross-Seaview Vineyard along the Sonoma coast to the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. 

Label from 2017

Theresa Heredia is the winemaker for Garry Farrell. Theresa found her passion for wine through biochemistry, earning a bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She became a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry/enology at UC Davis before leaving the program to pursue winemaking. At Freestone Winery in Sebastopol, she gained acclaim for her small-lot, single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir before arriving at Gary Farrell Winery in 2012. 

Aside from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Theresa has also crafted Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel and a Rosé of Pinot Noir.Farrell sold his winery in 2004, but his name and reputation for producing outstanding wines continues under the leadership of Theresa.

We visited the winery’s beautiful estate and hospitality center that lies just west of Healdsburg, (CA), perched on a hilltop overlooking the Russian River Valley during our Napa / Sonoma Wine Experience in 2017. The inviting indoor space offers stunning views of the valley with floor to ceiling windows, and there’s an expansive terrace so guests can enjoy the wines alfresco. The walls are adorned with a collection of colorful artwork.

Beringer Private Reserve Napa Valley Chardonnay 2014

Visitors to Napa Valley can’t miss the iconic winery estate and Chateau on the highway just north of St Helena. No winery or vineyard embodies more the timeless appeal and seductive flavor of Napa Valley than Beringer Vineyards, Napa's benchmark producer since the establishment of the vineyard in 1876.

Now in its third century of crafting classic wines from Napa's finest appellations and vineyards, Beringer today is guided by the partnership of legendary Winemaster Emeritus Ed Sbragia and Winemaker Laurie Hook. Together, they craft Napa Valley wines that showcase the rich heritage of the Beringer Vineyard, while offering cutting-edge quality and contemporary elegance. Beringer Vineyards’ wines display the dedication and excellence instilled by its founder, Jacob Beringer.

This is the flagship Chardonnay from one of the most storied producers in Napa Valley. Beringer dates back 1868, when Jacob Beringer, emigrated from Germany, and settled in Napa Valley 1869 where the rocky hillside soil and fertile valley floor resembled that of vineyards back home in Germany. He became cellar foreman for Charles Krug, one of the first commercial winemakers in Napa Valley. In 1875, he and his brother Jacob purchased 215 acres adjacent to Charles Krug in St. Helena for $14,500. The Beringer Brothers' first harvest and crush followed in 1876 producing nearly 40,000 gallons of wine, or 18,000 cases, that first year.

The Beringer Cabernet was named #1 Wine of the Year for the 1986 Cabernet by Wine Spectator (1990 edition). Six years later, Wine Spectator named the 1994 Chardonnay #1 Wine of the Year(1996 edition) - this is special because not only is it the first time a white wine has ever garnered that top spot, but Beringer was the first and only winery to ever have both a red and a white wine in that top slot.

Former Chief Winemakers Myron Nightingale and Ed Sbragia created the Private Reserve program in 1977 as the flagship labels of the portfolio. The Private Reserve Chardonnay was introduced with the 1978 vintage, and together these wines have earned three decades of extraordinary accolades, including two "Wine of the Year" awards.

Always one of the best white wines for the money out of California, Beringer Private Reserve Chard is a big, lush wine that showcases the best of Napa Valley terroir and the vintage. Often a single-vineyard Chardonnay this 2014 was primarily sourced from the Gamble Ranch, located near the town of Yountville, in the Oakville AVA, this wine highlights the richness and complexity of this varietal and has been a benchmark Chardonnay since its first vintage in 1978. 

Some of the fruit for this vintage release is also sourced from the Home Vineyard on the Beringer estate just on the outskirts of St. Helena. This vineyard was part of the original 215 acres Jacob Beringer purchased in 1875. The Cabernet Sauvignon planted on the sloped sedimentary soil of this 48-acre vineyard has been a key component of our Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon since 1982.Winemaker Notes - “Aromas of grilled pineapple, ripe pear, lemon oil, hazelnut and toasted brioche. A bright fruit core is accentuated by a silky texture and flavors of yellow apple, Asian pear, meyer lemon and a lush, continuous finish.”

This release was awarded 95points by Decanter and James Suckling, 92 points by Wine Spectator and 91 points by Vinous. 

This Private Reserve is almost all Gamble fruit and saw about 75-80% new French oak. In 2014, the Private Reserve is a touch restrained, but it is quite attractive just the same. 

Winemaker's tasting notes: "A richly layered wine with aromas of crème brulee and rich citrus and fruit flavors."

Deep golden colored, showing its decade of age, this is nearing the end of its prime drinking window and ready to drink, full bodied, dense, complex, full round flavors of apple with notes of apricot and peach, toasted oak, smoke and toffee and hints of lime on a long finish.

RM 91 points. 

Benziger Family Vineyards Sonoma Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2021 

This is another producer we know well, that we have visited with fellow Pour Boys. We became acquainted with Benziger Family Sonoma Valley wines when we met Erinn Benziger of Benziger Family Winerywhen she visited Chicago and presented at Binny's Beverage Depot Midwest Wine Expo. We all then visited Benziger Family Estate Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma Valley in the Autumn of 2009 during our Sonoma Wine Experience. Today over a dozen different family members are active in the extended family wine business that prides itself on the extent of its 'green' initiatives - certified sustainable, organic or Biodynamic© wines. A visit to their Sonoma Family Estate is a study in the practice with their numerous exhibits and self guided and formal tours of the property.

Bill and Beth find their premium Sauvignon Blanc as one of their favorite Benziger releases. I found their limited production release cabernet blends to be their most memorable such as their 'Tribute' and 'Signaterra' blends which were the highlight of their Binny's Expo tasting, along with the Sauvignon Blanc. 

Winemaker Notes “Fresh and elegant, this Sauvignon Blanc invites you in with aromas of bright lemon, fresh grass, grapefruit and melon. Enticing citrus flavors are followed by complex minerality. The wine’s acid is both balanced and integrated, giving it a textured mid-palate and an elegant softness.”

Pleasant casual easy sipping nice starter wine to kick off the evening with salad and artisan cheese course. 

Greywacke New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc 2021 

Lyle brought from his home cellar this spectacular Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc, one of our favorites, and at the end of the night/weekend, we hadn’t gotten to it and it was still in the wine cooler. We’ll hold this for a future tasting when we meet again!

Several other great places to buy seafood in Destin are Sexton’s, Blalock, Where Y’At, Joe Patti’s, Harbor Docks, Destin Ice, and Willing

Sexton’s Seafood Market is among the oldest and best seafood markets in Destin, Florida. It’s been around since 1978 on Harbor Boulevard. Their best seller is fresh shrimp, but they also offer other seafood and shellfish such as crab, oyster, tuna, snapper, cobia, and grouper.

Blalock Seafood Market is family-owned and located on the street across Big Kahuna’s Water Park. 

Bestsellers are fresh-caught snow and king crab, oysters, lobsters, scallops, and shrimp. However, they also sell seasonings and sauces, freshly-baked bread, cheeses, local frozen pies, wines, Angus steaks, and Cajun products.

Where Y’At Seafood Market near the Harborwalk is among the unique seafood markets in Destin with its highlight food trailer.

Joe Patti’s, considered one of the best seafood markets in Destin for live seafood market, which can be ordered online. They ship only the freshest catch and guarantee the highest-quality seafood - on-demand fish from them such as lobsters, shrimps, crabs, clams, fillets, and calamari.

Harbor Docks is a restaurant and a seafood market with seafood that’s always fresh and never frozen -
hours may vary since they’re dependent on the fishermen selling their newly-caught fish.Destin Ice offers hghest quality seafood that’s either live, cooked, or ready-to-cook from its site on Harbor Boulevard alongside the other great seafood markets - offering Grouper, tuna, bass, cod, snapper, shrimp, crab, scallop, and salmon, and a meat section with quail, rabbit, duck, venison, steak, lamb, and pork.

Willingham Seafood was started by a fishing enthusiast who used to sell shrimp to Destin’s locals and is the only waterfront seafood market in Okaloosa (County), to both retail and wholesale.