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Peter Michael Winery dinner proves why Grace restaurant is Fort Worth’s best

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Fort Worth isn’t flashy, and neither is the downtown restaurant Grace or its owner, Adam Jones. Too often, Cowtown gets branded as a fine dining desert, a wasteland of kid-friendly chains and down-home cooking.

That’s precisely why Grace has been drawing a loyal following; they come for the city’s most affable host (Jones), the city’s most inventive cooking (chef Blaine Staniford) and the city’s top cellar master (sommelier Jenny Kornblum).

Dallas may do its business in steakhouses, but in Fort Worth, deals are sealed at Grace.

Consider last night’s Peter Michael Winery wine dinner, where the city’s elite crowded a dining room whose star attraction was Peter Michael Winery president Paul Michael (Peter’s son). If you’re already familiar with Peter Michael wines, you well know they are jewels, prized by collectors and wine lovers for their restrained finesse and expressive, old world style.

“We focus on classical wine making, which to us means small production and single vineyards wines,” Michael told a sell-out dining room filled with wine and food pilgrims. Grace was Michael’s only Texas stop on a breakneck ambassador tour that took him and his wines through Denver, Fort Worth and Boston in three days.

“We don’t add anything to the wines or take anything away. We handpick all the fruit, sort it by hand, use only natural yeasts and French oak. Our goal is to produce balanced, elegant wines.”

Michael said the winery produces only 20,000 cases of wine a year, nearly all of it grown on their winery estate, and the winery has no intention of producing more. “That’s the production output of a left bank Bordeaux winery, and we produce more varietals in that same small acreage. All we do is small amounts of white and red Bordeaux and Burgundy varietals.  So small, in fact, that some of our wines are just a few hundred cases.”

It would be easy for a chef to overwhelm wines as supple and elegant as Peter Michael’s, to serve dishes with broad-shouldered components that sledgehammer the fruit or chisel away a wine’s acidity. Staniford will have none of that.

To pair with Peter Michael’s luscious Bordeaux-style sauvignon blanc, Staniford cured ocean trout in salt and sugar as if it were gravlax, adding red beets, grated horseradish and fresh, creamy ricotta to the plate as counterpoints.

Then, in the following course, he employed the ricotta’s leftover whey as a poaching liquid for a snowy white domino of Spanish turbot, which he served atop a buttery schmear of celery root puree and beneath a pearly crown of caviar. To the side, a crunchy slate of toasted brioche that knitted the ripe pear and yellow apple notes in Peter Michael’s chardonnay to Staniford’s simple cooking. It may have been my favorite food and wine paring of the year.

What to serve with pinot noir? Staniford’s 12-day dry-aged squab, cooked medium rare and teamed with seared foie gras and sweet corn puree ably succeeded, a two-bite delight lifted higher with a drizzle of tart cherry pan sauce.

“I remember when my father first announced that we were going on a holiday to California, back in the early 1970s” Paul Michael told us as he wrapped up the evening. “We lived in England at the time, and  I was 17, but I still remember that my father’s love affair with wines began then, with his first taste of Chateau Montelena. That’s when he first had his eye on buying a winery in Napa. He knew he needed a good source of water, good terroir and a hillside.

“Calistoga back then was in the sticks, dominated by Mount St. Helena. He found a piece of land there with a creek and reservoir and said we would buy this land, plant some vines and promised us he was not going to make ‘picnic wine,’ the simple box wines everyone associated with Paul Masson and California , the ones we saw all over the tv in the UK. His goal was to create great Bordeaux style wines in California. I think we’ve achieved that.”

And kudos to Adam Jones and his Grace team. Last night, there was no better meal in the city.


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