Central Coast: Chef Kent Rathbun at Justin Winery

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This guest-post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles.

Chocolate Caramel Creme Brulee with citrus seas alt and candied orange
Chocolate Caramel Creme Brulee with citrus seas alt and candied orange

I’ve tasted Créme Brulée in many incarnations. But the one I savored recently – a Chocolate Caramel Brulee sprinkled with citrus sea salt totally jolted my taste buds.  The hint of salt in the dessert paired with Justin’s 2008 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon pushed the tasting experience to an overdrive.

The dinner, part of Justin Vineyards & Winery’s Guest Chef Series program, featured the Beard-award nominated Kent Rathbun, a chef who is clearly passionate about hand harvested, artisanal salts.

Justin Wines
Justin Wines

The winery was founded in 1981 by Justin and Deborah Baldwin and recently sold to Fiji Water. This recent acquisition prompted Justin to comment, “ Instead of Justin well water, we have Fiji Water tonight.”

Although Justin Winery is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends, the four-course dinner featured several different varietals. And since the dinner was staged during Paso Robles’ Zinfandel festival weekend, this varietal was served in between courses. Justin produces a mere 200 cases of Zinfandel.

We started with appetizers served in the winery’s richly appointed lobby. The crisp 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was a perfect match with scallop ceviche, lobster shooters and fried quail eggs on cheddar biscuits.

We then moved on to the spacious barrel room aglow with candles. Justin’s 2009 Chardonnay (made in the Burgundian style) was served with spring beet, crab and goat cheese salad. For the second course, Rathbun had another surprise for us. Instead of the usual white wine, he decided on Justin’s 2008 Reserve Tempranillo with grilled Ahi Tuna served on Thai curry butter. The spiciness of the wine matched brilliantly with flavors of lemon grass and kafir lime curry highlighting the fatty tuna.

Grilled Pacific Ahi tuna on mango rice blocks and Thai curry butter
Grilled Pacific Ahi tuna on mango rice blocks and Thai curry butter

Justin’s flagship wine, the Isosceles (2008) is a luscious blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The richness of this wine pulled together the flavors of rosemary and blue cheese in the garlic crusted Lamb Ribeye.

And of course, the finalé was the dreamy Brulée which surprised our taste buds with Rathbun’s salt crystals.