Cline Cellars’ Burnt-Honey Ricotta Gnocchi

Cline Cellars, a Sonoma producer most known for its zinfandel and its Rhone blends has quietly produced small quantities of a very food-friendly Sonoma Coast pinot noir since 2007, though up until very recently in amounts so small that they didn’t make it far from the tasting room.

To celebrate the release of its Cool Climate pinot nior (from its Petaluma Gap vineyards) Cline Cellars (with chef/writer Jerry James Stone) created various recipes to pair with the wine and ran a contest where fans on Facebook and Twitter narrowed the recipes down to three finalists during the month of March. Last Friday a panel of judges (let’s just call them “hungry”) convened in the guest house kitchen at Cline Cellars in Carneros (which, with its Old West-themed art and heavy wooden rafters looks nothing so much as it does like Tahoe has landed in Sonoma and offered a serene setting for the proceedings) to determine the winning recipe. That recipe will adorn the back of bottles of the 2011 vintage, Cline’s first large-scale release. At about 10,000 cases the 2011 release next autumn will still be dwarfed by the winery’s other offerings, but represents its first large scale push to market with the varietal (previously Cline’s Sonoma Coast vineyards had supplied La Crema with grapes).

All of the three finalists paired well with the pinot, as they were designed by Stone to do. In final voting the mushroom risotto and burnt-honey ricotta gnocchi ran neck-neck-neck (with the subtle flavors of lavender pasta primavera perhaps underwhelming the judges by comparison). The mushroom risotto brought out the more earthy, forest-floor characteristics in the wine. While the creamy gnocchi (much lighter in weight than you’d guess from the ingredients list, almost fluffy probably due to the honey texture) paired well with the light body and acidity of the pinot, with the bite of the gorgonzola in the cream sauce adding complexity to the pairing. In the end, the shear heavenly deliciousness of the gnocchi won out, with many of those assembling going back for seconds on the rich dish. You don’t have to wait until the fall to try the pairing yourself. Here’s Stone’s recipe:

Burnt-Honey Ricotta Gnocchi

Serves 3 to 5


3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
1 cup cream
8 ounces Gorgonzola, cut into very small pieces
2 cups ricotta
4 tablespoons honey
1 cup finely grated Parmesan Cheese
1 cup flour

Gorgonzola Sauce
1. Warm 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and add garlic, cook for about 2 minutes on medium high.
2. Create a roux by adding 2 tablespoons of flour, mix well. Whisk in cream and broth. Simmer on low and add Gorgonzola. Cook for about 2 minutes until cheese is fully melted.

Burnt-Honey Gnocchi
3. Strain ricotta of excess water in cheesecloth and transfer to a large mixing bowl.
4. In a small skillet, bring honey to a boil then reduce heat and cook for 1 more minute.
5. Fluff ricotta with a fork and add honey. Mix in Parmesan cheese and 1⁄2 cup flour.
6. Let dough sit 5 minutes, prepare floured work surface and roll heaping scoops of dough into 1⁄2 inch tubes, then cut into 1 inch pieces.
7. In medium pot of simmering water, cook gnocchi until it floats to the top, about 2 minutes.
8. Sauté cooked gnocchi in 1 tablespoon of butter until browned on each side, toss with Gorgonzola sauce and serve.

Optional: garnish with crisped sage.