Sunday, May 17, 2009

Fun Times with Wine

Last night, LB and I went to a wine pairing dinner at our local Alsatian restaurant. The meal was six courses, each paired with its own wine. Overall the evening was lovely. Near the beginning of the meal I listened intently to the sommelier, but near the end LB and I were drunkenly gabbing through her speeches. During most of our courses, the owner came over for a little chat and told us a bit about the food preparation. It was a lovely evening, and LB and I both loved our little date.

Duck Breast Saurbraten with Shiraz-Vionier, Terlato & Chapoutier, Australia
The duck was prepared as a saurbraten with a marmalade-blueberry sauce, served over a few fingerling potato coins. The sauce was absolutely delicious, but both LB and I felt that the duck could have been prepared differently or pork could have been used in a saurbraten. The meat was cooked down a bit more than duck should be, and the technique would have lent itself better to a less delicate meat. We were a bit dissappointed with this dish; it did not deliver on its promise. The Shiraz-Vionier was made as a 95% Shiraz/5% Vionier in the style of a Syrah, which made it robust but smooth. The wine was very good, although it was better with food than on its own, and we felt it was quite versitle. It could really have gone with nearly anything that a red wine would go with. Food: B-; Wine: A-; Pairing: B

Cream of Artichoke Heart Soup with Gruner Veltliner, Wolfgang Concerto, Austria
The soup was made with artichoke heart pureed and creamed not with cream, but instead with mascarpone and a wee bit of bleu cheese. It was served with a fresh artichoke leaf floating on top, and a crumble of bleu cheese riding in the leaf as if it were a wee boat. The soup was absolutely delicious. The fresh bleu cheese on top, when tipped into the soup, melted just enough so as to leave little melty surprises in each bite, which added a bit of saltiness to the freshness of the soup. The artichoke flavor was featured well and not at all overpowered by either cheese. The Veltliner was sweet, effervescent and light, without venturing into the territory of holy crap that's so sweet I can't stand it. If a champagne and a gwertsweimer had a baby together, this veltliner would be it. It was also very versitle, and I thought it might go wonderfully with a dessert of fresh berries in cream. Food: A; Wine: A-; Pairing: B+

Three Pea Salad with Albarino, Martin Codax, Spain
The third course was a salad of english peas, sugar snap pea pods, and snow pea pods over a small amount of micro greens, garnished with toasted, seasoned pecans and a light balsamic vinaigrette. This was the perfect refreshing spring salad. The salad was mostly peas, and just a little bit of greens, which was a good ratio (really, you don't win friends with lettuce). The pecans and dressing played off the peas well, which were perfectly fresh and crisp. The Albarino was a bit heavier than the Veltliner, but it was still sweet. On its own it was a bit plain, but it went very well with the salad. Food: A; Wine: B; Pairing: A-

First Course
Coquille St. Jaques with Chardonnay, La Crema, CA
The Coquille was made in the traditional style and served in scallop half-shells. They were served piping hot, and we had to let them cool a bit before eating them, but they were delicious. The scallops were done perfectly, just firm enough without getting tough. The cream sauce was light and just a little sweet, to complement the scallop meat. I appreciated that the scallops were cut before cooking them, so I did not have to fiddle with trying to cut them inside a scallop shell which, knowing my general level of dexterity, I would likely have shattered. The chardonnay was very good as well. It was aged in french oak barrels, which leech less of the oak flavor into the wine, letting the wine's own flavor shine more. This chardonnay was creamy and smooth, almost buttery. It was a little less dry than traditional chardonnays, but this lent itself well to the flavor of the scallops. The wine enhanced the flavor of the scallops, adding to the creaminess of the sauce without adding any heft. In turn, the scallops added depth to the flavor of the wine. Overall this was my favorite course, and LB was very impressed as well. Food: A+; Wine: A; Pairing: A+

Second Course
Lamb Shanks with Monticello Gran Reserva Rioja, Spain
Our second entree was a frenched lamb shank served over a bed of white beans and spinach, with a light sauce. To be quite honest, I don't remember this course very well because, well, if you're counting, we're on our 5th type of wine, and our table was the server's first stop for refills. The cut of lamb was excellent, and the flavors of the lamb, the sauce, and the white beans married well. I felt the lamb was overdone; I like my lamb to be medium or medium-rare and this was more medium-well. I would also have preferred a few more tablespoons of sauce. LB disagreed on both counts; he thought the lamb was cooked perfectly and that the amount of sauce was just right. The rioja was, as is appropriate with lamb, a heavier, dry red wine. It had a spiciness to it that went very well with the lamb; it added a juiciness to the lamb that was needed. In turn, the fat from the lamb added a bit of body to the rioja. The pairing was excellent. This was LB's favorite course. Food: A-; Wine: A; Pairing; A+

Strawbery Sabayon tart with Muscat, Beaulieu Bineyard, CA
Fresh strawberries were sliced and served over sabayon cream in a pastry tart, topped with fresh whipped cream. The strawberries were perfectly fresh and delicious; LB and I were wondering how they got such fresh strawberries here in Minnesota in the early spring, since our local strawberries don't usually get good until late July. The cream and whipped cream complemented the strawberry flavor well, although with these berries I would have been happy with a fresh plate of them plain. The Muscat was very sweet; it tasted like liquid honey without the heaviness that honey can have. It was very tasty, although I felt it did not go well with the strawberry tart. This muscat was made to be a dessert in and of itself, without accompaniment. Food: A; Wine: A-; Pairing: C

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