Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wine Dinners, aka, Pairing for Dummies: Room at 12 and Feast

As an oenophile who also happens to really like food, I love wine dinners, especially ones where someone else does all the pairing work for me. As luck would have it, I have two to report on this week. They actually took place last week, but I'm still playing catch up.

On September 21, Hubby and I took advantage of Concentrics Restaurants' Wine Week Atlanta and went to Room at Twelve. The menu of this self-described "modern American steakhouse" has a range of meat-centric entrees as well as fish and, surprisingly, sushi. We went with the prix fixe menu for the Wine Week dinner.

The fun thing about wine dinners is that you get to see how food changes the taste and feeling of a wine, hopefully for the better. At this wine dinner, we got two wines per course. The general manager told us that they had featured a different winery every night, and this evening, they were all from the E&J Gallo Winery. I admit to being a little shocked -- a classy restaurant with Gallo wine? I remembered Gallo as being the stuff in jugs that my parents would make wine coolers with, and when we visited the Healdsburg tasting room, we weren't really impressed with the offerings that weren't in jugs. Plus, they were one of the few that made us pay for a tasting. The wines we got for the wine dinner were generally good, and I realized while writing this that they're different international wineries under the Gallo umbrella. They were as follows (I apologize for the lack of vintages; that information was not supplied):

Appetizer Course:
McWilliams Riesling (Southeastern Australia): Oak/citrus nose with minerality and subtle tropical fruit. My reaction was, "This is a Riesling?" I've had several dry Rieslings, but this is more like a Sauvignon Blanc.
Martin Codax Albarino (Rias Baixas, Spain): Lychee and soft fruit nose, very herbal along the back and sides of the palate. Interesting herbal finish.

The first course, an excellent wild American shrimp and miso soup, had savory light orange broth with slices of mushroom and green onion. The shrimp itself tasted like it had been marinated in garlic and herbs before being put in the soup. It smoothed and brought out the fruit in the Riesling, whereas the Albarino became more mineral and acid.

Salad Course:
The second course, an arugula salad with walnuts, goat cheese, raisins, cranberries, apricots, and red onion, was also served with white wine.

Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand): The nose was herbal and reminded us of how our tomato vines smell when we pick the tomatoes. The wine itself was fairly mineral with a little citrus. The salad calmed the green qualities of the wine and brought out floral notes.

MacMurray Pinot Gris (Russian River Valley, California): Subtle nose with citrus and vanilla notes and some acidity. The finish was lingering. The food highlighted the floral qualities and coaxed a hint of vanilla from it.

Third Course:
With this course, I felt I was in a "modern American steakhouse." The New Zealand rack of lamb with panzanella and zucchini mint sauce was served rare and turned out to be quite garlicky, especially when heated for leftovers later in the week. All the flavors of the dish worked well together.

Don Miguel Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina): Dark fruit/berry nose that leads to a smooth red and a nice, buttery finish. Hubby and I agreed we liked this one better on its own. The food went well with it but gave it a little bite at the end.
Louis Martini Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa, California -- did you really need me to tell you that?): I can see why they paired this with the lamb. It has mint and spice on the nose, and is definitely a big, spicy Cabernet. The food smoothed it out and brought out nice dark fruit.

The GM brought the McWilliams Shiraz out for us to try with the lamb. It was supposed to go with dessert, a rich chocolate layer cake. It actually went really well with the lamb and with the cake, which gave it a little smoke and brought out more dark fruit. The other wine to go with dessert, the Gallo Family Cabernet Sauvignon, was very smooth on its own with a little caramel to it. The dessert washed it out. The GM also let us try some Plunger Head Zinfandel (Dry Creek, California), which was like drinking spice cake and earned a "Zin-gasm" comment. However it, too, was killed by the cake.

In spite of our vows not to eat again for a week after that dinner, Hubby and I found ourselves at Feast the following Tuesday evening for their Summer Harvest Australian Wine Dinner. It ended up being a beautiful night to sit outside, and we even got to hear famous violinist (at least in Decatur) Kirsten Browning play. Oh, the food and wine were good, too.

The appetizers included beet and goat cheese crostini, chicken satay, and cucumber slices with salmon, dill, cream, and capers. It was served with the 2005 Chrismont Riesling (King Valley, Victoria), which had a pineapple/citrus nose, tropical fruit taste, and dry finish.

The Massoni Sauvignon Blanc (Mornington Peninsula, Victoria) smelled like seashells to me and tasted of lime, mint, and stone. It made sense to pair it with the ceviche-like citrus marinated shrimp, scallops, and squid wrapped in bibb leaves and served over a passionfruit puree. We couldn't find the "spicy chile sauce" mentioned on the food list.

One of the fun things about wine and beer dinners at Feast is that I get to try foods I would otherwise not eat. The second course was pan-seared Ostrich medallions with bacon and summer beans. It was served with the Austins Shiraz from Geelong, Victoria. Dark plum and ripe fruit aroma, tannic and acidic with spice and more plums, it took on a nice overtone with the food. The chef later came out and confessed that it was her first time to cook Ostrich (I don't know why I feel the need to capitalize that; I just do). She did an excellent job. It was tough to cut, but very tender to chew. The applewood smoked bacon wrapped around the medallions kept it from being dry.

The third course consisted of smoked pheasant, peppers stuffed with Israeli cous cous, and chocolate hazelnut vinaigrette. The Six Foot Six Shiraz/Viognier (Geelong, Victoria) was my favorite wine of the evening. Blackberry aromas promise and deliver lots of blackberry fruit with pepper and a hint of chocolate. It's very smooth to drink with and without food.

Finally, dessert sounded strange but tasted very good. Olive oil and thyme cake was topped with sweet cream and served with macerated figs. One table member liked it so much he told the owner and chef he'd like to see it on the regular menu. The Chrismont La Zona Rosato Mezzanotte (King Valley, Victoria) is a rose wine comprised of 50% Sangiovese, 25% Barbera, and 25% Marzemino. It has lots of berry characteristics, specifically cranberry and strawberry. Overall, I thought it was nicely balanced. Hubby drank it, which is as much of a compliment as a pink wine will get from him.

Those were our wine dinner adventures. I'm glad it made for a low effort week on my part, especially since Hubby and I had been up in the mountains with some of his work colleagues, and I may have been up playing Rock Band 2 until 5:30 one morning after having helped to polish off a huge bottle of Bogle Petite Sirah. One of said work buddies is a former chef, so we ate well up there, too. What have I been doing since the hedonistic weekend and the decadent wine dinners? Going to the gym and taking advantage of the lovely weather we've been having to go walking/jogging outside. A lot. I'm probably still a few thousand calories behind.

JavaMonkey wine tasting tomorrow! I have no clue what it is. We stopped by today on the way home from the Decatur Farmers' Market, but Jess hadn't put out new lists. Maybe she doesn't know what it will be, either.

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