Sunday, January 31, 2010

Montaluce Wine Conclave, Part One -- Oh yes, there was lunch!

Okay, first the disclosure stuff: we didn't pay for anything except for dinner last night and a contribution to the tip jar for the two servers who were helping out with the Wine Conclave. Okay, FTC, happy now? Why don't you get doctors to do the same things with their patients? "Hey, Ambien CR took me out to a great dinner at a fancy restaurant last night!" Or is this because bloggers don't have a big lobby yet?

So there. Hmph. On to business now…

Yesterday's "Wine Conclave," held at Dahlonega's Montaluce Vineyards and Winery, brought together some of the wine bloggers in the Atlanta area who had met and chatted with co-hosts Rob and Brent Beecham, two of the Montaluce owners, on Twitter. Montaluce is an Italian-style winery and restaurant designed with the Atlanta day-tripper in mind. They source some of their grapes from Blackstock and are also growing their own. The restaurant downstairs and banquet hall upstairs overlook the vineyards:

Hubby and I left Decatur early and arrived a little after ten, the designated starting time. However, Georgia weather had decided to complicate things. Once we left the main road and hit back roads, we noticed that each branch on every tree had been coated with a thin layer of ice. It was beautiful and a little unsettling, like we had driven into a different world. I was happy to get to Montaluce and be shown into the warm banquet room upstairs, where I got my nametag and proceeded with trying to put faces and real names with Twitter handles. I really hope there's not a test later because I remember faces and handles, but I didn't retain many real names. You'll see why in a moment.

The original agenda of discussion in the morning followed by lunch, tours, and tastings got turned upside-down by several of the food bloggers coming late due to weather. We started with a tour of the winery itself, where vineyard manager and assistant winemaker Oliver Asberger showed us the process and allowed us to taste some of the wines in progress, a Seyval and a Viognier from the 2009 vintage that are still fermenting in their large metal tanks.

Then there was lunch. Oh, wow, was there lunch! A five-course tasting menu with wine pairings, to be exact. We met chef Steven Hartman of the winery's restaurant Le Vigne, and he and Oliver acted as culinary tour guides for the next couple of hours.

The first course, chicken liver mousse with housemade pickles and lavosh, had a nice balance of savory and sour, and the texture of the "pickles," which were essentially pickled vegetables, played off well against the chicken liver mousse, which wasn't liver-ish at all but tasted like a certain sandwich spread my mom used when I was a kid. It went away when my dad was diagnosed with high cholesterol, and after seeing Chef's demo on how to make it, I can see why. Yeah, liver and butter – not so good for the bloodwork. Thankfully I don't have to get mine done again til June. The lavosh, a cracker-type thing made of cake flour and water, was good, too.

The course was paired with the 2008 Montaluce Chardonnay, thankfully unoaked. It does have some vanilla notes from the type of fermentation used (some malolactic if you're a wine geek), but the overall flavor is very clear with notes of lime and pineapple. It went very well with the course, balancing the richness of the mousse but not fighting with the pickled veggies.
Wine Rating: Very Good to Excellent (yes, this is high praise for a Chard from me. No, it's not because it was free).

The second course, smoked steelhead trout with boiled peanuts, fennel, meyor lemon, and sweet tea froth, made Hubby happy. The fennel, lemon, and tea froth combination made me think of spring, and the smoked trout made lots of other people think of salmon. I'm not a big trout fan, but I liked it, especially with everything else and the wine pairing.

The 2008 Montaluce Risata was made from Sangiovese that had to be picked early due to the weather. Raspberry nose with good acidity and a nice finish with a little butter and a hint of tart sweetness. It's dry, but well-balanced. At this point, Hubby tweeted, "A Chardonnay @RandomOenophile likes followed by a rose I like? Can this be?"
Wine Rating: Very Good And it was pretty!

Continuing on with the theme of things I normally wouldn't eat but will try if someone else makes them, the third course was a coppa di testa, or Berkshire hog head and feet terrine. Once a week, they bring a whole (dead) pig into the kitchen and break it down. I guess they use everything. It was served with apple mostarda (spicy apple mustard), cider braised cabbage, and apple. It satisfied my Belgian side with its combination of pork, which tasted like bacon, and apple.

Now came the red wines. I like North Georgia wines, but I do have one complaint: the reds tend to be a little light-bodied for my taste. Not so with the 2008 Montaluce Cabernet (blended with a little Merlot and Sangoivese), which was comfortably medium-bodied. It smelled like a Cab without reaching out of the glass and whacking me up-side the head (yes, I did just say that), but it had good body and a lingering finish. The food brought out the fruitiness.
Wine Rating: Very Good to Excellent

I'll get to the last two courses in a moment, but it's time for some random thoughts. Through the first part of the day and couple of courses, we did formal introductions, and there wasn't much spontaneous conversation. Admittedly, I got slightly annoyed just before lunch, when Rob wanted Oliver to keep talking until the food was ready. Oliver had been a good sport and had been talking all morning, and my thought was, "When are we going to get to talk to each other?" After the second course, the magic happened. People opened up like good bottles of red wine, mostly with "oh, so that's who you are!" I felt a little intimidated at first – there were some serious wine people in attendance – but then I remembered that my blog is deliberately non-expert, and I felt better, opened my ears, and learned a lot.

Back to the food! And then God, or maybe Chef, decreed, "There shall be comfort food!" Yep, it was fancy chicken and gravy, or a chicken thigh terrine with cipollini onion, baby carrot, and celery leaf. It was paired with the 2008 Montaluce Merlot, also medium-bodied with some interesting fizziness on the palate. Overall, it was nicely balanced with a little cedar and butter to go with the fruit. It had been made with oak chips for one month, which added spicy notes that balanced the richness of the food.
Wine Rating: Very Good

Yes, there was a dessert course – stuff in jars!

Seriously, it was butternut cup custard with maple gel, oat crumble, and buttermilk espuma (essentially buttermilk whipped cream). The flavor of the butternut squash came through, and the oat crumble added fun crunchiness. I'm going to have to try that maple-butternut combo at home. This course would've been better with a dessert wine, but Montaluce doesn't do those yet, so they paired it with the 2008 Montaluce Viognier, which has 1.5% residual sugar. The dessert overwhelmed the wine, which would've been nice on its own with its floral nose and tropical fruit (but not citrus – someone said papaya and banana).
Wine Rating: Very Good

One of my fellow attendees actually brought a real camera, so for really good pictures, check out Brad Kaplan's photos.

Finally, thanks so much to Rob and Brent for allowing us the opportunity to come up and play with y'all yesterday! We had so much fun!

Next up on Tuesday: But wait, there's more! Wine from distributors Avant Partir and Quality Wine and Spirits


Joe said...

excellent time. I do feel the pace was a little hectic and we tried to squeeze too many things in, but as long as it's food and drink, I'm not one to complain!

Cheers! Joe @suburbanwino (in the pig shirt)

Ed Thralls said...

Great to meet you... great post on the goings on... much better detail than I could remember.