Sunday, June 26, 2011

Stuffed Oenophile: Qupe Wine Dinner

It's funny how some things come full circle. Four years ago, I was in Minneapolis for a professional conference. One of my good friends lives there, and we went out to dinner one evening to an Italian restaurant. The food was unremarkable, but I do remember the wine we shared, a bottle of the Qupé Syrah. At that conference, I also took (and passed!) a certification exam for the specialty area upon which I've built my practice.

Fast forward four years… I wrote the first version of this post on a plane to Minneapolis for the same conference, the aftermath of which at work has led this post to be a little later than originally planned. The prior weekend, Hubby and I attended a full Qupé pairing dinner. Things have gotten bigger and better for all of us, it seems.

We had heard of Local Three Kitchen & Bareven before they opened, when chef Chris Hall contributed a course to the Brick Store Orval dinner two years ago. When our friend Joe Herrig, aka the Suburban Wino, tweeted about the pairing dinner, we jumped at the chance to join him.

I'll go ahead and get my one complaint out of the way. The dinner information had said that the "reception" would start at 6:30. Hubby and I got there a little after 6:30 and were shown to the room where the dinner was to be held, a semi-formal space watched over by the gopher from Caddyshack (I'm not even going to get into the rubber chickens). The servers poured the water, but nothing else. Several people bailed to the bar until the real meal was supposed to start at 7. I decided to hold off since I knew that we'd be drinking plenty, but still, it was somewhat annoying.

The first course soothed any ruffled feathers. The Hamachi Tartare with avocado, yuzu, and snow pea, and topped with micro cilantro, was fresh and tender. The creaminess of the avocado and texture of the tuna were the perfect pairing for the 2009 Qupé Bien Nacido Cuvee, a blend of 50% viognier and 50% chardonnay. Crisp citrus on the nose and front of the palate gives way to very smooth melon with floral notes from the viognier and creaminess from the chard. Yep, this was a texture pairing, and the food brought out the fruitiness of the wine.

The second course was probably my favorite other than dessert. The Florida rock shrimp were cooked to the sweet spot of fully done but not chewy and served with spinach and ricotta ravioli. The pairing, 2008 Qupé Block 11 Chardonnay, had a gorgeous color. It's done on new oak, but the high acidity kept it from being an oak bomb. It's well balanced with citrus and a little vanilla.

It's Georgia, so you know there had to be peaches. A fairly traditional grilled Georgia peach, arugula, and blue cheese salad with almonds allowed the 2008 Qupé Bien Nacido Vineyard Roussanne to shine. This was, to me, a perfect white: crisp and fruity with enough acidity to go with food but not too much to be enjoyed on its own. At $40 a bottle, it was also the most expensive wine of the night. (check out the aforementioned Suburban Wino's homage to Roussane, inspired by the dinner).

My new favorite restaurant food is sliders, and I love duck, so I was excited about the fourth course. Grilled duck sliders with raspberry ketchup came with thin, crisp sweet potato chips. A Cotes du Rhone-style blend of 53% Syrah, 25% Grenache, and 22% Mourvedre stood up to it with its dark berry nose and lingering finish with a hint of butter. As with the first course, the similarities with the food and wine played well together.

Then it was Syrah time! The fifth course, a braised beef short rib with porcini and blueberry risotto got rave reviews from the table for the tender, flavorful beef and mixed reactions to the blueberries. I liked them in the risotto, but I found the whole dish to be salty. The 2008 Qupé Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah reminded me why I originally filed the name Qupé away in my brain as a Syrah to look out for. Again, the dark fruit was the predominant flavor, but with enough tannic structure to stand up to the food.

The Qupé winemaker's son Ethan represented the winery at the dinner, and he shared some of his own bottling, the 2007 Ethan Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah, with the sixth course. Another pairing of meat and fruit, the roasted cervena venison with cherry compote and herb gnocchi worked much better than the short rib and blueberries. The wine itself was excellent, although not widely available, which caused some wailing and gnashing of teeth at our table. Lighter bodied and with brighter fruit than the previous Syrah, I would have put it earlier in the lineup if it had been a straight-up tasting.

Believe it or not, we found room for the seventh (!) course, a chocolate truffle cake topped with ganache and served with chocolate cremeux (think chocolate cream that's heavier in texture than whipped but lighter than ice cream) and cherry sauce. Sadly, it killed the wine, an earthy 2006 Qupé Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah. I finished the wine first and then went back to the dessert, which was as rich as it sounds but too good with its three levels of chocolate to leave any behind.

Thanks, Ethan, for coming out east to the dinner to share your wines and knowledge with us, and a big thanks to Chef Hall for an incredible dinner! We will definitely be back to Local Three in the future.


Joe said...

Thanks for the plug! I thought it was a great meal, and great wine, but some of the pairings didn't jive to me. The sweet components of many dishes made the reds taste bitter (to me). And the chocolate and dry red wine thing doesn't always work for me.

That being said, the white pairings were great, as was the company :)

Cecilia Dominic said...

Thanks for stopping by, Joe!

I agree with you about red wine vs. sweet stuff. It's hard to get dry red wine and dessert to agree, even with a fruity zin. If I'm going to have wine with dessert, I usually stick with a late harvest or port.

The company was awesome!!! :)