Sunday, July 08, 2007

Wine & Food Pairing Tasting Events

This week was interesting from a wine and food pairing point of view with several events which I was involved. The first was at Cavey's Restaurant in Manchester, CT., at which I hosted, and the second was the CT Public Television annual event Connecticut Chef Showcase 2007, in which I was asked to discuss the wine pairings.

The Cavey's event involved actually selecting the wines, which I did based on my visit to Tuscany the previous week, and then the restaurant made the menu around the wines. This event is part of a regular series that Cavey's runs throughout the year and is a great event for consumers wishing to learn more about wine and food. The events run every week for 6-8 weeks at a time, is reasonably priced at $25 and very low-key; five course of small plates paired with tastes of five different wines from a selected theme. Cavey's is one of Central CT's best quality restaurants and has one of, if not the best, wine lists in the state. About 65 people in attendance.

My event this week was titled Tuscany Beyond Chianti and included the following:

A crositini fiorentina and sopressata to which we paired Orvieto Classico "Campogrande", 2005 by Antinori - yes this is not technically part of Tuscany (it is Southern Umbria) but my trip had a stop over near the town of Orvieto and I needed another white for the evening. I find this wine to quite tasty whenever I have it. Very consistent as well. Fresh and clean with an undertone of minerals and light fruit, it is the perfect to start a meal and as an accompaniment to light fair such as this course, which is a fairly typical way to start a meal in central Italy.

The second course was zucchini rollatini with basil essence to which we paired Vernaccia di San Gigminano, 2005 from Fontaleoni. Fontaleoni is an estate that was started in 1959, and has been consistently producing classic Vernaccia ever since. My visit included a brief visit through the very bustling streets of this small hill-town. I did not visit Fontaleoni, but did return to the wonderful estate of Falchini and visited with Michael Falchini. The Fontaleoni was a bit fuller than the Orvieto, but still light and clean - flavors include fresh almond and a touch of lemon, but not racy like sauvignon. more even-keeled across the palate. This worked quite well with the rollatini as it needed a fleshier wine.

Third course was eggplant ravioli "pappa al pomodoro" style to which we paired the Poggio della Fonte Toscana Rosso, 2004, from Ciacci Piccolomini. Here is a value wine if there ever was one; Ciacci P. (as I call it) is on a huge roll right now and is setting the bar very high in Montalcino. This little wine is a blend of sangiovese, cabernet and merlot - typical blend of what a lot of producers are doing, now. The wine is about $11 retail and just delivers at this price. The eggplant can be challenging to pair with wine because if it is not done properly can have some bitter flavors, but Cavey's did a soft almost creamy style of eggplant which married with the juicy sweet berry fruit of the wine.

Fourths included the grilled portobello mushroom and prosciutto to which we paired the Morellino di Scansano "I Perazzi", 2005, by La Mozza. La Mozza is the Tuscan property owned by Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali. The own about 100acres in the Maremma, the coastal region in southern Tuscany that has become the "in" spot for many producers over the past 15 years. Morellino is the local name for the sangiovese grape, which is the primary ingredient in almost all of the wines from this area. Big and juicy this is a classic "country" Tuscan red. Polished enough to let you know that it is a wine of quality, but just enough edge to let you get a sense of its wild heritage in the Maremma. Pairs well with the smoky quality in the prosciutto and the earthiness of the mushrooms. This wine was big hit.

For the final course we had a grilled angus club sirloin and soft polenta to which we paired the Carmignano "Montefortini", 2004 from Ambra. This wine is a blend of sangiovese (80%), cabernet sauvignon (10%) and smaller portions of canaiolo and merlot. The winery is situated in the small region of Carmignano, which is located west of Florence. This area had been a favorite source of wine for the Medici, but has become less well known in recent history. Wine drinkers "in-the-know" love this producer, which has very little trouble selling all of its beautiful wine every vintage. This was definitely the hit of the evening and was a great choice to have with the beef. A bigger style compared to the other wines of the evening, but still soft and juicy with so much sangiovese as its main component. A fine way to finish this seminar.

All-in-all the attendees were quite pleased and appreciative of the info I shared with them, and I believe many learned new things about Tuscany, making this a very successful event.

Two nights later I was at The Hartford Club for the 2007 edition of CT Public Television's Connecticut Chef's Showcase event. This is an event which brings chefs from well-known CT area restaurants together to prepare their own selections for the meal. I was asked to speak about the wine pairings for each course; I followed the chef's speach about the courses they prepared. About 150 people in attendance.

The first course was prepared by Leo Bushey, chef at the Hartford Club. I have known Leo for a number of years and at several different restaurants in the area; he specializes in elegant seafood dishes. Tonight's offering was seared scallop with frisee and endive, grilled pears and blood orange gastrique to which we paired the Rosa Chiara, 2006, by La Scolca. The lightness of this wine paired perticularly well with the sweetness of the scallops. Quite good pairing - La Scolca is one of the finest white producers from Piemonte.

Second course was prepared by Rich Lucas of Bosc Kitchen & Wine Bar in Simsbury, CT. Rich and worked together briefly when he first opened the restaurant. His dish was a lobster, morels and chantrelles in saffron cream sauce over tagliatelle to which we paired the Pouilly Fuisse "Marie Antoinette", 2005 by J.J. Vincent Estate. The dish is a bit decadent and needed a wine that had some backbone and acidity, but a wine that would not overpower the meal. This wine is done with just a bit of aging in older oak so there really are not a lot of heavy flavors - just crisp fresh chardonnay.

Thirds was prepared by Chef Hasni Jeff Ghazali from Bentara and Central Steak House in New Haven, CT. He prepared a Rendang filet of beef with cocnut turmeric sweet rice and spiced Chinese eggplant to which we paired the Morgon "Charmes", 2005 by J.J. Vincent Estate. This dish has some serious Asian spices and aromatics that can destroy a heavy or overly oaked wine and make everything seem out-of-sorts, but this gamay based wine that is smooth and clean really worked well with the flavors. The sweet fruit in the beaujolais balanced the earthy spices and allowed evrything to come out on the palate with nothing really dominating too much. Good pairing.

The forth course was prepared by Chef Jeffery Steelman from Todd English's Tuscany at Mohegan Sun, and he made the "Best Surf & Turf...Period". Debateable, but it was good. The wine pairing was a wine from Sicilia: "Nivuro", 2003, by Santa Tresa. The wine is predominantly Nero d'Avola, has a gourgeous deep color and really rich smooth flavors with loads of dark berries and smoky flavors - something wild in this wine as well. This married up just fine to the dish.

For the finale we had an amazing caramel, hazelnut and chocolate mousse feuillantine prepared by Chef Jean Pierre Vuillermet of the Union League Cafe in New Haven, CT. Probably the finest presentation of the evening with a beautiful (and deliciously light) square "log" of mousse with a hazelnut crust. I didn't want to, but I found I had to eat all of it - so good. We paired up the Churchill's 10 year tawny port - mahogony in color and just elegant and smooth to drink - worked well with the dessert - perhaps just a touch out of balance with a little too much alcohol showing over the sugar from the dish. No one was complaining though these were both so good, they worked.

A fun and delicious meal with just about everything working well with the food and wine pairings...this is a great event for those who like Public Broadcasting and/or live in Central CT.

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