Tough Pairings and Easy Sharings

We started our 2011 celebration a little early choosing to invite a few new social media friends we recently connected with to our home for a wine dinner. I really do not approve of anyone I am fond of driving on New Year’s Eve, so Friday night was spent in an intimate setting with just the company of Pamalicious to enjoy my culinary creations and myself to enjoy her wine pairings. Although we did not reach the milestone referred to in the novel Heat by Bill Buford when he described a scene where Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich; sat down to create new menu items for Babbo while visiting Italy. It was reported that they consumed a full case of wine just between the two of them. Three and a half maybe four bottles is my limit who knows I might get there someday. We can all dream.

The dinner was set for 12-27-2010 and when our guests arrived for our pre-NYE early celebration, we were excited so we opened an NV J Rose Brut, a luscious wine that is masterful at complementing a wide range of culinary creations. I think 2011 should be the year everyone pledges to open a bottle of wine every time they get excited.

For our first course, I prepared some pecan-smoked brisket and gave it just a kiss of Chipotle pepper so it was spicy but sweet. The vessel would be some hollowed out steamed Yukon Gold potatoes that were topped with cumin sour cream, grape tomato wedges and cilantro garnish. The other dish was a traditional Spankopita with Chevre Montrachet goat cheese melted on top and herb marinated julienne of Sun Dried Tomato as garnish. Two opposite ends of the flavor spectrums. Both were fabulous.  The J Brut Rose handled both dishes in stride whisking away the spice making everything cool and nice and earthy berry and minerals paired well with Phylo, Spinach, Feta and baked goat cheese.

NV J Brut Rose Sonoma 12.5% | $30 | 88pts
Leading with strawberry aromas, this wine fills a culinary need and could be a standalone sipper. The culinary pairings fared well—on the palate you taste the red wine that was used to make this cuvee.  The structure frames all the unique flavors and delivers a crisp clean package worth seeking out. If I was going to a super bowl party I would bring a couple of bottles of this and kick the #$%@! out of anybody who made pink jokes while I enjoyed my super hot buffalo wings. Beyond that, it worked well for our purposes on this occasion.

As I started the second course, Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter and shaved Pecarino Romano cheese, we opened a wine from one of Willamette Valley’s best vintages to date, 2002. This wine came from a winery that was my former employer. I never used to review Willamette Valley wines thus avoiding any claim of conflict of interest. Not a problem now so you will start to see more Oregon wines reviewed here.  The 2002 Pierces Elbow from Montinore Estate which is a cuvee, not a single vineyard designate, had made the trip and could have gone a lot further before opening.

2002 Pinot Noir Pierces Elbow Montinore Estate 1.5L 13.4% | $90 | 93pts
A finer expression of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from this vintage would be hard to find. The fruit was so alive this wine had serious backbone and could have held it’s own for another five years at least. All the classic red fruit and spicy vanilla was represented and the herbs shined through in such a subtle manner, amplifying all the fruit and mineral quality to a level that brought this wine alive. The smooth long finish kept the fruit in the forefront and let just enough of the earthiness this wine is known to produce shine through in a complementary way. It was a perfect match to start our second course and we could not have found a better wine pairing for this dish. The butternut squash gnocchi with sage brown butter was a stunning match and the pecorino romano’s slight saltiness brought it all home.

As I started our main course, we finished the Pinot so I looked to the bottles our guests so graciously brought with them. We opened a bottle from one of my favorite Walla Walla wineries Helix from Reininger. I was recently introduced to this winery last year and it was only through another Walla Walla winery that I made this connection, thanks to Justin Basel from Basel Cellars and the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, 2010. Justin had a private tasting for a few select bloggers and was kind enough to invite two other wineries to ply us with their wares. One was Reininger and the other Dusted Valley. Wish I had tried them both earlier because they are producing some of the best wines from eastern Washington.

2005 Sangiovese Helix Columbia Valley 14.3% | $27 | 90pts
All of the Sangiovese fruit came from the Stillwater Creek Vineyard.  The wine spent 24 months in French oak and the barrel aging produced a magnificent wine with just the right amount of acidity to be called a perfect food wine. This wine started with elevated aromas of raspberries and vanilla. As the flavors spread across the palate, the theme continues with the tannins creating a softer texture than many other Sangiovese’s I’ve tasted, picking up a broader spectrum of spice and a tinge of citrus and olive.

This wine had the perfect balance to counteract the acidity of the Vitello Picatta with panko and parmesan breading and a pan sauce of garlic, capers, lemon juice, Italian parsley and white wine.  Spinach alla Robilio (Sautéed spinach and onions with parmesan, garlic and scrambled egg) completed the plate and the dinner was fantastic.  Great company and fantastic wine equals an enjoyable evening.

The final dish served was a chocolate walnut crusted baked cheesecake with thick chocolate ganache.  A 20 Year Dow Tawny Port was offered and paired well. The nuttiness of the mature Tawny met the chocolate walnut crust head on and devastated the 72% Cacao Ganache cleaning our palates and preparing us for the next bite.

I’m quite sure by the end of the evening our new Twitter friend and guest had learned more about me than anyone would care to know. I was quite impressed with the dedication and perseverance to not imbibe the designated driver for the evening displayed. That’s a lot more will power than I have seen in a long time. So now here we are in 2011, all fat and happy as we continue our search to find, taste and review as many wines as we can so our readers get warned about the misses and clued in quickly about the hits.

Enjoy! Marc Hinton


About the Author:

Marc has held almost every position in the food & wine industry and is committed to Celebrating Hospitality with Pride. In addition to being the co-founder and editor-at-large for Enobytes, Marc is a wine blogger contributor to (Wine Bytes) and writes the Wine Knowledge column in the print magazine About Face. The Contra Costa County Times, San Jose Mercury News, Tacoma Times Tribune and Washington Post have either interviewed or quoted Marc on his viniferous and culinary opinions. Marc has also appeared on Portland's "Vine Time" on News Radio 750 KXL and on California's Central Coast "From the Growing of the Grape to the Glass" on KUHL-AM 1410. He is also the author of A History of Pacific Northwest Cuisine: Mastodons to Molecular Gastronomy. While continuing to tenaciously search for what he may finally proclaim as his favorite wine Marc is relentless in his quest for the ultimate food and wine experience.


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  4. Heather January 10, 2011 at 12:59 PM - Reply

    I love the J sparklers! Good review.

  5. MacDaddy Marc January 10, 2011 at 3:16 PM - Reply

    Thanks for the comment
    J wines have been a favorite of mine for a while in fact the J Brut Cuvee 20 was consumed on New Nears Day and was fantastic also. George Bursick does a great job as the winemaker for J. It is a real shame more people have not tried their still wines. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are worth seeking out. I have not tasted any of their Viognier or late disgorged sparklers but as soon as i do they will be reviewed here too.

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