Friday, March 21, 2008

Rappahannock Cellars Wine Dinner

Last evening we hosted our latest monthly wine dinner featuring the wines of Rappahannock Cellars. John Hagarty from Rappahannock was our amiable host and introduced each of the five wines in our six-course dinner. Here's the menu:

Salpicón de Gambas; Stuffed Mussels
Seyval Blanc 2006

Tatsoi Salad with Toasted Almonds, White Raisins, and Sautéed Goat Cheese
Caramelized Onion and Curry Vinaigrette
Viognier Reserve 2006

Seared Tuna
Chickpeas, Olives, and Tapenade Vinaigrette
Claret 2005

Panisse with Grilled Mediterranean Vegetables
Baked Chickpea Cake with Grilled Red Peppers, Cipollini Onions, and Fennel
Cabernet Franc 2006

“French Onion Soup”
Croustade Topped with Braised Beef Shin, Caramelized Onions, and Local Gouda
Surrounded by French Onion Soup
Meritage 2005

Caramel Ice Cream with Chocolate-Dipped Dried Pear

I devised this menu blind, meaning that I had not tasted the wines before. I relied on the wines being typical of the grapes from which they were made and they were. I believe the pairings worked extremely well and customer feedback was very positive. Here are my pairing notes.

Salpicón de Gambas; Stuffed Mussels/Seyval Blanc 2006

Seyval as it is grown here in Virginia is a crisp white, a classic seafood wine. The two tapas that we served show the two opposite approaches to pairing wines with food. The salpicón was made from shrimp that we poached in court bouillion and marinated in a classic red wine vinaigrette augmented with parsley, minced cornichons, and minced capers. This pairing matches the acid of the vinaigrette to the acid of the wine. The mussels take the contrary approach. We minced steamed mussels and bound them with a béchamel flavored with mussel stock and pimentón. The richness of the cream-based béchamel gave the acid in the wine a backdrop against which to play.

Tatsoi Salad with Toasted Almonds, White Raisins, and Sautéed Goat Cheese;Caramelized Onion and Curry Vinaigrette/Viognier Reserve 2006

With this course, I was out to demonstrate that Viognier—Virginia's premier white grape—can indeed stand up to bold flavors. I was once told by a winery owner around here that I would kill her Viognier with bold flavors. I didn't. This dish is a result of asking myself the question, "Self, what kind of dish would you pair a big, fruity white with?" Among the answers was a mild curry. Given the wine's position on the menu, I decided that a salad with curry flavors might be just the thing. And it was an excellent pairing.

Tatsoi is a Brassica with dark green, spoon-shaped leaves that have a slight cabbage flavor and is an ideal green for pairing with bold flavors. I suspected that the wine had been through full malolactic fermentation (and I was right) so I added the goat cheese to give the dish a bit of acid to play against the creaminess of the wine. The dressing is made from caramelized onions, a bit of Madras curry powder, rice wine vinegar, and pure olive oil.

Seared Tuna Chickpeas, Olives, and Tapenade Vinaigrette/Claret 2005

This claret is a very light red, a blend in fact of both red and white grapes. This seems to be a common trend at local wineries as a way to induce white wine drinkers to taste reds. The result is always an inexpensive, light-bodied quaffing wine. I happen to love light-bodied reds with tuna. For myself, I will pick a Pinot Noir or Sangiovese with tuna, if I'm not drinking beer or sake. I also wanted to get people a bit out of their comfort zone by pairing red wine with fish.

The trick here was to reinforce the red theme with the accompanying chickpea salad. I think of chickpeas as red-wine food because of their earthiness and I reinforced that with olives, diced red onion, garlic, and smoky pimentón. The salad was dressed in a vinaigrette made from classic tapenade ingredients: anchovy-stuffed olives, thyme, parsley, garlic, red wine vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil.

Panisse with Grilled Mediterranean Vegetables: Baked Chickpea Cake with Grilled Red Peppers, Cipollini Onions, and Fennel/Cabernet Franc 2006

Cabernet Franc always speaks to me of grilled vegetables, especially red peppers and eggplant. I would have paired these vegetables with grilled leg of lamb except that our guests included several who eat no red meat. Instead, I opted to make a classic panisse: chickpea flour cooked just like polenta, spread to solidify on a sheet tray, cut into circles with a ring mold, and crisped in olive oil.

I flavored the panisse with garlic and a good bit of pimentón (what can I say? I was in a pimentón mood yesterday) to give what is a very bland starch some character. We charred the sweet red peppers on the grill, peeled and julienned them. We roasted the cipollini in the oven until just done and cut the fennel into wedges and grilled them. The fennel went into a marinade of olive oil, garlic, and herbs. Then we formed a salad by mixing all the vegetables with some of the fennel marinade and served it on top of warm circles of panisse, a nice contrast of temperatures.

“French Onion Soup:” Crouston Topped with Braised Beef Shin, Caramelized Onions, and Local Gouda Surrounded by French Onion Soup/Meritage 2005

This is a dish I thought of a couple weeks ago and we just happened to have a big red wine to pair it with at this dinner. A big Bordeaux blend needs something substantial and this re-imagining of classic onion soup is nothing if not substantial.

To start, we had our butcher in Philly cut ossobuco of beef for us, which we then braised in lots of red wine. Once the beef was cooked, the braising liquids and more red wine went into the soup pot with 20lbs of caramelized onions (eight hours it took to caramelize them) for a classic onion soup base.

To re-imagine the dish, we toasted rounds of herbed focaccia and topped them with shredded beef, caramelized onions, and slabs of local Gouda-style cheese from our friend Allen Bassler at Oak Spring Dairy. We placed these in the oven until the cheese melted and then placed them into oval gratins of the soup for service. By the time they were at the table, the crouton had absorbed the majority of the soup.

Our forthcoming wine dinners are always listed on the Events Calendar on the restaurant web site.

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