Saturday, December 16, 2017

Uplifting Vino, Small Plates And Raclette Highlight Wine Pairing Party

Food, friends and a selection of great wine – these are the key ingredients to a pleasurable party. Here’s what went down at our first wine pairing party at our new home in North Carolina.


Caviar on creme fraiche and briocheOpening Medley

We recently hosted our first soirée at our new home in the Triangle area of North Carolina. It was a fabulous gathering of about a dozen friends, family and neighbors. Oh yes, we had some wine too!

The culinary brains behind the gathering was my wife, the Green Dragon. When we were out in


The Winemaker Cooks by Christine HannaBervini 1955 Extra Dry Rosé ProseccoSonoma last month, we visited Hanna Winery. There we met Christine Hanna, who not only is president of Hanna Winery and Vineyards, but also a food writer and cooking teacher. She gave us a copy of her book, The Winemaker Cooks: Menus, Parties and Pairings. Green Dragon used recipes from the book for our party menu.

What better way to start the party than with caviar and sparkling wine? For the appetizer we had caviar on crème fraiche and brioche toast. Wow. The saltiness of the caviar was the perfect foil for the Bervini 1955 NV Spumante Rosé. The Italian winery was founded by Antonio Bergama and his son Giuseppe in 1955.

Sparkling wine is a terrific arrival wine due to its lower alcohol level, in this case 11%, as well as the spectacle of bubbles. The effervescence adds a festive note to any occasion. The Bervini 1955 has notes of raspberry and rose and just a hint of sweetness. The Extra Dry rosé is slightly sweeter than the Brut designation. This wine is now available in the US via Wine Trees an importer with a collection that focuses on the world’s most interesting regions. It retails for $18.99.

Raclette Grill and RieslingThe Raclette Ruckus

When our friend Jon offered to bring his raclette grill, I had to admit, I didn’t know what it was. I had heard of raclette, a Swiss cheese dish eaten by shepherds in the Alps. I didn’t know raclette grills were “a thing.”

We soon found out that raclette grills may be hot – but they are oh so cool! Jon and his wife Michelle swung into action with Swiss precision. Raclette is a delicious Swiss cheese that is melted in coupelles (small metal pans that slide into the grill) and then served on top of potatoes, mushrooms, onions, pickles or charcuterie.

While the activity swirled around the raclette grill, I served our next wine, the 2015 Reichsfgraff von Kesselstaff Riesling from Mosel, Germany. The wine was finished semi-dry and the welcome sweetness paired ideally with the raclette.


Wine Pairing Party Menu Final


De Oliveira Lecestre ChablisSockeye Salmon And Sfeeha

The chef’s next dish was Wild Sockeye Salmon with leeks and mustard cream along with cream of cauliflower and fennel soup. My contribution to the dish was driving to the grocery store and hunting down a fennel. For this dish we selected the 2015 Domain De Oliveira Lecestre Chablis. French Chardonnay from Chablis has a more refined, minerally profile than Napa Chardonnay, which tends to be more buttery and oaky.

The De Oliveira Chablis is part of the wine collection at Lidl, a European grocery store chain that began opening stores in the US last summer. It can be purchased for about $13 and is a satisfying white Burgundy that might inspire multiple purchases. This had many votes from our guests as the top white.

We bid adieu to the sparkling and white wines and moved into red territory with our next dish. Green Dragon served up sfeeha, a Mediterranean meat pie made with lamb. She got a big assist from her sister Suzanne.

There was a special treat with the sfeeha, a sumptuous red blend from Israel. The 2012 Carmel Limited Edition is from Galilee and is a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Petit Verdot, 15% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc. This is a premium Bordeaux-style blend and it’s Kosher as well.

2012 Carmel Limited Edition red blend, GalileeWe decanted the Carmel Limited Editor for about an hour. This is deep purple in color with rich aromas of blackberry. In the glass this has a mellow texture enhanced by 15 months of aging in French oak. There are threads of chocolate and hints of smoke.

If you haven’t experienced the wines of Israel, we encourage you to do so. This ancient winegrowing land is producing premium wines that are meant to be enjoyed by those of any religious faith. The retail price is $80.

Bing, Bang Boom

It was time for big reds to make an appearance. The first is an uncommon grape: Carmenère. Carmenère is the signature grape of Chile and nowhere is it better expressed than in the Montes Purple Angel.

The 2014 vintage, from Marchigüe Vineyard in the Colchagua Valley, is 92% Carmenère and 7% Petite Verdot. Purple Angel is considered the “super Carmenère” wine and we are “super fans.”

Cumin-Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Salsa  Verde was the food pairing and it was served with wild rice salad that had celery root, acorn squash and leek.

The Purple Angel is rich with red and black fruit flavors. It has a different flavor profile than Cabernet Sauvignon, juicier and with smoother tannins. The wine is aged for 18 months in new oak, but the oak melds wonderfully with the Purple Angel, lending a bit of toast to the fruit flavors. It has an SRP of $65.

Purple Angel & Santomas RefoskSince we were enjoying a culinary tour de force, what else could we do but have more wine? Decanters were rapidly being filled and drained and refilled.

We next enjoyed a heavyweight from Napa Valley, the 2008 Schweiger Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from the Spring Mountain district. This is a towering Cab with mountain-grown fruit.

Chocolate truffles were the pairing for this wine, a good choice. We decanted the Schweiger for about 30 minutes, but it still opened up more as we conversed and swirled. This whole College Football Playoff controversy seemed to make more and more sense as the wine in the decanter got lower.

The 2008 Schweiger is a great Napa Cab with aging potential for up to 20 years. We couldn’t wait. It has wild cherry notes coupled with plum and dark chocolate. It has a smooth start, crescendos in the middle and has a lingering finish. It retails for about $59, but I was able to get a “steal” for about half price.

Schweiger Cabernet 2The night was drawing to a close. While some guests had only to walk next door, others had to drive to Chapel Hill. But before the guests departed, I had one more ace up my sleeve.

Plonk is a new premium wine club with a very eclectic selection of wines. We featured Plonk in a recent article. One of the selections was the 2015 Santomas Refosk, from Koper, Slovenia. This has flavors of blueberry, but with spice notes that make it a unique wine.

After our wine and culinary tour of four continents and many bottles, the party reached the end of the line. Thanks to the cooks, party-goers and winemakers who helped us warm up a chilly December night!

Full disclosure: Some of the wine served was received as marketing samples.

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