Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wine Dinner Down the Street

I have yet to have a less-than-stellar experience attending events at Gordon's Wine, and last night was no exception. Despite being without a wing-man for the evening, I headed down the street for the Cameron Hughes Wine Dinner. The 5-course meal was prepared by Will Gilson from Garden at the Cellar with wines from the Cameron Hughes Lot collection (which functions much the same way as the Cleanskins industry in Australia...).The amuse bouche was Island Creek oyster with Meyer lemon and marinated yellowfin tuna, served with two different 2008 Santa Barbara Chardonnays (Lot 145 and Lot 159). I love oysters, and this was a really nicely balanced bite. The citrus, tuna, and Thai basil oil were the perfect complement to the oyster. Both Chardonnays were actually quite nice, but Lot 145 had the magic combination of being totally my style and also pairing nicely with the dish. (Unlike at Sommelier Smackdowns, where the sommeliers work to pair wines with the food, this menu was developed with the wines in mind, so nice pairings here are a compliment to the chef.)
Next up was a Cassoulet of housemade sausage, duck confit, and flageoulet beans, topped with pork cracklins. I actually found the texture of the cracklins to be more distracting than complementary, but the duck confit was delicious and the sausage was nice, too. Overall I think this was the dish that impressed me the least, which was maybe somewhat exacerbated by the fact that it was the one I was looking forward to the most. Just not the bold, intense flavors that I'm always looking for, but still a nice dish. This was paired with two Carneros Pinot Noirs: Lot 110 from 2007 and Lot 165 from 2008. Both, again, were nice wines, but the Lot 165 was more my style (I like a bigger, more aggressive Pinot) and was lovely with the cassoulet.
The next course was a 48-hour short rib with quinoa, brussels sprout, and bordelaise. The short rib was cooked sous vide for 48 hours (as the name suggests), and was beautifully tender and flavorful. The brussels sprout, sadly, seemed like it was a bit of an afterthought. (I would have liked to see something done to it other than just blanching, to help tie it into the dish more...) The short rib and sauce were fantastic, though, and the quinoa was an interesting texture contrast. Two Cabs with this course: Lot 140 2007 Chalk Hill and Lot 147 2007 Sonoma. The Chalk Hill made me very happy, and was perfect with the short rib. The Lot 147 was less my style, but was helped by the kick-ass short rib.
The Grilled rack of lamb with merguez, fennel, black olives, and fenugreek potatoes was up next. This was a bit confusing, as I'm not sure where the Merguez (which I was really looking forward to) came into play... Maybe in the potatoes (along with the black olives and fenugreek leaves)? The potatoes were certainly flavorful and delicious. The spicy chili paste on the plate was a nice accent, as well, and the lamb was perfectly cooked. I was a big fan of this dish. Three Cabs with this course: The Lot 136 2007 Napa Cab, which apparently contains a bit of Tempranillo, was incredibly lush and drinkable, not the kind of wine that you feel like you need to have with a meal to balance it, which I'm always a fan of. The Lot 164 2007 Rutherford Cab was not something I could see myself drinking on purpose, but that's really just a personal preference. The Lot 149 2007 Napa Valley Cab (Mt. George) was also fantastic, and was probably the best complement to the lamb. Good stuff.
The lamb was grilled off and then cooked sous vide for about 90 minutes before service, by the way, which gives you that lovely perfectly-cooked texture throughout. I suspect that the chef would have done the sous vide first and grilled off the chops just before service given ample time and a full kitchen (and staff), which would have made this dish even better, but I really can't complain...
The final course was a Great Hill Blue Cheese with stewed figs and pomegranate-sesame compote. The cheese is apparently made with raw milk, which adds to its nice sharp bite. The figs (at left in the picture below) were kind of unpleasant, but the compote was fantastic with the cheese. Since the cheese wasn't overly creamy, it actually did quite well with the red wines served with it: Lot 143 2007 Howell Mountain and Lot 167 2007 Nappa Valley Petite Sirah. I'm a sucker for a good Petite Sirah, and this was a really nice one that stood up impressively well to the strong cheese.
In summary, a fun and interesting evening with good food and surprisingly good wine. I sometimes really miss having the Santa Ynez valley in my back yard, so I've really been enjoying these chances to explore new wines in my new winery-free home...

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