Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An "Exceeds Expectations" German wine dinner

The room was dimly lit, and my camera's flash was misbehaving, so I didn't get any good pictures of food or wine that night, but I would be remiss if I did not mention what a fantastic wine dinner I had the opportunity to co-host last Friday evening.

The dinner took place at a restaurant in Long Beach, a terrific owner-operated place with class and elegance, Delius Restaurant. Owners Dave and Louise are among the most generous and fun hosts I have ever met. They were turned on to German wine years ago by my former boss, Randy Kemner of The Wine Country. They became fans of the Rudi Wiest portfolio ever since.

And, for the past 5 years, or maybe more, they've hosting a German wine dinner once a year in their elegant "prix-fixe" dining room, matching some of the most luscious German wines with their eclectic and well-executed cuisine.

And, very importantly to me, the setting is so perfect. Dave and Louise already feature prix-fixe dinners every evening, with special themes that change weekly, featuring seasonally fresh ingredients, and taking diners through 5 or more courses of delightful, exciting fare.

So what did we have that was so wonderful? We started off with some refreshing and minerally 2009 Wirsching Iphofer Kronsberg Silvaner trocken from the traditional Franken bocksbeutel, which was paired with a pickled trout done in-house and served delicately upon a slice of cold Yukon gold potato that had been roasted to al dente, and topped with some creme fraiche. Perfect. An appetizing dish, not a hint of grease, a fun and stimulating way to start the meal.

The second course was a sauteed sweetbreads served with cauliflower and salsify - as if the sweetbreads themselves were not interesting enough, I thought the menu tacticians were taking great care to serve interesting vegetables as sides, too, like salsify - which was very salsifying! The sweetbreads were meaty and nicely done to a golden brown, and the entire dish went nicely with 2008 Pfeffingen Estate Riesling Kabinett (a.k.a "Pfeffo") which is a medium-dry style Riesling with nice body and weight, owing to the fact that it is from the Pfalz, a warmer growing region than say, the Mosel, and also owing to its vinification style, which is toward the drier side vs. a fruity Kabinett. I thought the pairing was nice - it was the wine recommended by my boss Rudi Wiest - though Randy mentioned that he wouldn't mind something with a bit more residual sugar (read: sweeter) with the dish. I could see his point. For someone who doesn't mind a well-made German Riesling with residual sugar - or someone like me who likes a fruity Spatlese with dinner - a fruity Kabinett or Spatlese would have been fine, even delicious, with the meal.

The next two courses were paired with German red wines. People were pretty excited to hear that, I'll tell you what! And I was pretty excited too. First, we had the 2008 Becker Estate Pinot Noir paired with the duck course. Now, Pinot Noir & duck is a natural perfect pairing, so this was a no-brainer in the planning department. But little did I know how AWESOME this was until I tasted it. Seriously, I'm not just pumping up the wine right now to sell it - it was terrific and showed beautifully that night - I'm not sure if the Becker is just at a really perfect stage right now, or if the duck dish brought out all its wonderful cherry fruitiness. Wow. The duck was no ordinary duck, but it was a Muscovy duck breast, thick, tender, rich, cooked just perfectly, ie. medium-rare, and served with black beans (the menu said "black bean and pear chutney") and it was supposed to be cinnamon scented. I didn't notice the cinnamon accent when I ate the dish, but then I was pretty distracted by the lovely wine. Wow.

The final savory course, after that generous slab of duck breast, was a pan roasted veal loin paired with 2007 Schnaitmann Lemberger from the Wurttemberg. Now, I won't lie to you - I have trouble selling this wine. One restaurant buyer summed it up most succintly in this way: "Look, I can't sell a wine with three words on it that no one knows what they mean: Schnaitmann, Lemberger, and Wurttemberg." So there you have it - no one knows what Lemberger is, and if they had a guess, it would be a stinky cheese. Well, it isn't "limberger" - the stinky cheese, but instead, it is the same variety as Blaufrankisch, the name the Austrians give to this grape. But in Germany, the wine is called Lemberger. As soon as this wine was poured into the glass, its aromas made themselves known to our noses. Yum! Enticing blackberrry and blueberry lept from the glass, but on the palate, we didn't get gloopy Shiraz, but instead, elegant, structured, fruit-forward yet not jammy Lemberger, a delicious and satisfyingly rich red that is unlike anything else I represent. Oh it was tasty, and it was so fun to introduce it to a roomful of people who had never tasted Lemberger. This wine would fly off the shelves if only it didn't say Lemberger!

Finally, we came to dessert. There was no dessert wine, just coffee with it - a chocolate mascarpone cheesecake baked to perfection, light as a cloud and not super sweet - very nice, with a side of blackberry gelee. No dessert wine to compete with that lovely ending.

In all, I was super impressed with the caliber of the Delius kitchen, the fantastic culinary adventure, the way the wines performed, and the mood of the entire dining room. Everyone was pleased. And I got requests to do another wine dinner this fall at another local restaurant that I've done a wine dinner at before - Fora in Naples... two years ago we did a hunter's wild game dinner with German red wines. We've been asked for an encore, and that's now in the works. Stay tuned...


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