Monthly Archives: December 2015

A Spectacular Chaine Holiday

Chaine logo

The Hilton Netherland’s Hall of Mirrors adds sparkle and festive vibes to any event. Monday’s holiday dinner for more than 100 members and guests of the Cincinnati chapter of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs was no exception. Greeted by glittering glasses of Roederer Estate Brut NV (Anderson Valley sparkling), canapes passed deftly by a charming staff among hugs and holiday greetings, we were eagerly ushered into the Hall where chef Todd Kelly’s extraordinary meal awaited our undivided attention.

Though the experience of quality fine dining is central to being part of the Chaîne, wine pairing plays an equal measure. This holiday dinner was “100/100” as one member described it in a Facebook post. I’m sure you will agree!

Chaine 1st course

First course: Seriously, I could have declared victory for the evening with an utterly perfect pairing of foie gras with Sauternes. Cleverly presented on a savory, peppery shortbread, the disk of silky goodness accompanied by classic pistachio accents and a cooling dab of Muscadine gel, was frankly inhaled by everyone at the table. Always a good match with salty undertones, the unctuous honeyed sweetness of the Sauternes lingered on the palate, lifting the punch of the pepper into a long spicy finish. Château Roûmieu-Lacoste Sauternes 2013.

Chaine 2nd course

Second course: Cleverly presented as a carrot-billed duck, our second course featured a Maitake mushroom strudel topped with whipped red wine, and plated with shaved truffles and root vegetables. What better to go with this earthy dish than Burgundy? The whipped wine dissipated into a lovely sauce for the savory strudel. While truffles can at times overwhelm a dish, this was a light touch preparation. The root vegetables were pickled, striking fear in the hearts of wine lovers who know what vinegar can do to red wine — but the acidity in the Pinot Noir made it work! Maison Roche de Bellene Gevrey-Chambertin 2011.

Chaine 3rd course

Third course:  Grilled swordfish medallions were accented by aged Wattle Ham and clams, plated on smoked butter and celery, and accompanied by red and white miniature potatoes. The wine selection for this dish was an oaked California Chardonnay, again causing some trepidation for the oenophiles. Named for roasted hazelnuts, our wine selection is considered the winery’s most “appellation-expressive” Chardonnay. Oak influences were modest (30% new French barrels) and the roasted/citrusy flavor profile was more like northern Burgundy than northern California. Kistler “les Noisetiers” Sonoma Coast 2013.

Chaine 4th course

Fourth course: It took some effort among several diners to collect a photo of this bacon-wrapped filet. Not because it wasn’t terrific, mind you; rather because the wine was so amazing! This very rich beef course was presented with smoked chicken hearts, pomegranate ragout, swiss chard, and a Champagne/tarragon sabayon. Most of us simplified the experience to its essence, focusing on the filet and the wine, a smooth “drink now” Cabernet Sauvignon with a unique and vibrant aroma of milk chocolate and licorice. Odette Estate Cabernet, Stags Leap District 2012.

 Chaine 5th course

Dessert course: It was a happy moment when the Sauternes made its way back into the final course anchored by a disk of fromage blanc custard. Geometrically pleasing to the eye, the top bar was caramelized white chocolate; the “balance beam” was a hazelnut praline; and a swoosh of cranberry gelee accented small marinated fruits. The Sauternes paired beautifully with each element of the dish.

Photos courtesy of Mary Horn, Jt Mayer, Michael Lancor

Artisanal Bells Up Winery

Wine glasses

Yesterday I had the pleasure of listening to a webinar sponsored by the French Wine Society featuring veteran Champagne expert Peter Liem. The subject was grower Champagne. I was most struck by Liem’s frankness, advising us not to be allured blindly by the market buzz of grower bubbly because it is (seemingly) artisanal, and not to inherently reject the big Champagne houses or négociant fizz because it is (seemingly) industrial. Drink what you like! Ahhhhh, yes….

For us wine geeks, Liem explained the French labeling terms Récoltrant Manipulant (RM) vs. Négociant Manipulant (NM). In simplest terms, RM means that the grape grower and winemaker are the same. NM means that the winemaker has purchased grapes from someone else. Again, Liem offered a cautionary note, even going so far as to say that he would abolish this distinction because it is somewhat arbitrary and thus not really helpful to the wine industry or to consumers. For example, if a grower with small land holdings needs more grapes for a certain vintage, what’s to say that s/he can’t or won’t buy some additional grapes from cousin Pierre?

This presentation sent my thoughts flying off to the exciting Bells Up Winery adventure of Cincinnatians Dave and Sara Pearson Specter, and to taste a bottle of their wine I had been saving for just the right moment. A few years ago, Dave caught the wine bug in a major way. He left behind working as a lawyer to learn how to make wine. With visions of Pinot Noir dancing in his head, he convinced his creative (and portable) wife and daughter to buy property in Willamette Valley suitable for planting a new vineyard.

Keenly aware that I am making a long story short, Bells Up Winery was soon born. But what’s a newbie winemaker to do when he has just planted his vineyard? Buy grapes and start making good wine from growers in Willamette Valley! So Dave and Sara started out making wine as NMs, and when the grapevines are ready, they will gradually morph into artisanal growers (RMs). It was clearly a smart business strategy.

Bells Up Winery

I remember telling Dave when the winery was branded that I didn’t understand the imagery and name. If other readers are similarly challenged by musical terms, let me explain the artistic connection gratefully shared on the back label of Bells Up wines: “The versatile French horn: in an orchestra, its warm, smooth tone balances a composition; when solo, its bold, brassy character unleashes a heroic, spiritual sound. Lifting the instrument to a ‘bells up’ position projects its voice to maximum intensity. At Bells Up Winery, we compose our handcrafted wines to highlight the versatility and individuality of each varietal.” And of course, winemaker Dave plays the French horn!

Now to the tasting notes. Only 27 cases of the 2013 Villanelle Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noir were bottled and released in 2015, the inaugural year. So no surprise, it sold out quickly. But please enjoy it vicariously. In the glass, Villanelle is so light and pale, a bit cloudy as if unfiltered. Winemaker notes reveal a brief period of aging in neutral oak. Things quickly change as the savory and earthy aromas of Burgundian-style Pinot Noir leap from the glass. On the palate, there is initially a tinge of sweet bubblegum which gives way quickly to subtle notes of bright red fruit and rose petal.

Wine glass image courtesy of wineenthusiast.com.