Friday, January 14, 2011

"Alpine" Wine Dinner

January in Asheville. It's cold. Last night, the low was 14 degrees, and the snow that fell last Sunday and Monday was still around (it's still around as this is written). If you were looking for a theme for a wine dinner, you might consider the Southern Hemisphere (hey, it's in the 90s in Mendoza right now!), or you could do what Jacob Sessoms (chef-owner of Table) and Mike Tiano (co-owner of Haw River Wine Man) did, and swing with the snowy concept.

Hence, a Thursday night "Alpine" themed dinner at Table.

We began with a Prosecco-based cocktail enlivened and emboldened with a little St. Germain elderflower liqueuer and calvados. ("You can see the Alps from Valdobbiadene," said Mike.) A platter of crostini was passed around, each toasty little guy topped with either lardo, sea trout rillettes, or quince butter. I'm a sucker for lardo, which is sorta like speck, except there's even more fat.

Everybody chit-chatted for a while (so easy to do when you have a sparkling cocktail in one hand and a piece of toast covered with artery-clogging pork product in the other), then sat down for some canederli di speck soup (Dumplings with speck! This is living!). Mike explains that this dish is ubiquitous in the Alto Adige. I make a mental note to hie myself to Bolzano at the next opportunity. With the soup comes a glass of Colterenzio's "Thurner" Pinot Bianco 2009, which has a straightforward nose of green apple, and pleasant ripe apple and pear flavors.

Next: A warm, folkloric dish of brussles sprouts, pumpkin, and cheesy croutons, accompanied by an astonishingly good Sylvaner from the eccentric (and exceptionally talented) Charles Schleret. This was a 2006, in the bottle long enough to develop a slightly oxidative character and a beautiful deep gold color. Schleret has 17 acres in Turckheim, right in the heart of Alsace's Grand Cru country. The wine has powerful mineral and floral aromatics--I mistook it at first for Riesling. It's not at all what you'd expect from Sylvaner, which has a reputation as a vinous also-ran. Mike says Schleret (who has been decribed as having an "avant-gardist" temperament) is in his 80s now, and has no heirs, but clearly doesn't want to let go of his superbly situated vineyards. "He's got the property on the market for about three times what it's worth," says Mike. I can't say I blame the old guy. His wine is fantastic.

Next: I guess they must have crayfish in the French Alps, because that's where Nantua is, and the next dish was "Poularde aux Sauce Nantua," chicken in crayfish sauce. It, too, was homey and comforting. (This is part of the art of wine and food pairing: Jacob knows to offer dishes that are really good but don't shout "Hey look at me"--just as Mike wants the wines to show well with the food, so does Jacob want the food to show off the wines.) The wine in this instance is a 2007 pinot noir from Arbois, an appellation within the Jura, produced by the estimable Jacques Puffeney (Andrew Jefford calls him "...a secret scholar, a quiet theorist, a practical researcher"). This wine, with its forceful red cherry-driven aromas and flavors, and deep color, reminds you that Arbois and The Jura (as in "Jurassic," yes, indeed) are only 50 miles from Beaune. The color alone is a shocker; I've drunk many an Arbois (mostly made from Poulsard) that was pale and wan by comparison, in all respects.

Dessert: "Savoie gateau grenoblois," is walnut cake with caramel icing and ice cream. Huh. I wonder how many Grenoble ski resorts serve pink peppercorn ice cream. I ended up eating the caramel with my fingers, as it repelled all advances from a spoon. I didn't care. It was real, buttery, burnt-sugary caramel. The wine was a yeasty little rosé sparkler, Patrick Bottex Bugey-Cerdon "la cueille," which made me think of that crazy Camillo Donati Malvasia dell' Emilia Frizzante, endearingly known to us now as "beer wine." The Bugey is lighter on its feet, with pretty red berry aromas and flavors, which are attributable to the large proportion of Gamay in the blend (80%, with 20% Poulsard)

After dinner, I got to chat for a moment with Jessica Gualano, who runs The Wine Studio over on Charlotte Street; she's the only wine seller in town who actively courts women as customers (they buy 60% of all the wine sold in the U.S., according to the Wine Market Council). All the wines tasted are available from Jessica's shop.

Mike Tiano and Jacob Sessoms, The Alpine Allies:

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