Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Report from ... Shores of Erie International Wine Festival Winemakers Dinner – September 5, 2008

The anxious looks on organizers faces could be read from across the room … this was the “first annual” winemakers dinner at the festival and guest were arriving, the big night had arrived: the preparation, the hard work all comes down to the next 3 hours. They sold out 15 tables, maxed out seating and the capacity of the tent – they now awaited the big moment, the start of what they had envisioned months ago. I had been asked to host one of the 15 tables – with only 13 wineries in the Lake Erie North Shore and a few winemakers indisposed they had some extra tables that needed their guests attended to. So I had to leave my parents (who came down to hear me speak for the first time) and my foodie (Erica) behind to fend for their own dinner (how am I ever going to get a proper take on mushroom and tomato dishes?) and turned my attention and critical eye to this dinner and info-taining the 9 folks at “my table”.

The reception wine was a sparkler by Colio, the 2006 Lily Sparkling, and as anybody who has thrown a party knows, nothing kicks off a bash like bubbly. By the time I had said all my hellos and talked to those who greeted me at the door and on the floor it was time to begin – no chance for another glass of the bubbles.

First course was a Tartlet of Aromatic Duck Confit with baby Pear and Gorgonzola – each course was being paired with a minimum of two wines, this one saw a Pinot Gris and Riesling, as it’s pairing partners. I had been told that each person had two glasses, one for white and one for red – but I, never one to follow the rules, poured a small sampling of each wine, allowing them to get the effect of each as it paired with the food. After each course I polled the table to find out the favourite. While both wines appealed to everyone’s palate, the winner was the Pinot Gris; it just paired better with the entire ensemble … the Riesling was overwhelmed by the Gorgonzola, but when the cheese was revoked it did pair well with the remaining ingredients; on the other hand, the Pinot Gris cleared the palate and complimented the entire piece. Winning Wine: Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery 2007 Pinot Gris.

The next course was Rabbit Filled Ravioli served in a Butternut Squash Puree with Truffle; the wines were a Cabernet Franc and a Chambourcin. The table seemed relatively split when it came to tasting the wine on its own, but add the food to the mix and the Franc won hands down. Winning Wine: Colio Estate Winery 2005 CEV Cabernet Franc Reserve.

Onto the third round, here we had Baby Arugula, Heirloom Tomato and Parma Ham with Blood Orange Olive Oil; the wines were a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay. This was no contest – again two fine wines but the Cabernet Sauvignon overpowered where the Chardonnay complimented … using the red for this course seemed a strange choice though interesting and daring. Winning Wine: Mastronardi Estate Winery 2005 Chardonnay Reserve Oaked.

The last dish was the main course. Charred Leg of Lamb with Fresh Rosemary Roasted Baby Carrot with Star Anise and Wild Honey, Smashed Fingerling Potato with Garlic Confit. This time there were three wines to pair with the main – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Franc – this threw the table into a tizzy. I was also able to secure a third glass for everyone so they could give each wine equal weight while tasting the food. At a nine-person table one person picked the Merlot, 4 picked the Cabernet Sauvignon and the other 4 the Franc. Finally the Merlot dissenter broke the tie and went with the Cab Sauv crew (it was his “close second” choice). Winning Wine: Pelee Island 2005 Vinedressers Cabernet Sauvignon.

Dessert came paired with two wines, both Vidal, a late harvest and a low sugar icewine (7). Dessert consisted of White Panna di Ciocolata served with Peach Soup. The late harvest was drowned out by the sweetness of the dessert, while the Icewine seemed to hold its own. Winning Wine: Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery 2007 Vidal Icewine.

The organizers breathed their collective sighs of relief as dinner ended without an apparent hitch. Now it was time for lots of conversation and milling about. People compared their wines and table experiences and talked about the food. I would say the first ever “annual” Shores of Erie International Wine Festival Winemakers Dinner was a success; the food was very good, the wines paired well (some better than others – but that is to be expected) and everybody walked away happy and satiated … what more could you want from a dinner, maybe a grab bag, but then maybe I’m just letting my inner child out and harking back to my kids party days.

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