Friday, October 5, 2012

A Feast Fit for Winemakers & Best Friends: The Winemakers' Dinner

Fresh basil, the base of good pesto.
Ten wines. Ten winemakers. Ten small, delightful tapas dishes. Each dish made by each winemaker, prepared especially to pair with the winemaker's favorite wine. Now that sounds like my kind of event!

What do you like best about winemakers' dinners? What's your most memorable moment from a dinner with the winemakers? What recommendations do you have for the winemakers to make it an unforgettable evening?

Hawaii Kai Palm Island Premium all natural
 sea salt,sprinkled on the pasta  before serving,
provides a burst of flavor to the Penne Pesto
 that enhances the fruit characteristics of
 Blue-Merle's Mourvedre wine.
Our inaugural Winemaker's Dinner at the Hidden Valley Enoteca on Escondido's Wine & Culinary Campus is October 6th, and we've selected our 2009 Mourvedre, the light red wine with the huge strawberry nose. The making of the 2009 Mourvedre has a unique history. We purchased the grapes from Paso Robles Bill at the end of October 2009, who trucked them down to San Diego packed in dry ice. After crushing them, we were able to "cold soak" them for one whole week, because the fall the weather had arrived and the winery was cool, that's 3 days longer than our normal cold soak. During that cold soak period all of the fruit and soft skin tannin were absorbed into the "must" (grape juice), and again, because of the cool weather, a slow, cool fermentation took place over the next seven days. The result, to my surprise, was a surprisingly light color wine (typically with our other grapes cold soaking produces dark, purple wines, but not so with this Rhone varietal often used in blends with Grenache and Syrah) chock full of flavor. My first reaction when opening a bottle and pouring a sip was "Strawberries!" The wine is that fruitful, and yet, the alcohol is 13% and it has structure. This is the wine that we serve to guests in our house as a welcoming aperitif. I have never met a woman who has not loved this wine, and it has become one of favorites, especially with appetizers.

Is it possible for a wine made from grapes to have a strawberry nose? We asked New York's Scent Sommelier Kelly Jones to review the wine in April 2014  and this is what she wrote.  "Yes I had strawberry. But it was a white strawberry. These rare berries yield a tartness that is at once creamy and smooth,  with juicy flavor that spills across the tongue in luscious delight. There is a slight accord of the green leaf from the white strawberry fields, and a hint even of the precious seeds as they burst with inspiration from your vineyard. The essence of white strawberry is Blue Merle Mourvedre. The stuff of magic!"

And why pair it with penne pesto? The strong garlic, fragrant basil and salt frame the fruit of the Mourvedre. It is a lovely combination, especially with the pesto enhanced with the Hawaii Kai Palm Island Premium all-natural sea salt, which provides a burst of flavor and electrolytes that accent the fruit of the wine.

We held a dress rehearsal of the winemakers' dinner last Sunday, and sampled each other's dishes and wines. It was fabulous, as judged by the slow productivity Monday morning. I can think of no better way to spend a Sunday evening than with fellow winemakers, their favorite dishes and their favorite wines.

(Editor's Note: The Hidden Valley Enoteca closed in February 2014 but you can still purchase the Mourvedre wine direct from Blue-Merle Winery.  Here's the recipe for the pesto pasta.) 

Blue-Merle Winery Pesto Penne Recipe

Ingredients to serve six (very hungry winemakers):

8 oz fresh basil leaves
6 cloves garlic (or more to taste)
6 Table spoons olive oil (or a little more to taste)
6 teaspoons Parmesan cheese (or Romano to taste)
3 oz pine nuts (other nuts, such as almonds or walnuts may be added to taste)
2 lbs. penne pasta
Hawaii Kai all-natural red sea salt (add to taste just before serving).

Dress rehearsal.
Boil water for pasta. As water heats, in a CuisineArt, food processor or blender mince the garlic. Next, add olive oil, pine nuts then blend. (You may add other nuts to the mix such as almonds, macadamias, or walnuts to vary the flavor to taste.) Next, add the basil leaves (washed and dried) to the mix and blend. Finally, add Parmesan cheese to taste and blend.

Cook pasta and strain.  Add the pesto mix to the pasta and stir. Just before serving, sprinkle the Hawaii Kai Palm Island Premium nautral sea salt to taste to set the stage for contrasting flavors of the wine's "fruit" vs. the savory, salty pesto (Note: add the salt carefully -- do not over salt.)

Open the bottle of Blue-Merle wine and pour a glass. Inhale the aromas. Do you notice the strawberry? What fruit do you detect? Next, swirl the glass and smell again. Take a sip -- do you notice the strong fruit flavor? Next, have a healthy bite of the pesto pasta. Do you notice the garlic, the crunch of the salt? Then, take another sip of the wine. How has the wine changed with the food? How does the pairing taste to you?  The winemaker (and Bluey the Aussie wine dog) love the combination.

Bon Appetit!

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