(My apologies on the photos. I don't have a lot of practice taking good pictures with my iPhone yet.)
In my constant search for great wine adventures close to where I live, I stumbled upon an interesting wine dinner. At first glance it looked like a very normal six course meal with pairings with the food sounding wonderful and the wines looking very good. Then I went to make a reservation and was informed that we would be meeting by the restaurant and shuttle to their farm. A Farm? In the heart of Pomona? Well now I was intrigued and very excited.
So the day had come and we made our way to the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel the site of McKinley's Grille, and sure enough there was a check in at the lobby, some free bubbly, and a wait to board the shuttle to the farm. (The "we" being my wife and I) When a few more guests attending the dinner had arrived we climbed into a van and were heading out to a farm. I was prepared for a long journey into the hills and countryside of the San Gabriel Valley, but it ended up being a short ride through the gates of the Fairplex and right up to a small area right on the Fairgrounds. Now being one who annualy makes a pilgramage to the L.A. County Fair I thought I had seen every nook and crany of the grounds, yet this plot of land had eluded me these many years. It was a small garden-esque farm bursting with fresh fruit and veg, a pleasant sight to counter the urban sprawl. We grabbed a refill of the Korbel and were of to explore.
We wandered the grounds for a bit taking in the beauty and the freshness of all the plants. (In doing this I kicked one of the mason jars containing a candle onto my wife's foot, getting wax all over her good shoes.) At the end of trail was an opening where the table set up and food prep area was. The two long tables set up nicely and accross from that was the beef being cooked over an open fire. The cookout gave off a smell that reminded me of the food vendors from the Fair which here was very appropriate.
After most of the guest had arrived we jockeyed for possition at the table not wanting to be left to sit at opposite ends of the table. We were fortunate to pick seats close to John Solomon General Manager at Liquorama Fine Wines & Spirits . He introduced the wines and was a wealth of wine information. The dinner then commenced course by course and it was a wonderful experience.
Wild Albecore Sashimi, green farm tomato wasabi - Marquis De La Tour, Brut, N.V.
This was a nice, light and fresh start to the meal. Melt in your mouth tuna sashimi and the fresh green tomatoes made this a perfect starter. It was just enough to get the dinner started. This dish was coupled with the Marquis De La Tour, a sparkling wine from the Loire Valley in France. The wine contained 50% Chenin Blanc, 25% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Chardonnay. It was nice to have had the Korbel first, because it gave me a chance to notice the clean crisp taste of the Marquis De La Tour. It matched up well with the light, freshness of the starting dish.
Maryland Soft Shell Crab Spring Roll, cucumber mint yogurt - Attitude, Rosé, Loire, France 2009
The second course was a spring roll with crab and greens fresh from the farm. An issue I had with this dish was that the star was not the crab, but the greens. They were fragrant and pretty much overpowered the crab. Conversely the wine pairing was absolutely spot on. It was coupled with Attitude Rosé once again from the Loire Valley in France. The wine had many floral hints and brought out the natural flavors of the greens.
Local White Sea Bass, roasted beets, sorrel - Laetitia Estate, Arroyo Grande Valley, Chardonnay 2008
I love Sea Bass. Its a great rich fish that is absolutely wonderful and every time I have a chance to try some, I do. This Sea Bass was served with some roasted beets and sorrel (once again grown from the farm). This dish was served with a Laeditia Estate Chardonnay which is oak aged. The taste had notes of melon and tropical fruit with the distinct richness of an oaked Chardonnay. So I taste the dish, then the wine, then back to the dish, and back and forth many times I came upon a surprising conclusion; the pairing didn't work. I think that the sea bass on its own would have gone up well with the rich wine, but when matched up with the sweetness of the beets it seemed to fall apart. What i may have done is still used a Chardonnay, but one of the un-oaked variety a little lighter and able to handle the beets. This dish also signaled the first of the family style "take some and pass it down" dishes that we would be having for the rest of our dinner.
Organic Rabbit Confit, heirloom carrots, un-ripe muscat grape chutney - Sonoma Cutrer, Pinot Noir, Russian River, 2007
Yes, that is correct, rabbit served with carrots. I don't think you could get a more naturaly well matched dish. Think about it; if Elmer Fudd actually caught Bugs Bunny he would be serving him with carrots. In all seriousness this was a wonderful plate rich rabbit confit, fresh roasted heirloom carrots, and the surprisingly well placed tartness of the un-ripe muscat grape chutney. This all came with the light, fruity taste of Pinot Noir. This Pinot was made by Sonoma-Crutrer with grapes from the Russia River. This was a good pairing the flavors working well with each other.
Prime Beef Hanging Tender, oxtail fig stew - Trefethen, Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District, Napa Valley 2006
Now to the meat that was just being cooked on the open fire, and boy was it good. Tender with a nice flavorful char on it gave in that backyard cook out feel. The oxtail stew was made with figs which gave some sweetness to the protien heavy course we were having. Of course what would one pair this beefy dish? The meat lovers favorite wine. This is a very safe pairing which no one would disagree worked well. I would have liked to have seen an outside the box pairing maybe with something from Italy, Spain, or Argentina.
Mini Local Cherry Tart Tatin, vanilla bean ice cream, cherry bourbon syrup - Inniskillin, Ice Wine (Risling), Niagara Peninsula, Canada, 2007
We have come to the sweet end of our culinary experience. This was a great dessert which married the flavors of sweet. It also showed off two textures of the cherry's; soft in the tart tatin, crisp and fresh in the syrup. The ice wine was a great touch with its syrupy sweetness and aromas of rasins along with other dried fruit.
I think this was a wonderful experience and a great dinner. The wine pairings for the most part might have been a little safe, but except for the sea bass they worked very well. I will be looking forward to attending another of this Table to Wine Dinners. It is wonderful to have wine adventures like this just around the corner.