Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wines for a Perfect Spring Party

Whether you're hosting a casual garden luncheon or a formal sit down dinner, spring brings a fabulous range of garden–fresh, succulent flavors to incorporate into your menu. We asked three caterers to create a three–course menu spotlighting springtime ingredients; each course is paired with a wine chosen by Anu Karwa of Swirl Events. —Abigail Reid

Two Chefs are Better Than One, Boston

First course: Grilled long stem artichoke hearts and fennel served with shaved parmesan and lemon vinaigrette
"Spring is artichoke season in California, so they're readily available in grocery stores across the country," says Chef and co–owner Steve Beauvais. "In this dish, the artichokes are complemented by the fennel, which has a sweet, aromatic anise flavor after it's been grilled."

Pair with: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Fattoria il Palagio, 2007 "A lemony white wine like this will bring out the bright citrus flavor of the vinaigrette," says Anu.

Second Course: Smoked duck ravioli accompanied by sautéed pea tendrils, served with raspberry and white balsamic aioli
"Pea tendrils are the young, tender climbing vines found on the pea plant," says Steve. "They can be used raw in salads, steamed, or sautéed, as in this dish. They have a very crisp, garden–fresh taste that's perfect for a spring menu," says Steve.

Pair with: Nicolas Joly "Les Clos Sacres" Savennières, 2007 "This dry chenin blanc is gentle enough for the pea tendrils, since they have a unique taste that should not be overshadowed by a heavy wine," says Anu. "Yet it also has an underlying earthiness that will be able to hold its own against the strong flavor of the smoked duck."

Third course: Lavender– and honey butter–stuffed Statler chicken breast, served with lemon– and spring onion–infused basmati rice and sautéed patty pan squash, on a bed of wilted baby spinach
"Patty pan squash starts becoming available in the early spring months," says Steve. "Its delicate flavor combines nicely with the honey and lavender in the chicken, as well as the fragrant basmati rice."

Wine Pairing: Viognier, Zaca Mesa Winery, 2008 "The aromas in this dish are very aromatic," says Anu. "You'll need an equally fragrant wine, like a full–bodied, perfume–y viognier. The Zaca Mesa Winery in Santa Barbara makes an excellent one."

Cobblestone Catering, New York City

First course: Butter lettuce served with heirloom radishes, fava beans, and ramps
"I think radishes are very under–appreciated in the catering world," says Executive Chef and Owner Jeremy Wachalter. "I love their spicy, earthy flavor, and the varieties of shapes and colors they come in. Butter lettuce has a mild to sweet flavor and a firm crisp texture that pairs great with the peppery taste of radishes, the sweetness of fava beans, and the earthiness of ramps."

Wine Pairing: 2007 Francis Coppola Sofia Blanc De Blanc Sparkling Wine "I love the idea of kicking off a meal with sparkling wine," says Anu. "It adds a touch of elegance and works well with practically any dish."

Second course: Pan–roasted black cod, served with spring onions, chanterelles, English peas, and asparagus sauce
"Cod has a rich, buttery flesh that lends itself to a variety of accompaniments," says Jeremy. "This particular combination of seasonal vegetables makes a spring–appropriate 'nest' for the crisp fish. I'm of the 'less is more' school: when showcasing super–fresh ingredients, it's always better to keep the dish simple."

Wine Pairing: Louis Latour Montagny Premier Cru La Grande Roche, 2007 "A subtle–nosed white Burgundy with a velvety texture has enough heft to pair well with the rich flavor of cod, yet is also delicate—it won't overshadow the flavors of the fresh, seasonal produce," says Anu.

Third course: Strawberry–rhubarb semifreddo, salted pistachio brittle, and thyme shortbread
"I am not a huge fan of overly sweet desserts," says Jeremy. "By using fresh herbs and a little sea salt in dessert recipes, you can develop more complexity, plus it makes the dish much easier to pair with wine."

Wine Pairing: Seven Sisters, Twena Rosé, 2007 "This off–dry rosé has a juicy, slightly strawberry taste that will bring out the bright flavors in this dessert," says Anu.

A Joy Wallace Catering Production & Design Team, Miami

First course: Spring lettuce and arugula bundle, wrapped with prosciutto and drizzled with herb vinaigrette, served with a shot of chilled pea and mint soup (pictured) garnished with fresh mint micro greens
"This salad immediately greets guests with the flavors of spring," says Director of Sales Adelee Cabrera. "The greens are wrapped at the base with salty prosciutto and presented on the plate like a floral bouquet. Our chef pairs this salad with a minty pea soup that also leaves the palate feeling fresh and alive."

Wine Pairing: Montes Limited Selection Sauvignon Blanc Leyda Valley Leyda Vineyard, 2008 "Crisp, zesty wine will make these fresh flavors sing," says Anu. "This Chilean sauvignon blanc is bursting with citrus flavors and earthy, mineral–like qualities."

Second course: Blue crab with shaved fennel and minced chives, presented on a slice of Florida heirloom tomato and garnished with steamed sugar snap peas
"In Miami, spring is technically our summer, so the star of this course is the Florida heirloom tomato. It reaches peak flavor during the spring months, while the rest of the country doesn't get flavorful tomatoes until August," says Adelee.

Wine Pairing: A to Z Wineworks Rosé, 2006 "The fruity taste of a dry and elegant rosé like this one tends to complement shellfish like blue crab," says Anu.

Third course: Sticky braised short ribs in an apricot saffron sauce, served with carrots, golden beets and asparagus ragout topped with watercress
"Instead of featuring just one seasonal vegetable, this dish celebrates spring's bounty by including an array of colorful, fresh produce—guests will love the variety," says Adelee.

Wine Pairing: Domaine Charbonniere Vacqueyras Rouge, 2006 "This medium–bodied Vacqueyras from the Rhone Valley in France strikes a balance—it's aromatic and pulls in fruity elements," says Anu.


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How to Pick a Summer Wine: The Gentler, Lighter Side of Wine

Summer’s soaring temps beg you to step away from heavy Cabernets and check out the gentler, lighter side of wine. When choosing the perfect summer wine for your outdoor engagement party or wedding, think light, crisp, refreshing--and because people tend to drink more in the heat--lower in alcohol. Nothing more prettily suggests summer than a dry (i.e. not sweet) rose. Avoid the simple, syrupy versions and try French roses from the Mourvèdre grape or roses made using the Saignee method for more complexity. Pick wines from countries where you imagine the locals sipping leisurely at sidewalk cafés while basking in the sun, like Spain. A Spanish fave is Albarino from the Rias Baixas region. Made to drink young, Albarino is a crisp, white wine with intense fruit, lively acidity and generally a lower level of alcohol. It pairs perfectly with summer foods from seafood to grilled vegetables. But you don’t need to swear off red wine for summer. Look for light bodied wines like Pinot Noir from Oregon or a Valpolicella from Italy, both capable of standing up to barbequed foods. And don’t be afraid to put a slight chill on your red wine. It is summer after all!

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain, “Exceptional with Everything” Oh Really?

There's nothing we love more than a challenge. It's in our makeup. We're two women, thirties. One Indian. One Filipina. The first, founder and CEO of a business in the arguably male-dominated wine world. The second, building experience to be a future proprietess of a wine store. Add to this: In New York City. So when presented with the opportunity to play wine and food critic for a night—to pair Rías Baixas Albariño wines, proclaimed to be "exceptional with everything" with Mercat’s offerings —it is impossible and simply against every ounce of who we are, to refuse.

Mercat means “market” in Catalan, the language of the northern Spanish region where owner, Jaime Reixach, is from and where the restaurant’s menu draws its inspiration. The albariños we’ll be drinking also originate from the northern region, and so we’re already anticipating more perfect wine pairings than tragic mismatches.

It’s a beautiful warm Thursday night—and we are tasting two Albariño wines: Alba Rosa from Martinez Serrantes and Pazo San Mauro, both 2006 vintages. We take our time with each wine—assessing them alone and then side by side. At the end, we agree that both are delightful: the Alba Rosa is sparkling with surprising depth while the Pazo San Mauro would bring life to our springtime picnic. Further, we imagine that if each wine were to be personified, they might just be these two ladies, described as such:

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"

Alba Rosa Martinez Serantes Albariño | Scarlett Johansson: "Sparkling with surprising depth"
This golden blonde hued wine gives an almost effervescent quality that shoots racy brightness into your mouth. It has the usual grassiness and citrus qualities one expects from this wine. The reason why this wine fits Scarlett most is because it has the quality of lightness but comes with surprising depth of character and fullness in body. The comparison would be perfect were the wine to show great legs, but its light-bodied, lower alcohol nature doesn’t allow it.

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”

Pazo San Mauro Albariño | Cameron Diaz: “Livens up your springtime picnic”
Cameron would be a fun addition to any springtime outing. Her lightheartedness would make everyone smile and this wine does the same. The light yellow straw color gives way to granny smith apples, peaches, melon, and citrus scents that jump at your nose, smelling like springtime in a glass. This wine begs to be explored further. The crisp and pleasantly tart apple is balanced with pear and makes it the perfect brunch wine.
Now, we move on to the heart of our challenge: Exceptional with everything? Oh really? How do these two beauties handle themselves in company? After the three and a half hours of glorious sipping, chewing, and chatting, among ourselves and the restaurant staff, here are our findings:

No surprise, our lovely wines get along splendidly with their classic and traditional partners: we have raves for the nicely seasoned patatas bravas—not too spicy, not too garlicky—and the padrones/blistered shishito peppers, the char and oil offset by the tartness of the wines. One of us goes wild for the Canelons de Verdura/eggplant wrapped spring vegetables, manchego, and cranberry reduction. And then Chef Lowder sends over Trencat d’Ous/mushroom with salsa verde topped with a fried egg, which again, goes splendidly with our wines. Even the suckling pig/Cochinillo, which we think will surely clash, in fact becomes the surprise of the evening. Like the beauty and the beast, our wines and the pig make an unlikely but harmonious pair.

We ask ourselves for the last time: Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with Everything?

If not for being the gluttonous bottomless pits that we are, we would certainly have answered YES with an exclamation point. But since we order those two desserts—Torrades Sta. Teresa/fried bread with lemon yogurt and Pa Amb Oli Xocolata/bread, olive oil, and chocolate, our answer must be: Almost. These two desserts with our two Albariños — are disastrous.

Rías Baixas Albariño from Spain: Exceptional with almost Everything.

--Anu Karwa and Marie Estrada

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