Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vegetarian Wine Maker Dinner

Pavle Milic and Charleen Badman outdid themselves on Tuesday, July 19 at their celestial restaurant FnB. Pavle has taken his devotion to AZ wines to heart by arranging a series of wine maker dinners. This is our second such event. Joan and Kathryn and Ian and I are vegetarians and have long schemed about putting together a Cookbook that pairs wine with vegetarian recipes. I like to make food friendly wines. Food friendly wines tend to have subtle depth that is revealed best when closely linked to a mouthful of complementary food. Creative vegetarian cuisine has the same qualities.

When Pavle said it was time again for a Canelo Hills wine maker dinner at the restaurant, I suggested a vegetarian menu. Charleen can do magic with vegetables and recently quietly admitted to me, "I eat mostly vegetables anyway". We were on, and for the lucky restaurant full of patrons, it was magic.

What follows is definitely for wine and food geeks.

Course one was burrata perched on a big slice of heirloom tomato lying in a bed of Baba Ganoush, topped with preserved lemon relish. 2007 (disgorged in 2010) Sparkling Chardonnay was the wine pairing. Tart bubbles and lemon relish. Fruity Chardonnay and ripe tomato. Toasted eggplant and with the yeasty flavors of 3 years en tirage. Creamy burrata and the rich mouthfeel of Method Champanoise. Wow! I had never had burrata before. It is a soft fresh mozzarella with the texture of a perfectly poached egg and the mouth experience of a great kiss.

Segundo: A panoply of salad flavors and textures - padron peppers, sweet corn kernels, perfect fava beans, purple "green beans", purslane and baby bitter greens dressed with a romesco vinaigrette. A few cripsy peanut pieces were scattered about on the plate. Joining was the 2009 Malvasia. Malvasia in 2009 was beyond ripe and the intensely concentrated flowers and fruit of this wine resonated back and forth with the fresh vegetableness of the salad. Very ripe grapes make very high alcohol wine, 15.6% in this case, but the alcohol only served to soluble-ize the hidden fruit flavors in the salad. 100 mph fastball down the middle - smak, out of the park.

Troisieme: Fresh summer squash accompanied by fresh green peas simmered in a curry sauce was atop a freshly grilled naan and smeared with yoghurt. 2009 Sangiovese was the partner. Bing cherries + curry fruitiness. Spicy finish + curry heat. Tart mouth + creamy texture. I would have never thought of curry and Sangiovese. Now we've got another answer to "what would you pair this wine with?" A dream shot from beyond the half court line - swishhh, all net.

Quattro: Thinly sliced and grilled eggplant atop a bed of jasmine rice mixed with chickpeas and tiny lentils, topped with fresh cucumbers and a few leaves of mint. The eggplant was dressed in a sweet/sour, coriander sauce. 2009 Estate Tempranillo was up to the match. Dark, red, rich, perfectly balanced with notes of cedar, dark fruit, smoke and soft tannins. Penalty Shoot out, the Kick is Good - Team FnB wins.

Finale: Individual zucchini cakes with walnuts, marscapone, citrus, candied plums and plum sauce drizzle. NV Yummy Zin was just sweet enough, just caramelized enough, just fruity enough, just fabulous enough to reveal the flavors and textures of this dessert. SCORE!

I enjoyed visiting with old friends and meeting new ones. Seven patrons "came out" to me, quietly revealing they were vegetarians and were thrilled with this menu. Arizona wines made a good showing and I think there are some new converts. Thanks to Pavle and Charleen and the restaurant crew for putting together a fabulous dinner. Next time? Sometime after October. See you then.

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