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Notes From the Vinography “Drink Small” Wine Dinner

Some of you have sent me e-mails asking about the Vinography “Drink Small” Wine Dinner that I held this week at Manresa Restaurant, so I thought I’d post a couple of notes here to give you a sense of how it went. In a word, it was delightful. At the last minute, we had a few cancellations, so we ended up with a slightly more intimate group of 16 people, only one of which (besides my wife) that had attended the previous dinner.

We gathered at first in the “backyard” of the restaurant, behind the patio section, and got to know each other over glasses of Cava and small, airy gougeres. A few of the attendees were readers of Vinography, including one who has been reading it religiously every week since I first started nearly 2 years ago. One wasn’t actually a reader of the site, but she had been begged (cajoled?) by a Vinography-reading friend to attend and was just showing up on the faith of a personal recommendation. Several others were just regular customers of the restaurant who were intrigued by the prospect of a dinner celebrating small production wines and artisan ingredients.

After our welcome of bubbly, we settled down into the back room of Manresa for a leisurely three hour meal with wine pairings and good conversation. For those of you curious about what we ate and drank here’s the full menu:

Arpege egg

Steelhead roe, smoked and freshly cured
Light gelee of jasmine tea and myrtle leaves

2004 CrauforD “The Highlander” Sauvignon Blanc, Napa

Gulf shrimp and clams on the plancha
Almonds and garnet yams, our guanciale

2000 Miura Chardonnay, Carneros

Capon breast, poached, then roasted
Risotto “biodynamic”,crème legere of foie gras

2001 Campion “Firepeak” Pinot Noir, Edna Valley

Roast marcassin with spices
Pine mushrooms and roasted escarole

2003 Casa Nuestra “Tinto St. Helena” Field Blend, Napa

Braised black mission figs
Mascarpone sorbet

1996 Stony Hill Semillon du Soleil, Napa Valley

Chef Kinch and I work very hard at the wine pairings for these dinners. Of course, it’s not all that hard work sitting around for an afternoon tasting wine with a world famous chef and talking about all the sorts of food you’d want to eat with it, but you understand what I mean. Like the first dinner we collaborated on, we discussed all sorts of possibilities, and ended up matching the wines to both some traditional Manresa dishes, and to some created right on the spot. Also like the first dinner, I think we were particularly successful. I was thrilled with all but one of the pairings, and even that one was passable.

The meal began with Chef Kinch’s homage to Alain Passard’s famous Arpege egg, a soft poached egg in its shell with herbs, butter, and maple syrup. Though I have now dined at Manresa several times, this was my first time enjoying this much talked about egg, and I thought it was a fabulous way to start a meal. By the time my spoon scraped the last bit of egg out of the shell, I was ravenous.

We started with the steelhead roe dish and the Sauvignon Blanc. The roe was a mix of fresh and heavily smoked, run through with a gelee of jasmine tea and lemon myrtle leaves, and was combined with a little fresh goat cheese cream and passion fruit foam. This dish was extraordinary, and really superb. The match with the CrauforD wine was really fantastic. Against the saltiness of the roe the wine transformed into a luscious cascade of cool tropical fruits that was delectable.

The pairing of the Chardonnay with the shrimp was less successful, mostly because the Chardonnay frankly had too much oak on it to really pair perfectly with anything. The fresh Gulf Shrimp (hurricane tossed though they might have been) were deliciously sweet and buttery.

The milk-fed chicken breast over the risotto with a little foie gras cream was divine in its own right, but the pairing with the Campion Pinot Noir was excellent. The capon breast was smooth and soft, and the skin crispy from roasting, and the Pinot played not-too-sweet and soft against the meat and the richness of the foie sauce, and cut through the starch of the rice beautifully.

I was particularly excited about the young boar or marcassin that Chef Kinch had told me was going to come in on the day of the dinner. The Tinto St. Helena is a robust wine, and we were unable to get any of the older vintage that I would have preferred (2001 or 2002) so we ended up with the very young 2003, which was very strappy indeed, so I wanted a really nice meat to pair with it. The boar was fantastic, and especially when combined with the smoky roasted escarole that it sat upon, was a great match for the mysterious flavors of this wine.

We finished the meal with the gorgeous pairing of figs poached in some exotic Costa Rican honey that one of the cooks had brought back from a recent trip with the Semillon de Soleil. Because this wine was not too sweet, it became downright earthy and woody when sipped alongside the figs and the mascarpone sorbet, and was just as alluring as when drunk on its own.

In closing, I’d like to simply say thanks to those of you who attended the event, if you happen to read this, and to encourage those of you who didn’t get a chance to stay tuned — I haven’t talked with Chef Kinch about it yet, but I’m ready to do another one, especially if we can make it as fun as this one was.

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