Despite my interest in cocktails, spirits, and most things in that world, I’ve largely left the wine side of things to my husband. When we were invited to attend the Miura/Clos Pissarra Winemaker Dinner at Ocean by Sous Chef and friend Cory Bolton, A.K.A. Tater, we jumped at the chance. For me, it was a chance to experience wine in a new way, and for Adam, it was the third time he’s eaten there as a customer even though he worked there for five years.
Pairing dinners are a lot of fun. The food tends to be created around the drinks rather than the other way around, a dynamic that my nerdy bartender heart adores. Chef and owner George Reis’s dinner didn’t disappoint. When we walked in the door, we were greeted with a Pisco Sour to start the night off on a light, refreshing note. Our table was an interesting mix of business professionals and people in the wine and spirits business, which kept conversation flowing like wine through the dinner, and our server Melissa was on her game.
In the past, the spirit and cocktail dinners that I’ve attended didn’t focus as much on seafood, so it was pretty cool to open with some crab salad, smoky grilled octopus, and a sweet, mineral-y oyster. Paired with this course was El Sol Blanc, a white grenache from Montsant. The wine was crisp and vegetal like a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with a creamy texture, grassy nose and touch of gooseberry, which played off the seafood well. I should also note that, as I learned during the dinner, white grenache is quite rare.
We continued with a delicately balanced Phyllo Sea Scallop Napoleon plated with ham hock jus and enoki mushrooms. The scallop was rich and creamy, offset by the salt of the jus and the salmon roe on top. This course was paired with the Miura Pinot Noir, their full-bodied, juicy, and approachable wine, said Master Sommelier and Propieter Emmanuel Kemiji.
One thing I’d heard before but that hadn’t really registered previously was that pinot noir is “the most difficult varietal to grow and the most fickle wine to make.” The Miura was deeply spicy, with black and red cherry and a touch of spice on the nose. In contrast to the scent, the wine itself was solidly medium-bodied. With the food, the darker fruit notes complemented the lightly earthy mushrooms well.
The next course, a Rabbot Ballotine, was my favorite. The ballotine was a kind of roulade that combined ground thigh and tenderloin meat with crunchy nuts wrapped in chicken skin. Holy crap. It was creamy and tender, and the carrots underneath were sweet and tender. The accompanying sage risotto was perfectly cooked, and taunted me into eating more than I should (I’m lactose intolerant). With the wine, it was just about perfect. Grown in a Spanish region with a 2,000 year viticultural history, this grenache was unexpected: the nose was more like a port than an unfortified wine, and the surprisingly light body was balanced by bold flavors of dried cranberries, sherry, prune, honey, and dark fruit.
Our main course was seared venison with a creamy, toasty celeriac rösti, fava bean puree, mushroom puree, and roasted blue foot and trumpet mushrooms. The venison was quite good: it was tender and lean, but not gamey. The trumpet mushrooms lent it a dark truffle flavor. The Aristan (not Artisan), a wine named for Kemiji’s sons, was a much bigger wine, flavor-wise, and tasted more like a cabernet than anything else, making it a great pairing for the only red meat course of the night.
Dessert was a more…exotic sensory experience than I was expecting. The Meyer Lemon Buzz Button Sorbet introduced itself with as a lovely lemon sorbet accompanied by a nutty, crunchy cracker and sweet lattice, but with a twist. With every bite, my tongue felt like it was buzzing and went a bit numb.
Since I was unfamiliar with the buzz button, a friend and server brought us two. I promptly dropped one of the tiny flowers, but quickly ate the other. The numbness intensified and spread to the area where I was chewing. The interaction of that flavor with the bubbly cava was interesting, but all I could taste was something that seemed to be the color yellow.
One of Kemiji’s last words on the subject of pairing was that “great food makes wine taste a lot better.” The opposite is true, but they’re good words to live by, in my book.
Photos c/o Cory Bolton.