Sunday, May 20, 2012

Wine Flights: A great way to explore your palate

Some area restaurants between Albuquerque and Santa Fe offer what are called wine flights as an alternative to ordering by the glass or bottle. I particularly like dining out at such places. Obviously, it allows me to test my palate and learn about current wines without busting my budget, but it offers more than that. Since in most cases a diner is ordering food as well as wine, a flight provides an opportunity to see how different wines pair with the same food.

Generally one orders a white or red flight, but sometimes there are other categories, such as specific varietals like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, or an “international” flight such as Italian or French wines for example. One can also get flights of dessert wines, such as Ports or Sherries. The flights are usually a good value as well and permit sampling more expensive wines to see how they stack up against old favorites.

So the obvious next question is where can I enjoy these wine flights? I’m glad you asked. This whole idea evolved as I was enjoying two, count em, two top drawer restaurants when it comes to food and wine. And really, what other kind of restaurant would you go to? 

Pranzo Italian Grill

The first was Pranzo Italian Grill in Santa Fe. The complete article on this eatery will be in the July issue of Albuquerque Arts and Entertainment (AAE) magazine; here I only want to talk about the wine flights. I could mention they have one of the best Italian wine lists around, but I really wanted to talk about the wine flights.
Pranzo wine flights are red or white, but obviously offering a range of wines that will compliment many of their dishes. This is a good approach because both I and my wife tried one of each (red & white) and compared some very interesting wines, six in all, that paired nicely with the food. Her whites included a Sauvignon Blanc which rocked with many of her sides and main course, a Pinot Grigio that went best with some of the veggies, and a Chardonnay that had well-worn paths to austerity in its make-up from a producer that usually goes for overkill. I know you’re intrigued, but you really have to wait for the article.

My flight of red wines included a Sicilian Nero d’ Avola, a Sonoma Cab and a Mendoza Malbec. The piece de resistance was the flight of ports to accommodate two you-won’t-believe-you-could-finish-them desserts. Basically, this is one Italian restaurant you need to check out if you like anything Italian.

Indigo Crow

Next up was Indigo Crow in the village of Corrales . . . my village. Besides writing about this in AAE it is also my go-to restaurant when we get together with locals or have friends join us from out-of-town. I went with my usual, a Pinot Noir wine flight (shades of Sideways) and a filet of tenderloin. I mean what else do you need from life than this?

I sampled four Pinot wines in this particular flight which constantly changes, but hopefully not before I can go back. All were unique and paired differently with the streak, which made it educational and indulgently hedonistic. They’ll probably put that one of my headstone, “he was indulgently hedonistic and never passed up a good wine.” 

The first wine was a Toad Hollow 2009 Pinot Noir from Sonoma, which exhibited dark cherry and earthy elements of tobacco and smoke, not lit tobacco, mind you. The tannins were fine and the finish most pleasing. The winery is headquartered in the Russian River area of Sonoma, one of my favorite wine regions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Next up, a 2009 Van Duzer Pinot Noir is from the Willamette Valley of Oregon, a premier Pinot Noir region. This one had a good cherry core with earthy elements and the tannins well in the background until the finish; complex with raspberry and cola and orange peel and satisfying mouthfeel. The source fruit are mostly Dijon clones and a bit of Pommard.

The 2010 Wild Horse Pinot Noir is from California’s Central Coast, which is honeycombed with microclimates that receive the almost essential coast breezes that so benefit good Pinot. This wine seemed a bit young although it was easy drinking. Not complex, but good fruit and a short finish that did not far as well as the other wines.

The last wine was a 2009 Buena Vista Pinot Noir form Carneros. This has been a go to wine for me for some time after extended tasting at the winery two seasons ago. Carneros is another classic Pinot region with winds and fog coming off San Pablo Bay extending the growing season. Black cherry and cranberry are prevalent on the palate and the nose also has hints of eucalyptus leaves and spice elements from the oak. 

In the future, I’ll be reporting on other restaurant wine flights I consider well worth seeking out. If the reader has a favorite please let me know so I can report on it. If variety is the spice of life, try a wine flight next time and put more spice in your life.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Figueroa Project: A Casa Rondeña and Artichoke Café Benefit

The benefit for the Figueroa Project held last April 29 at Artichoke Café was special for many reasons. The food and wine were already guaranteed to be excellent. This is appropriate since the benefit is for Maestro Guillermo Figueroa, arguably New Mexico’s most celebrated musician. I have been enchanted and enrapt every time Maestro Figueroa has taken up the baton or bow. Whether conducting an orchestra or playing violin as part of a string quartet or quintet his musicianship is second to none.

John Calvin, the architect and proprietor of Casa Rondeña has been a long time supporter of both Maestro Figueroa and more recently, the Figueroa Project. We all owe John a debt of gratitude for helping to keep this musical treasure in New Mexico. I personally came to love his music from the many inspired concerts held on the grounds of Casa Rondeña; indisputably the most beautiful location in this state to enjoy wine and music.

Perhaps inspired by his playing, Artichoke Café put on an exquisite dinner, paired to the wines of Casa Rondeña.  Owner Terry Keene was on hand to make sure everything went smoothly, even helping clear the tables. The service was excellent and the food and wine divine. I will describe the dinner next - but spoiler alert! - don’t read this on an empty stomach. 

During the reception we dined on the signature artichoke tapenade in endive leaves, salmon tartare and European cheeses while sipping the Casa Rondeña Rose, a Cabernet Franc-based wine that combines old world charm with new world brashness with bright strawberry over a brooding dark fruit core.

The curried carrot soup needed a wine with good body and acidity to handle the spice and the Viognier, one of Casa Rondeña’s most popular white wines, filled the bill. The honeyed citrus flavors danced with the spiced soup. The Maple Leaf Farms white smoked duck breast was incredibly rich and needed a well-balanced red. Enter the Meritage, a classic blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and a dash of Petit Verdot. The emphasis on Merlot makes this more of a right bank Bordeaux blend.

The 1629 Founder’s Reserve is a blend of Spanish Tempranillo mated to earthy Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon which excelled with the beef tenderloin Rossini and foie gras mousse. This has become my favorite Casa Rondeña wine and I hear from John Calvin that the next release will be even better. Be still my beating heart as Sting would sing.

The chocolate truffle torte was a partner in richness to the Calvin Animante dessert wine. This port uses Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to achieve elegance few domestic ports can match. Yum, maybe I shouldn’t be writing this on an empty stomach!

Bravo and thanks to the Artichoke Café for a wonderful dinner, Casa Rondeña for the wine and Maestro Guillermo Figueroa for the musical inspiration that made it all happen.