5-Courses No Foodie Should Miss
There’s no denying the tables have turned for serious diners. What white table cloth and Cosmos were to the nineties, eclectic gastropubs and pre-prohibition cocktails are to millennial age. Diners flaunt Instagram trophies of wild game, blueberry gastriques, and crispy vegan polenta fries alongside the sommelier’s best pairing or the mixologist’s recent gin infusion. An insatiable seesaw of simplicity and innovation, small plates have taken the forefront as a vehicle to sustain consumer exploration and chef creativity. But among the waves of complex dishes and infinite share plates, the elaborately minimalist style of modern dining has brought us beautifully back to the root of every great dining experience: a well-orchestrated pairing.
The idea of “pairings” has traditionally fallen more in the vinous realm, rooted in the old European adage of “what grows together, goes together.” Wines of Tuscany, Burgundy, Portugal, and Germany find natural harmony with cuisines of those regions. But with a younger average consumer age in our buzzing foodie nation, traditional can hazard boredom for “adventurous” diners.
And after a recent five-course pairing dinner with soon-to-open Austin restaurant Fork & Vine, I’ve never had more faith in eating off the beaten path.
Shooting for a September opening, Fork & Vine will offer unique twists to traditional dishes “without being scary or unapproachable,” according to Executive Chef Camden Stuerzenberger. Nostalgic dishes with creative presentation, intended for guests to explore in any pairing fashion they desire. Under the direction of Austin local Chris Howell, Certified Sommelier, F&V will feature 25 core wines by the glass as well as 25 rotating seasonal options, 16 Texas draught beers and other large formats, and an inventive list of sake-inspired cocktails.
The pairings for last week? Beer. A necessity to the sanity of any wine professional.
Let the pairings begin…
The dinner, hosted by Rogness Brewery in the town of Pflugerville just north of Austin, showed how rewarding a meal can be when you approach it with an open mind and empty stomach. Though beer has a more casual connotation than does wine in the world of “fine dining,” Rogness’s hand-crafted, small batch ales (they only make one lager) each showed evident uniqueness of character and married nicely with Chef Camden’s hearty plates. Forrest and Diane Rogness have brewed beer together for decades, but settled at their current production facility in Pflugerville, where we dined on wooden picnic tables in the middle of their cellar just two years ago. Rogness’s draughts and signature 22oz bottles are poured on-site in the tasting room and sold at over 400 accounts across central Texas.
After a brief welcome from the chef and the brewers, diners dove into a first course of a fresh Watermelon Swiss Chard Salad alongside Rogness’s staple summer Hefeweizen. “A classic wheat beer to combat the Texas heat,” the Hef showed bright floral and citrus flavors, with the telltale banana funk that all wheat lovers go bonkers for. The beer made for an outstanding initial pairing, the body light enough to respect the watermelon and fresh swiss chard with the citrus and wheaty funk flavors cutting right through the salad’s dollop of tangy goat cheese.
VoluptuousVines’s suggested wine alternative for round one?
Trimbach Pinot Blanc – Alsace – With the ample sunshine and cold nighttime temperatures that define this northeastern region of France, this wine would sing bright lemon and tropical flavors with just enough stoney minerality to play lightly with the cheese and not fight the salad’s delicately nuanced flavors.
For the second course, a Beer Cheese Soup with sourdough toast and bacon jam paired with a Boomslang IPL. Though initially hesitant, with haunting notions of jiggly ballpark nacho cheese deterring my palate, this proved to be my favorite course of the night. The soup was rich in flavor, full in body, but kept a surprising lightness and comforting simplicity of presentation. The beer followed suit beautifully. Made in a lager style rather than an ale style, this Indian Pale Lager is essentially a cleaner, crisper expression of the beloved IPA. Maintaining the signature dried fruits, spicy roots, and herbal bitterness of an IPA, this outlier lager brought the same aromatic complexity with less astringency and weight, leaving enough room for the hearty soup’s flavors to shine through. It was an IPA with softer edges and a wonderfully refreshing finish. Drink for summer!
VV’s suggested wine?
Scala Dei Negre – Priorat, Spain – Made from Priorat’s signature Garnacha (Grenache) grape in a ripe, rounded modern style, this wine will express bold, spicy flavors similar to the Boomslang while still keeping a lush enough body to avoid overpowering the dish it accompanies. Much like the IPL’s lighter spin on an IPA, Priorat’s wines offer the same dark, earthy flavors as French Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but are typically less aggressive and more drinkable alongside small plates of this nature.
With the third and fourth courses, we graduated from small plate apps to fully crafted entrees. The first a sweet, savory, and spicy adaptation of classic Fried Chicken, this generously breaded bird was topped with vanilla butter and chili oil, served over a bed of peppery arugula. Its brewed partner? The Vinton Blonde Ale. And while I found myself initially captivated by the beer’s summer fruit aromatics and chalky, almost yeasty flavors, the highlight of the pairing was all about the body. Light but round, toasty but clean and pure on the finish, this beer was strong enough to dance with a hearty fried dish, but polite enough to let it lead.
VV’s suggested wine?
Louis Latour Macon-Lugny ‘Chardonnay’ – Macon, France – Made for everyday francophiles without Grand Cru pricing, the Macon region is my haven for value Old World Chardonnay. Far from the butter bombs Chard’s that often wary people away from the grape altogether, this wine sees just enough neutral oak aging to round out the body yet maintain its purity of flavor. It holds enough flesh to balance out hearty fried chicken, with lively fruit and a toasty chalk minerality reminiscent of the great yeastiness in the Vinton Blonde. A match.com no-brainer for fried chicken.
The fourth course coupling proved just as sound as the third, as the chef and brewmaster both turned up the heat. Succulent Short Rib with a rustic, smoky exterior, the meat’s fattiness and spice were mellowed by a sweet apple BBQ glaze and creamy cheddar mash. Paired astutely with Rogness’s signature Beardy Guard Amber Ale, the sweet fruits and almost caramelized, toasty brittle flavors in the beer made the sweet and savory components of the dish rock out in perfect harmony. The cherry on top? Beardy Guard’s soft spicy finish to bring us full circle back to the dish at center stage.
VV’s suggested wine?
M. Chapoutier Cotes du Rhone Rosé – Cote du Rhone, France – With the same indulgent duality of flavors, this Grenache/Syrah rosé from southern France is sugar, spice, and everything nice. A stunningly dry wine, the silky red fruits from the Grenache dance lightly on a sturdy Syrah stage, making it bold enough to stand up to a hefty slab of pork but soft enough to respect all of the complex flavors on the plate.
Finally, no proper dining experience would be complete without dessert. Rounding out the evening was a dark Chocolate Tres Leches topped with Porter Anglaise. A rich slice of cocoa country heaven, this treat begs for a full-bodied porter. Enter Rogness’s OST Porter. With tantalizing aromas of dark chocolate, coffee, toasted walnuts, and sweet licorice, the flavors of the beer were a bullseye, though the body was surprisingly lean for a pairing of this decadence. The golden rule of any dessert pairing: your drink should be sweeter than your food. Otherwise, the nuances of the beer or wine are lost, and you may as well be drinking water. Lame.
VV’s suggested wine?
Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla, Pedro Ximenez Sherry – Andalucia, Spain – Busting with all the toasty, nutty, syrupy flavors of any good homemade dessert, this naturally sweet, mahogany colored sherry will mirror the caramel sweetness of the porter glaze and richness of the dark, concentrated chocolate flavors. A sublime Spanish touch.
So with pants unbuttoned and my mind blown open, I concluded my first official beer pairing dinner with a reinvigorated respect for the art of pairing. Whether an organized dinner like that hosted by Fork & Vine and Rogness, finding a wine to suit two different entrées when you’re out for date night, or just an evening in with homemade paninis and toasty golden lager, two is always better than one.
Pair with flare. Don’t leave your dinner lonely.
Visit Rogness Brewing tasting room @ 2400 Patterson Industrial Dr. Pflugerville, TX 78660
Look for Fork & Vine’s soft opening this September 2014!
Photo Credit to:
Oscar Montes Iga, MC, ECWA, CSW, CBS
Wine Judge, TWJ