We recently held a wine dinner at the Clark House with Bryan Hinschberger of Amphora Distributing, whom we talked about last week. The staff at the Clark House was fabulous to work with and the meal was not only delicious, well-paired and well-presented, but the evening was flawlessly timed. Despite being for sale, the restaurant and inn remain open and will continue to operate as they always do. If you have not been, you should go - the setting is unrivaled. On this beautiful mid-September night, sitting in the garden for the first course, paired with some wonderful French sparkling wine, was magical.
We had a great crowd of friends and customers at the dinner and as almost always happens at these events, the table conversation centered on wine and wine-related subjects, some of which are points that are good to address for all wine consumers. One of the guests at our table has severe non-wine related allergies that limit his olfactory senses, so he was discussing his limited ability to pick up the nuance of wine, and recognize many of the palate and aromatic descriptors we use in our tasting notes. This is, in fact, not surprising since 90 percent of what we "taste" in wine is actually delivered through the sense of smell.
The human palate is only able to taste four flavors: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. All other "flavors" are actually aromatically delivered through our sense of smell. So, if you deal with a limited ability to smell, it will be difficult to identify the more subtle characteristics of wine. As this gentlemen stated, "I still know what I like and what I don't, but it is just tougher to know why." We feel that the most important thing to know about wine is what you like and what you don't, so we heartily agree with his statement, and encourage consumers to focus on their own palate and what they like best.
The other question that came up that night as it frequently does was, "If there is only one wine varietal you could have, what would it be?" Thankfully it does not come down to that decision! One of our guests and frequent readers guessed I would say Pinot Noir, and there is no doubt the Copain Pinot Noir we had with the salad course that night was spectacular. The truth for us, though, is that it depends. We love Pinot Noir, which our friend is well familiar with, but what we pick on any one occasion depends on the weather, the gathering, who we are with and what we are eating with the wine. So, while we clearly have varietals we like more, it would be tough to name one as our absolute favorite.
Another question involved the pairing of food - specifically, dessert with dessert wines. This night we were having a Muscat Beaumes de Venise from Durban, a fortified sweet wine from the Rhone Valley in France. We enjoy dessert wines quite a lot and our favorites in the category are the ones that are sweet, but also possess high acid to balance the residual sugar. One of our favorite non-dessert pairings with dessert wines is seared foie gras or goose liver. Bryan, though, made an interesting point we were not previously familiar with. He said that to properly pair the final course with dessert wine, the dessert itself should always be less sweet than the wine, which allows the sweetness, acid, and nuanced fruit to be on full display in the pairing.
As we mentioned, the food was very well-paired with the wine, and part of that is knowing some ingredients to avoid when putting menus and pairings together. Garlic is one of the main ones to avoid altogether or if you are going to use garlic in your dish, it needs to be modest. The strong flavors of garlic and the high acid in it tend to strip the wine of all fruit flavors, leaving you with only the taste of alcohol and barrel spice. Raw onions are another wine killer; similarly to garlic, they tend to strip the wine of all fruit flavors. Dairy, specifically heavy creams and milk products, can also be very hard on the wine. Wine and cheese, though, are some of the most oft-cited pairings. However, when pairing wine with cheese, the more savory cheese selections tend to do better with wine.
For wine consumers, wine events like our dinner at the Clark House are great for learning more about wine and food. Many times, some of the most enlightening items come from the conversation with those at your table - more so than the "professionals" hosting the event!
If there is a topic you would like to read about or if you have questions on wine, you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d'Alene Press.
George Balling is co-owner with his wife Mary Lancaster of the dinner party, a wine and table top decor shop in Coeur d'Alene near Costco. George is also the managing judge of The North Idaho Wine Rodeo and is the wine editor for Coeur d'Alene Magazine, www.cdamagazine.com. You can learn more about the dinner party at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com. You can get all of these articles, as well as other great wine tips, by friending us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.