One of my favorite new activities is attending pairings which are events where the host establishment will create small plate food offerings tailored to match, or pair, with whatever beer, wine or liquor is being showcased that night. In my role as a travel/beach bar blogger (and maybe more importantly as a frequent patron of my favorite cocktail bar), I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to attend a few of these over the winter months and when an invite shows up in your inbox that includes the words “I’ll cover the cost,” you don’t turn it down. That would be downright rude. Since I can’t travel all the time (yet), having other regions’ products brought to my hometown is a way to experience the culture of somewhere far away without having to incur the cost of getting there. It’s a convenient way to stay local and still be exposed to cultures and traditions outside your everyday norm. The latest event was held at my aforementioned favorite cocktail bar and while the wines and opening dishes were as good as expected, it was the closing dessert which deserved its own encore.
Featuring the exquisite Mahoney and Fleur wines from the Carneros Wine Company out of Napa Valley, this pairing event was made more significant by the attendance of Ken Foster, the head winemaker at Carneros. I’m not sure how someone gets a job as a head winemaker but I’m pretty sure Ken wouldn’t trade his job for many others. Bopping from one group of attendees to the next, Ken was kept on his toes as he waxed poetic about the wines he helped create, only catching a break when he arrived at my section and I insisted on geeking out about wines until he was gently “stolen” from me (no hard feelings for busting in on my bro time, Sami) and sent on his way to the next group of wine connoisseurs. Among the special guests from Carneros were the Mahoney Vermentino (Italian varietal that shares many of the same characteristics with Pinot Grigio), paired to perfection with shrimp ceviche (cue shellfish allergy kicking in at this point) and the Fleur Chardonnay, whose flavors of apricot, honeysuckle and Comice pear made it a more than palatable dance partner to the salmon riette on baguettes, whose crunchiness I initially blamed my quickly closing throat on. While the wines were the marquee names for the evening, the surprise star was the dessert prepared by the head chef at Oak & Alley, Sam Albertson. Presented as a “bitters spiked marshmallow” and paired with the Fleur Petite Sirah North Coast, it was essentially a deconstructed S’More for adults, consisting of graham cracker crumbles, chocolate foam, Angostura marshmallow, blackberries and raspberries. I’m hyperbolic to a fault but it was like being in the front row of a Dashboard Confessional concert – exhilarating enlightenment (I’m sooooo not over the emo scene). The wines may have been the honored guests for the night, but the littlest guest, packaged with graham crackers and marshmallow and washed down with the succulent Sirah, left the biggest impression.
If you get the chance to attend a pairing (or a tasting, where only one type of food or beverage is featured), use whatever excuse you have a just go. For all of the above reasons and more, you’ll be thankful you did.
For more information on Carneros, you can visit their website here.