The best wine experiences that I have enjoyed have been dinners with friends, often under unexpected circumstances.
There was a night in the mortuary of the English Cemetery in the middle of a traffic circle in Florence, Italy, where I drank wonderful, local Tuscan reds with an Anglican nun as we shared a potluck, candle-lit dinner.
And another, a New Year’s Eve here in the Yukon, where we welcomed the new year sitting in snow around a fire, washing down Tortiere with German sparkling wines.
Last week was another evening that I will remember for a long while.
Several months back, I struck up a conversation with a fellow in Coast Mountain Sports. He turned out to be a fellow Quebecer (or Québécois, in his case), Francis Pelletier.
In our discussion, we discovered our common home province as well as a common love of wine and a shared philosophy that enjoying it should be a happy and non-intimidating experience.
He writes a blog on food and wine that I referenced in my last article (http://starsandsun.wordpress.com/) and is also writing for the L’Aurore Boréale French language paper and will be on the radio in upcoming weeks, talking about wines and foods.
After some subsequent discussions, we thought it would be fun to agree on some menus and cook and share some dinners together, look for wines that would complement the meals and then write about them.
As an enthusiastic cook, I volunteered to go first and we agreed that a dinner of cheese fondue, green salad with Dijon/sherry vinegar/olive oil and fireweed honey vinegrette, followed by chocolate/hazelnut fondue for dessert would be the perfect dinner for a winter’s evening at my cabin … and a fun way to kick off our dinner trials.
Francis, and his charming and recently arrived-in-the-Yukon dinner companion, arrived at my 16′ X 20′ cabin by Echo Lake at dusk. Neither had been out before and I think they were as delighted by the silence of the frozen lake, the falling snow and the mountain views, as I have been these last three years.
As evening descended, we lit candles, stoked the fire and chatted as I prepared the dinner. We started with a bottle of Canadian NK ‘ MIP Chardonnay, ($17.40) from an aboriginal–owned vineyard in British Columbia.
I had tasted its Merlot last summer and was anxious to try its white. Francis and his guest had never tasted it and were most interested. All three of us agreed it was a winner and were delighted to find it LIGHTLY oaked, not the oppressive heavily oaked “carpenter’s wine” chardonnay approach that has been adopted by so many California and Australian vineyards.
Francis and I agreed that it had much more in common with some the delightful French or Italian chardonnays that sometimes make their way to our shores.
Our cheese fondue sat bubbling happily in its pot, the green salad tossed with fresh ground black pepper and Dijon/sherry vinegrette as we folded out the table, laid out the plates, sat together by the light of the candles and plunged into our inaugural dinner.
Francis had selected an Australian white to match with the cheese fondue, Hardy’s Stamp of Australia 2007 Rieseling/Gewurztraminer blend ($12.55). It was a perfect accompaniment with the slightly nutty taste of the cheese and a steal at the price.
Francis’s dinner companion told us that she tasted apple and pear notes, Francis and I picked up citrus, lemon and grapefruit elements. We observed our different readings of what tastes were apparent to each of us and speculated on the possible differences that gender may play in the appreciation and experience of wine.
It made me wish I had invited a female friend as well, both for the pleasure of her company, but also to have balanced female and male observations on the wines we were tasting (note to self, an area for improvement at the next dinner).
After cleansing our palate with some bread and salad, we broke out some red wine glasses and returned to the bubbling cheese pot, this time with a 2006 New Zealand Shepherds Ridge Pinot Noir (I don’t think it’s currently available at our wine store, but try either of the currently offered NZ Pinot Noirs, they should be just as good).
I had agreed to try to find a red for this meal, while Francis provided the white. I was slightly dubious about my choice and had been having second thoughts, thinking that a French Gamay grape wine (like Beaujolais) might have been a better choice.
We were all delighted to find that the Pinot Noir, too, was a terrific accompaniment. Certainly stronger and less obvious a match than a white, but with a rich fruity depth.
Francis’s companion identified fig and date notes, which we agreed were quite prominent and worked very well with the wonder cheese and French bread. And the fruit-forward, non-tannic nature of the pinot grape, worked surprisingly well with the meal.
We were surprised and delighted by the flexibility of the Pinot Noir wine to travel well with foods traditionally associated with white wines. I have noted that same capability in Pinot Noirs accompanying dinners of both salmon and roast turkey. So maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised.
After a quick taste of Pere Magloire Calvados apple brandy from Normandy, France ($45.05) to create room for dessert (the French call this a “trou normand”), Francis and his companion prepared a spectacular chocolate and hazelnut fondue into which we dipped an assortment of chopped fresh fruit, including apples, grapes and pineapple.
We accompanied this with tastes of Blandy’s Duke of Clarence Maderia ($27.45) as well as a sample each of three different ports, including a Dow’s 10-year-old Tawny port ($39.55) as well as a Dow’s 2000-vintage Late Bottled Vintage and an Honor Porto Ruby Special Reserve (neither of which appear to be currently available, locally).
All four were superb accompaniments to the depth of molten chocolate and we all noticed how much clearer and livelier the fruit tastes of the ports and Madiera were in contrast to the rich sweetness of the chocolate.
The evening ended with a brisk walk across my frozen lake, as we marveled at the brightness of the full moon and the beauty of the world that we share and the delight of Canadians of two languages gathering together to create and share and experience common joys in this wonderful part of the world.
As Francis’s companion said at one point in the dinner, “When you love eating (and sharing wine), you love life.” C’est Vrai! It’s true!
I look forward to our next planned dinner together, in December … Francis promises SPICY food, which will be an interesting wine challenge.
In the mean time, sit down with friends at your table, serve a meal, pour some wine and make your own memorable evening.