Although events like this can often be crowded and overwhelming, they can also prove to be great opportunities to learn something new while expanding your palate. In this particular case the event never felt overcrowded or intimidating which allowed myself, and other guests, the opportunity to talk to the chefs and winery representatives without feeling rushed.As much as I like trying new wines at events like this, the highlight for me was definitely taste testing some of the food.
Foie gras sliders with truffled celery remoulade on toasted brioche
Star anise mousse with grapefruit marmalade and candied fennel caramel sauce.
Taleggio Ravioli in a pumpkin consommé with caramelized cocoa nibs
Slow roasted organic Becker Farms pork ropa vieja
Braised for 10 hours, served with a crispy chip.
One of my favorites.
So tender, juicy, and full of flavor. Mmmmwah!
Spanish Blood Sausage
Another highlight of the evening was a food and wine pairing seminar led by Brian Duncan (Wine Director, BIN 36, A MANO & bin wine café) pairing holiday appetizers with Russian River Valley Wines. Along with Duncan, the four additional members of the panel included winery representatives Robert Larsen, Public Relations Director of Rodney Strong Vineyards & Davis Bynum Winery; Dan Leese, President and Co-Founder of Picket Fence Vineyards; James MacPhail, Winegrower, Sequana Vineyards; and Guy Davis, Owner/Winemaker of Davis Family Vineyards.
Sit down seminars like this are a great way to truly understand the dynamics of a proper food and wine pairing. Plus, it gave the audience a chance to learn about key factors that distinguish the Russian River Valley from other regions in Northern California.
The Russian River Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area), located just an hour north of San Francisco, is one of 13 AVAs within the boundary of Sonoma County and is home to more than 100 wineries.
One of the characteristics that differentiate the Russian River Valley AVA from other areas within Sonoma is its climate. With early morning fog and afternoon winds along with a long growing season, lasting usually two weeks longer than its neighboring appellations, it allows more hang time for fruit to fully mature. Because of this climate early ripening varietals (like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) can thrive alongside of later ripening varietals (such as Syrah and Zinfandel) and all of the grapes are picked at their optimal time.
Back to the event... my favorite pairing was a Chicken Satay with Sweet & Spicy Chili Glaze paired with a 2006 Davis Family Vineyards, Russian River Valley Zinfandel, Old Vine. At first taste the Chicken had a sugary sweetness from the sauce, but when paired with the Zin it brought out the spiciness balancing the two contrasting flavors. The Zin itself had a touch of spice as well, adding more balance to the flavors of the glaze. Without the wine the satay just seemed sweet. The wine pairing, however, allowed for the flavors to flourish.
I also appreciate how the panelists demonstrated how sweet and spicy go together. I am reminded why Rieslings or other wines that have a touch of residual sugar are often recommended with spicy food (like Thai cuisine). The cooling sweetness of the wine often soothes the spicy flavors in the dish. In this particular case it was the food that was sweet, and the wine that added the spice. For me, that’s what pairing food and wine is about, balance.
Overall I found this to be a very well put together and elegant event. Not only did it display the talents of many fantastic Chicago based chefs with great wines, it also focused on one of my favorite things, food and wine pairing education in a fun and unpretentions way.