A Night of Food, Wine, and Friends

December 15, 2017
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By Bob Sacks |

For me, one of the joys of drinking special wines is to be able to share them with friends, in order to enjoy the experience together; add in a dinner with great food and wines paired for maximum flavor and pleasure, and it’s a formula for a memorable evening.

1985 Chateau Margaux, the wine of the night, was a near perfect example of well-aged Bordeaux at the peak of its drinkability.

I recently participated in such a dinner at Trama’s Trattoria, the excellent Italian restaurant on Brighton Avenue in Long Branch. Pat Trama, the gifted chef/owner, worked with me to create an inventive multicourse tasting menu intended to harmonize with, and showcase the wines. The mantra I learned many years ago, is that “wine is sauce for the food.” In essence, it is most enjoyed when it enhances the food either by blending with, or by contrasting with, what we are eating.

Our delicious appetizer of thinly sliced Peconic Bay Scallop Crudo, with savory red miso/white balsamic/radish puree, was cool and refreshing, with just enough acidity to tease the taste buds. 2012 Niellon Chassagne-Montrachet Clos de la Maltroie  provided acidic support much like a spritz of lemon juice; while the impressive 2009 Morlet La Proportion Doree, a white blend of  sémillon (65 percent), sauvignon blanc (33 percent) and muscadelle (2 percent) from California, was a rich and complex counterpoint.

A remarkable Split Pea Soup with pumpernickel, Espelette pepper (mildly spicy, slightly smoky, from France) and mascarpone, was deeply flavorful, had great creamy mouthfeel, but was not at all heavy. We enjoyed a 2003 Boillot Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles which supplied lots of fruit and spice, with perfect acidity to counter the richness of the mascarpone.

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The perfume of freshly shaved black truffle, rising from a dish of Potato Gnocchi with buffalo milk mozzarella and baby Brussels sprout leaves made it far too easy to inhale the tender little dumplings in just a few mouthfuls. The accompanying 1990 Giacomo Borgogno Barolo was rustic, drying out, and perhaps past its prime.  It took a while for the 2005 Sottimano Barbaresco Riserva to come around, but with air and tincture of time, it opened up to reveal a core of dark fruit, and a long finish.

Chef Trama used the recipe he learned from renowned Chef Debra Ponzek to recreate a perfectly cooked Organic Salmon with creamed lentils and candy-striped beets, in a red wine sauce. The rich fish begged for wines with fruit and acid, and the 2003 Tua Rita Redigaffi, 100 percent merlot, filled the bill nicely with a nose of blackberries, notes of chocolate, and a concentrated richness. Delicious!  I am partial to Italian merlot and this producer never disappoints. As a counterpoint to the dish, 2001 Marchesi di Gresy Camp Gros Martinenga Barbaresco, was elegant and aromatic, with secondary flavors of mineral and earth, and very Burgundian in style.

As the courses progressed in weight and depth, so did the wines. A delicious Creekstone Farms Cowgirl Steak, plated with sautéed broccoli rabe, and black truffle whipped potato (yum!) proved to be the dish of the night for most of our group. It was served with 1985 Chateau Margaux, which ironically turned out to be the wine of the night. At its peak with no signs of fading any time soon, it was sweet, juicy, and velvety, redolent of black fruits. By comparison, a 2005 Chateau Grand Puy-Lacoste, was young, a bit hard, and still far from being pleasurable.

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For our cheese course, a sampling of Tuscan cheeses with dollops of fruit conserves and nuts as accompaniments, we opened 2009 Jean-Michel Stephan Cote Rotie, which was unremarkable and forgettable. 2001 Il Bosco Cortona Syrah, was also a letdown; green and unripe, with minimal fruit and a short finish. Not so the Cali Cult Wine: 2003 Hundred Acre Cabernet, Kayli Morgan Vineyard; big, with licorice, loads of dark fruits, and a very long finish, it stopped just short of being a fruit bomb.  2011 Abreu Los Pasados Cabernet, still closed, tight, and tannic, did not live up to earlier vintages of this that we have enjoyed. Try again in 5 years.

Dessert was a delectable Pumpkin Panna Cotta with eggnog anglaise; creamy and smooth, but still light, it was the perfect ending to a near perfect evening of food, wine, and friends.

There is little fun in drinking great wines alone, and not being able to share your thoughts. If you are saving some of those special bottles for just the “right time,” I suggest rounding up some like-minded friends who also are sitting on similar vinous treats and putting together a tasting-menu dinner at a restaurant of your choice, sooner than later. It is far better to open a bottle a bit on the early side, than to wait too long, and pop the cork on one that is far past its prime and has become undrinkable. So why wait?

À Votre Santé!

Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in a bimonthly column. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob.


This article was first published in the Dec. 7-14, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.

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