A Wine Dinner to Celebrate Spring

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A gorgeous plating of Tuna and Salmon Sashimi by Chef Martin Bradley was paired with a crisp Fevre Les Clos Chablis. Bob Sacks

It felt like a long and surreal winter, so with the coming of longer daylight hours and warmer weather, it seemed like the right time to convene a group of like-minded food and wine lovers for a long overdue get-together and dinner on the outside terrace of Hollywood Golf Club in Ocean Township. The highly talented and creative chef, Martin Bradley, rose to the occasion and created a memorable menu of special dishes with which we paired our wines.

A first appetizer course of Tuna and Salmon Sashimi, was beautifully plated with a seaweed salad mixed with cucumbers, avocado, shredded carrots, daikon radish, crispy ginger, salmon roe and ponzu sauce on the side. The richness of the fresh fish was perfectly counterbalanced by the tang of the seaweed salad. This palate-awakener was paired with a 2017 William Fevre Chablis Les Clos, which was spot-on with great acidity and crispness and harmonized perfectly. A 2003 Ch. Haut Brion Blanc, a white Bordeaux blend of sauvignon blanc and semillon, was bigger and had less acidity; it was good, but a bit soft-tasting compared to the Fevre.

Next, Mediterranean Branzino with spinach, cherry tomatoes, olives, lemon and EVOO was both delicate and flavorful at the same time. The fish was clearly the star of the picture-perfect plate. We paired this with 2016 Niellon Chevalier Montrachet, which was rich, round and almost buttery, and 2010 Bouchard Corton-Charlemagne – at, or near, its peak – with a perfect blend of acidity and minerality, making for the better pairing with the fish – like a spritz of lemon juice. 

Chef Bradley surprised us with a delicious Pasta with Zucchini Pesto. Most of us are familiar with traditional pesto made from just basil, but this rendition, which used predominately zucchini with a touch of basil and arugula, was a tasty and unique variation. Yum! We opted for two red Burgundies: 2005 La Pousse d’or Clos de la Bousse d’or Volnay, which was still surprisingly youthful, with more weight than expected. Good now, but will be better with more age. A 1990 Daniel Moine-Hudelot Musigny, a less-often seen producer, was fully mature and provided sweet fruit with just enough acidity to keep it balanced. Many thought this one of the best food and wine pairings of the night.

Balsamic Chicken, with fried polenta and spring vegetables, arrived as two generous, nicely seared hunks of tender chicken that were juicy and moist. The dish was paired with 2007 Colgin IX Estate Cabernet, a classic California cult wine, which was big, almost brawny, and very much fruit driven, and a 2005 La Mission Haut Brion, a Graves that was all it was supposed to be in terms of subtle elegance, grace and balance, but no match for the Colgin. As one taster remarked, “It was like bringing a knife to gunfight!” It’s always tricky to pair Cali cabs and Bordeaux. 

Mediterranean Branzino was cooked to perfection… tender and moist! The Corton-Charlemagne was a perfect pairing. Bob Sacks

The next course, Chef Martin’s Prime Shell Steak, was plated with potatoes au gratin and balsamic Brussels sprouts. The perfectly cooked steak was rich and flavorful and called out for some substantial reds, so we paired a 2003 Hundred Acre Kayli Morgan Vineyard Cabernet and a 1994 Harlan Estate Cabernet with it. The Hundred Acre was as rich and flavorful as the beef, and had it been served alone, would have been more than satisfactory, but the Harlan was a clear standout in regards to a perfect balance between fruit, acid and tannin. This was the wine of the night. 

A mixed Cheese Course, with sliced fruit, was served with a powerful 2005 Guigal La Landonne Cote Rotie, a Syrah-based Rhone wine, and a 2015 Sine Qua Non Eleven Confessions Grenache from California, another grape associated with the Rhône region, but in a New-World style. The Guigal was still in its youth, and would benefit from another few years of cellaring; tasty to drink now, but needs a few hours of decanting to open more fully. Likewise for the Sine Qua Non; still not fully evolved and will keep for many years; decant before drinking.  

Dessert consisted of a Gateau Basque, an artful plating of a slice of almond pastry with vanilla custard cream, brandied cherries, and crème chantilly; a perfect finale that was complex, sweet and even a bit savory. We drank a 2008 Huet Le Mont Molleux Vouvray, a sweet dessert wine based on the chenin blanc grape, from the Loire Valley of France, with it. The wine was a good balance of fruit, acid and sweetness held in check by the minerality. Perhaps an even sweeter wine, like a German riesling auslese or young Sauternes, would have matched the lushness of this dessert even better. 

Yes, it was a lot of food and wine, and a couple of the more prudent guests sampled more lightly, but with the excellent food and equally good and interesting wines, it was hard to refrain from what I call engaging in a great evening of “wretched excess!” A pleasant night outdoors at a beautiful golf course, with big city restaurant-caliber food and very special wines with which to enjoy it, right here at the Jersey Shore, provided a few hours of much needed escape, and a chance to celebrate the imminent arrival of warm and sunny weather. Cheers! 

Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, writes about food, wine and restaurants in this column. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob.

The article originally appeared in the June 23 – 29, 2022 print edition of The Two River Times.