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simon pearce

Beau bridges

[vines]Notes from a Perrin & Fils/Beaucastel wine dinner at Simon Pearce in Quechee, Vermont. Food pairings, and their appropriateness with the wines, are described below each note.

Perrin & Fils 2006 Côtes-du-Rhône Rosé “Réserve” (Rhône) – Solid salted berry flavors, red and glowing with energy. It’s strong for a rosé, but not imbalanced (as so many southern French rosés are, in favor of their alcohol). But it lacks much bite, verve, or really much of anything on the finish. Short finishes aren’t exactly unusual with pink wines, of course. Overall, it’s tasty but simple. (2/08)

Served with: Steamed Blue Hill Bay mussels in a broth, with crisped potatoes (essentially, fries) on top, and a drizzled aioli. Both the mussels and the “fries” are excellent, and the single-dish take on moules frites is visually clever. However, there’s a problem with the dish: if you want the fries to remain crispy, you have to eat them first, by which time the mussels are cooling and slightly overcooked. If, however, you dig out the mussels to eat them at their optimum doneness and temperature, the fries fall into the broth and get soggy. Despite the clever presentation, the two-vessel service really would be preferable here. Oh, and the aioli is a little sweet, which suggests that it might not be an actual aioli, but a sauce based on a prepared mayonnaise. It’s not bad, it would just be better were it more authentic. The match with the wine is inoffensive, with each element sort of standing apart but not conflicting.

Perrin & Fils 2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc “Les Sinards” (Rhône) – Young Rhône whites are such difficult animals. I really think that whether or not one likes them is as much due to the whim of the moment as it is to their inherent qualities. Tonight, this wine tastes slightly baked with a drizzle of burnt butter. Oak? I don’t know, and the web is unhelpful; perhaps a bit. Tomorrow, the fat but hard-to-identify stone fruit and desolate brown desert landscape could be compelling. It becomes a little less awkward with food. But in general, I’m disinclined to be positive. (2/08)

Served with: Misty Knoll chicken, in a sort of roulade form around foie gras, with a celeriac pear purée and what the restaurant calls a “natural jus,” but which is actually dosed with the poaching liquid from the pear. I love Misty Knoll chicken, but here it’s grossly overcooked, the foie gras is visible but impossible to taste (similar overcooking, perhaps), and the sauce is…yes, too sweet. Thankfully, this is the only failure, and everything from here is an improvement. As for the wine match, it’s hard to say as the dish is distractingly mis-executed, but it appears to work OK, though the sweetness in the sauce and the purée doesn’t help.

Perrin “Coudoulet de Beaucastel” 2005 Côtes-du-Rhône (Rhône) – Bursting with ripe fruit, all fresh and upfront but with a solid pulse underneath. There are hints and shades of the earthier/meatier aspects, but they’re pretty much buried under the berried fruit right now. A lot of fun, nicely balanced, and surpassingly drinkable. (2/08)

Served with: A cassoulet with confit of free range duck, saucisson, and Niman Ranch pork. This, like a cassoulet I made recently, is dominated by the meat elements far too much to be authentic. But note, I’m not saying it’s bad. Hey, I like meat. Doesn’t everybody? (Well, no, but….) It’s about as good as non-authentic cassoulet (meaning one that takes many days to make, which isn’t really possible in a restaurant setting unless the restaurant specializes in cassoulet) can be, with good flavor throughout. And it’s a terrific counterpoint to the wine, with each enhancing the other.

Perrin “Château de Beaucastel” 1996 Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhône) – Coming out of its difficult phase, but only just, and as such it’s somewhat evasive. The meat-smoke, bacon liqueur elements are only teasingly in place, there’s a strong but backgrounded residue of dried plum, and the minerality at the core is left rather bare and exposed by the wine’s reluctance to rise from its sleep. As such, the structure dominates. This needs some more waiting. (2/08)

Served with: Veal scallop and sweetbreads with (very) smoky bacon, over-softened pear onions, and chanterelles. The veal is good, and I love sweetbreads, but the smoky dominance and rich meatiness is pretty much a duplication of the previous dish, which would be more dismaying were I not a sucker for both of those characteristics. It’s true: bacon makes everything better. More properly, there should be some separation between these courses. Also, the chanterelles are completely obliterated; this is not a mushroom for such aggressively-flavored food. I do like the dish, but a better attention to sequence would be welcome here. The food somewhat roughs up the wine (not easy to do to a CdP), but they eventually come to a sort of nervous peace.

Perrin & Fils 2005 Muscat Beaumes de Venise (Rhône) – Very fruity, fresh, and fun, tending more towards the concentrated, bright, spring-like fruit elements than the more exotic flowers or perfumes. The best BdVs have a core of crystalline minerality which this lacks, but it’s hard to criticize this wine much. Even average muscat is still pretty good. (2/08)

Served with: Apricot “gratin” (in this case, perhaps even somewhat applicable to the way the fruit appears to be cooked; in the States, the word is usually completely misused to mean soft things in cheese/cream sauces) with honey, almonds, and Westfield Farms blue goat cheese. This is a brilliant dessert, and makes use of counterpoints between the savory/salty cheese and the sweet elements very well. It’s a little deep and complex for the muscat, but then almost any non-fruit dessert will be.

Turning the Tablas

[vineyard & rock]Notes from a Tablas Creek wine dinner at Simon Pearce in Quechee, Vermont. Food pairings, and their appropriateness with the wines, are described below.

Tablas Creek 2005 Grenache Blanc (Paso Robles) – Stone fruit and almond oil with hints of acacia. Crisp apples dominate the midpalate, which brightens and freshens everything before a denser finish of blood orange rind. This is a really nice wine, with more life and vivacity than one might expect from a Rhônish white, and it would appear to have some medium-term aging potential as well. (1/08)

Served with: Peekytoe crab & shrimp cake with a cucumber/lychee relish and a Key lime vinaigrette. This dish is a tremendous accompaniment to the wine, with each enhancing the other.

Tablas Creek 2000 “Clos Blanc” (Paso Robles) – 45% roussanne, 19% viognier, 19% marsanne, and 17% grenache blanc. Definitely showing signs of age, with a buttered caramel, lactic character dominating the nose. The palate, too, has turned to fat without sufficient substance. However, things are not quite so dire once one really works their way into the wine, which shows intense Rainier cherry, strawberry and apricot warmed by the hot Paso Robles sun. And then, things turn strange again, with an angular, somewhat distorted finish. I wouldn’t hold this any longer, if you’ve still got any. (1/08)

Served with: Atlantic halibut and smoked salmon roulade, almond orange rice pudding, and apricot honey vin blanc. The dish is grossly, inappropriately sweet, and completely obliterates the wine…not that what could be discerned seemed to match very well. Even taken on its own merits, this course is abominable. The rice pudding would be pretty nice on its own, as a dessert, but here? Ugh.

Tablas Creek 2004 “Côtes de Tablas” Rouge (Paso Robles) – 64% grenache, 16% syrah, 13% counoise, 7% mourvèdre. This feels a little lighter than previous vintages, but that may just be the influence of the food. Dark fruit and a slim but present structure dominate, with a dusting of fennel pollen and the very slightest edge of volatile acidity hovering atop the aromatics; nothing that anyone not oversensitive (like me) will notice, though. Soft and accessible throughout, though it seems to fill out on the finish. A typically solid, reliable, good-quality effort. (1/08)

Served with: juniper-seared venison loin, white truffle cauliflower gratin, and cherry molasses sauce. The food is too powerful for the wine, though I suspect a lower-volume dish with the same flavors would make a pretty good match. The sauce isn’t as sweet as it sounds, but the real star on the plate is the cauliflower gratin, which has a crumbed coating and is a really terrific way to extend the natural qualities of this sometimes overlooked vegetable.

Tablas Creek 2004 Tannat (Paso Robles) – 92% tannat, 8% cabernet sauvignon. This is my first domestic tannat; the only other examples I’ve tasted have been from France, Uruguay, and New Zealand. And if this is any indication, there’s great potential for this grape, though I can’t imagine the marketing nightmare it might represent. Deep, dark, mysterious, and even a little murky, with enticements of black licorice and blackcurrant, there’s the expected quantity of tannin here, but none of the usual qualities of tannin one expects from this legendarily tannic grape; instead, the structure is leathery, ripe, and…well, lush. It does calcify a bit on the finish, though…tannat fans need not worry overmuch…while the wine veers into an iron-rich, blood-like phase. There’s a touch of heat throughout, but only a touch. Terrific, and obviously quite ageable. (1/08)

Served with: braised veal cheek, caramelized shallot, marrow, and potato hash with pomegranate cassis jus. A little sweeter than it should be, but the braising and caramelizing components work well with the wine’s deep blackness. The marrow is completely lost, and I think that this dish would, in general, be better without the fruity enhancements. But, of course, Simon Pearce can’t help itself when it comes to adding sweeteners to food.

Tablas Creek 2005 Vin de Paille “Sacrérouge” (Paso Robles) – A dried-grape sweet wine made from mourvèdre. And it tastes like…figs! Black Mission figs, to be precise, in an almost uncannily accurate alcoholic form. Vague suggestions of strawberry jam, plum, or even prune are quickly dismissed by the figgy assault, and the wine has the texture of the seedy pulp left over from squeezing fruit as a preliminary step towards producing jelly. It’s relatively balanced and really, really fun. Will it age? Maybe, but I defy anyone to stop drinking it, once they’ve opened a bottle. (1/08)

Served with: Guanaja chocolate chèvre cheesecake with a hazelnut/fig spread. I should note, up front, that I’m not a big fan of figs except in their raw fruit form (and even then, I can take or leave them), so for me the hazelnut/fig elements of this dish are a complete waste of time. The “cheesecake,” however, is another story…brilliant, in fact, with an unusual texture and a fascinating mix of soft and chalky, bitter and sweet, that pairs beautifully with the wine.