Posted: Sept. 16, 2011
By Victoria Bradley
Nemacolin’s Wine & Food Stomp is a Laurel Highlands revelry, complete with gorgeous gaping vineyard tours and actual stomping of the grapes. It’s the one weekend every year that we can pretend we’re in the movie A Walk in the Clouds. And the Saturday night wine dinner is the crown jewel — the collector’s bottle, if you will — of the weekend’s events. I was there. And, it was amazing.
So I slinked into my cobalt blue dinner dress and caught the shuttle from the Chateau to Falling Rock, where my fellow foodies were sipping their Champagne.
After a few standing appetizer bites, we tossed back our bubbly flutes and took our seats for the main event. Before the first course even arrived, there was a hush that fell over the room the unmistakable anticipation that builds in true dining devotees. It’s almost reverent.
Tuna “poke” paraded out first, with white soy, pickled Anaheim chile, Yuzu aioli, and cashew soil. I scratched my head over that last part. Soil? Was this new? I fork pressed a first bite. The nut had been crushed into a dusting lighter than cereal and served as a perfect texture dressing for the jewels of dark pink tuna. I tried to savor a precious cube on my tongue, but the ruby sliver nearly melted. It was practically perfect, a strong first star of the evening.
The pairing was Thistlethwaite Vineyard Olde World, an off-dry white with a lingering orange flavor. It was milder than I expected and a shy match for the personality of the poke.
The fish course came out next: seared halibut cheeks that were so sexy and meaty. They were plated high, over Tomato Provencal and lip-licking leak butter. A fried pile of crispy chervil was a playful touch.
Greendance Vidal Blanc’s hint of pink grapefruit helped to cut the richness of the butter and mimicked, for a moment, the acidity of the tomatoes. I craved two helpings.
The smell of arugula peppered the air as the servers made their merry-go-round loop around our table with the charred Oak-brined quail. The sour cherries were definitely the stars on this plate — like juicy grenades, like Sweet Tarts candies. Walnut Hill Winery Chardonnay spiked high as a result, leaving none of the butter flavor so charming of Chardonnays. This one was all bite.
What happened next felt like dessert in the middle of the meal: Chef Sean Eckman served a foie gras cru, with blackberry cobbler and lemon verbena syrup. The crostini offered no interrupting crunch or salting for the tongue. It’s sponge-y sweetness seduced, and the whole plate tasted like a butter and jelly sandwich. I loved the pairing with Glades Pike Winery Black and Blue Blend, jammy and bold.
I snuck back to the kitchen before the lamb course. Lamb has achieved such a statute in my life that its plating may as well be a religious ceremony. I watched, with veneration, as four chefs painted the dishes first with sweet pea puree, then daubed each palette with roasted garlic risotto. Gingerly, the cocoa-dusted lamb loin was positioned, before a spoon clinked down a Cabernet shallot reduction.
My lamb did not disappoint: It was spicy and redolent. However, the combination of tiny Klay grapes, melded with a smearing of pea puree, was a show-stealer. The pea-sized pop of the grape with that sweet green flavor was the wittiest pairing I’ve experienced in a year.
Christian W. Klay Winery Jumonville Glen Red was a happy marriage: Its soft, round texture romanced, and the black cherry aroma furthered the beady wit.
I learned, in course six, that if you want the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever tasted, smear some artisan Blue on honeyed Amish bread, top it with crispy fried mushroom “chips,” and cut it with a little port reduction. Wash it down with Greenhouse Winery Chambourcin.
The meal’s finale was a deconstructed Linzer torte, with soldiered rows of raspberries and hazelnut shortbread. It was about four times too large to finish.
— But the Raspberry Acres Winery Cat Country Gold lasted late into the night. And well after the last bite.