“And what would you like to be when you grow up, Don Day? A doctor? A lawyer? An astronaut? A fireman?”
“No teacher, I want to be a sommelier.”
“But Donny, I think you have to be born in a country in Northeastern Africa to be one of those.”
Yes, I wanted to be a sommelier. Or a wine steward as we used to call them when I was first testing the limits of my Diners Club card. Not a forty hour a week sommelier. Just an occasional sommelier. Not doing things like wiping water spots off glasses or removing troublesome corks. But going on degustations (an important word to learn if you want to be a sommelier) to Champagne, Tuscany or Rioja. And wearing that honking big chain around my neck to hold a tastevin (another valuable sommelier word) and looking straight outta Compton (one little tip here: never mistake a sommelier’s tastevin for an ashtray).
I’m not sure exactly why I wanted to be a sommelier. The word itself seemed to describe someone in dire need of deodorant. But I knew I loved food. And I knew that there were very few foods that didn’t taste better when washed down with wine. And I knew, if experience was the world’s greatest teacher, the thousands of bottles of wine I’d seen the bottoms of gave me better creds than some of those 20-somethings with Masters in Oenology and Viniculture.
So when chefs Julian Garcia and Jose Bossuet told me they were doing another of their wine pairing dinners, and, for the first time, they were working with The Wine Stop, and that they weren’t very familiar with the wines stocked by The Wine Stop, suddenly my hand shot up. “I am, chefs. I am, chefs. I could do it.” And that evening I got an email from Chef Bossuet saying “I trust your palate” and I was doing it. I would get to choose the wines to match each of the courses. For one night, I would be a sommelier.
Now I’m very much hoping that you’re going to be at the dinner so I can show you my stuff. But, in case you’re not, you can still buy the wines I have chosen directly from The Wine Stop. And maybe after I rave about a couple of my favorites, maybe I might even entice you to come to the dinner. So here I go.
Chefs Garcia (that’s Don Day’s Wife with Chef Julian) and Bossuet didn’t choose a single country as the theme for their dinner. “It’s more based on creative dishes with the very best ingredients,” Julian told me.
So I chose a theme. Italian. Not because there were any particularly Italian dishes on the menu. But because The Wine Stop has some particularly good Italian wines on their list.
Though I’d traditionally start most meals off with a white wine, there were lots of upcoming dishes that absolutely demanded white. Plus the starter’s going to be lamb with fennel and that, to me, demanded red.
I’ve chosen a wine that combines one of my all time favorite grapes Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) with a grape that rarely takes center stage, Nero di Troia. The wine comes from Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot, one of those regions that gets the description up and coming which usually also translates as affordable. The wine’s name is Tenuta Fujanera Insolente. And please note that even though its name is Insolente, I resisted the temptation to call it “a cheeky little red”…or, then again, maybe I didn’t quite resist.
The next course I’m guessing was Chef Bossuet’s choice as he is extremely proud of Mexico’s heritage in cuisine. It’s a salad based on ayocote, a bean that had its beginnings in Central Mexico. I’d call it the beefiest bean I’ve ever tasted but I still feel a white is right for the match.
There was one white on the list that I’d read enough about to know it would be apropos but I’d never tasted. So I relied on the palate of Rosario Arvizu (that’s her wearing the glasses and her partner Alina Morales to her right) from The Wine Stop. It’s called Leone de Castris Villa Locorotondo. It’s another wine from Puglia made from two grapes, Verdeca and Bianca di Allesano that seldom get to sail over the ocean to the Americas. Rosario told me my choice was “an excellent choice”. We’ll see if she was just being polite on January 27.
I’m giving credit to Chef Bossuet for including the next dish as well, a seafood stew from Veracruz called crab chilpachole. I’m going to be pairing it with a white from Abruzzo called Illuminati Costalupo Contraguerre that has a wonderful freshness with a very floral nose. The primary grape is Trebbiano which, in France, is known as Ugni and finds its way into a lot of Cognac bottles.
Like the song by Vanessa Williams, I’ve saved the best…actually the two best…to last. The wine that will be poured with the scallop in a coffee crust and hibiscus sauce is Tenuta Fujanera Bellalma. This is another white from Puglia but from the cooler, more mountainous interior. It’s made from another obscure grape that I’m hooked on called Falanghina. Now you know how those master sommeliers with their thick knotted ties show off their olfactory prowess by finding all these obscure fruits by simply sticking their noses in a glass. Well even big old me, sommelier for a day, found apples, peaches and pears as well as that terroir that the pros talk about. Why I think this wine is so outstanding though is for a reason I’m not even sure I’m supposed to talk about. But I’m going to. Bellalma sells for 210 pesos or about 12 U.S. bucks a bottle.
I didn’t exactly choose the wine that’s being paired with the rock cornish hen in mole amarillo. Because, unlike the Bellalma, this wine is a little pricey and, by choosing it, I knew I would be taking a whole lot of pesos from the chefs’ profit for the event. But Chef Garcia gave me one instruction: “Choose any wines you want as long as one of them’s the Valpolicella. I’ve got to have the Valpolicella”. Those words were magic to my ears because, if I didn’t think I had budget restrictions, the Valpolicella would be my first choice. Because this is no ordinary Valpolicella, this is Tenuta Sant’Antonio Monti Garbi Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso…now there’s a mouthful of wine. Those last two words in the name are the important words.
Showing off my junior sommelier creds, I know there are four different Valpolicellas. Plain ordinary Valpolicella is a red from Verona made from Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara grapes. Valpolicella Classico comes from a very specific part of the region. Valpolicella Superiore is aged in the barrel for at least one year. And Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso, the one we’ll be tasting on January 27, is made partially from dried skins from the previous year’s production of Amarone, the region’s world-renowned premium (as in often $100+) wine. The result is rich powerful flavors of red berries and intricacies like vanilla and tobacco. The result is also one happy sommelier because he’ll be drinking it too.
There’s one last course on the menu, Jalisco’s answer to flan, jericalla. The jericalla with pinenuts will be served with the very appropriate Mezcal which the chefs will select because the only time I usually drink Mezcal is after I’ve had too much wine to drink.
I just might do that at the Cena.con.Armonization at Cafe Contento on January 27. So I probably won’t be allowed to pour. Especially considering my reputation for overpouring to the point of overflowing. But if I do pour, there’s one thing I solemnly promise. I will never be a sommelier who takes your bottle of wine and places it on a table far from your reach so that you will have to get up if you want to fill your own glass. Never, ever.
Cena con Armonization wine pairing dinner will be held at 6:30 pm on January 27 at Cafe Contento, located in Plaza Golondrinas at Hernandez Macías #72 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Jose Bossuett is the chef/owner. For reservations, telephone 415 154 8020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julian Garcia is a private chef who is available for private functions including dinners in your home. You can contact him at email@example.com or at 044 415 100 3691.
All of the wines being served at the wine pairing dinner are available from The Wine Stop in Queretaro and they deliver to San Miguel weekly. For a copy of their complete price list, email Rosario Arvizu at firstname.lastname@example.org.