The recent wine dinner featuring the wines of Figge Cellars, held at Por Fin Restaurant in Coral Gables, was a smashing success. As the evening progressed, winemaker Peter Figge explained how he transitioned from viticulturist to winemaker, and how understanding the entire process from bud to bottle underscored the idea that winemaking really starts in the vineyard. Figge spent time at each table, talking in depth about his wines and his winemaking. It was a unique opportunity to hear from the artist, while at the same time, partaking of his work.
At the end of the evening, diners were asked to complete a brief survey about their impressions of the wines and pairings, using a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (great); diners were also given the opportunity to order wines for purchase. The results of both were interesting.
Diners were greeted at the door with a glass of Gocce Di Luna Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, and an appetizer of Seared tuna, charred scallion, with a romesco sauce. Gocce di Luna is produced by Anna Spinato, in the Veneto region of Italy. It’s a nice example of the grape, with a pleasant effervesce, bright taste, and pleasant flavors of apple, tropical fruits, and a touch of honey. The finish is slightly bitter, which worked well with the tuna. This was the one pairing we were not able to try first, but the diners seemed to like the combination. The average score was 4.2, with 80%; 35% rated it 4, 45% rated it 5.
The menu paired Figge’s La Reina Chardonnay with Arroz Negro con Vieiras: Squid ink, Arborio rice, sautéed squid, sofrito, & green pea puree, served with a seared scallop on top. In our initial tasting, the proposed dish used grilled octopus instead of the scallop, but we found that with that component, the wine became bitter and metallic. The two changes we made were to use a scallop instead of the octopus, and to increase the amount of the green pea puree. That worked; the average score was 4.5, with 88% of the diners rated this pairing as being good-to-great. The average score for the wine was 4.5, with 85.7% rating it good-to-great.
The next pairing was Salmon con patatas, tomate y kalamata: Irish organic salmon, potato crisps, tomato confit, Kalamata olive drizzle and crispy leeks, paired with Figge’s 2008 Pelio Vineyard Pinot Noir. This is one dish that the tasting panel made no changes to; we found that the combination worked well and diners agreed. On its own, many diners felt that the Pinot was too acidic; the average score for the wine was 4.1; 75% rated it good-to-great. When paired with the salmon, the score for the combination went up to 4.3, with 88.5% rating the combo good-to-great. Comments by the diners bore out the impression; the food made the wine.
Our last pairing was Costillas De Res: Short ribs served with carrot puree, sweet potato crisps, honey cabrales and red wine sauces, paired with Figge’s 2006 Sycamore Flat Syrah. This particular pairing was absolutely fascinating for a number of reasons. It fared the worst of the evening, with an average score of 4.2; 77% of the diners rated it good-to-great, split 50/50 between a score of 4 & 5. 19% rated the pairing just “OK”. The wine itself got an average score of 4.3, with 78% rating it good-to-great.
Here’s why this is interesting: in the tasting, the panel felt that the original composition of the dish didn’t support the wine. The chef prepared the short ribs topped with a slice of melted manchego cheese; this made the wine a little bitter, and while the short ribs were flavorful, the combination was mediocre. After a bit of experimentation, we found that the addition of a honey-cabarales sauce (cabarales is a Spanish blue cheese) pulled the dish together; the flavor of the ribs, the tangy-salty flavor of the cheese, and the sweetness of the honey, really brought out the essence of the wine.
However, when the dish came out, the sauce wasn’t on the ribs; it was presented as an accent on the plate. Most diners did not “dip;” instead, they simply ate the ribs. When we realized what happened, we asked the wait staff to bring more sauce out to pour, but by that time most of the ribs were gone and the damage (so to speak) was done. The few diners who were able to try the actual pairing as we conceived it agreed that it changed the entire nature of the dish (and brought the scores up). The importance of this cannot be understated – in any pairing, even what seems to be a minor component of a dish can have major consequences in the outcome.
The other interesting aspect of this particular wine is that although it was the least popular wine of the evening it was the most popular for sales – more Syrah was purchased than the other two wines. Go figure!