On the Town

Winemaker dinners… intimate affairs where a winemaker comes to town, and shares a multi-course dinner with you as their wines are paired with each course. Not a bad way to spend the night. Especially with these two winemakers and their wines:

ARGENTO Winemaker Dinner at One Market

Place setting for Argento Wine Dinner

New Zealander, Nick Goldschmidt, is one of those rock stars of winemaking. This is reflected in his 20-plus years of experience as winemaker and consultant to wineries from Chile to Napa and Sonoma (he was Simi Winery’s winemaker & VP for 14 years), but also in his feisty spirit and frank opinions.

Nick Goldschmidt discusses wine over dinner

An entertaining and delightful host, he talked us through terroir and regions of Argentina and the winery he works with there, Argento. He has a rousing passion for Malbec and its accessibility.

If Argento’s Malbecs are any indication, he may be right about the future this grape has, even as it’s already become widely popular. 2009 Malbec ($12.99) and ’09 Reserva Malbec ($15.99) are not only great values but wines I could envision with all kinds of meals. Tannic and fruity, there is balance and roundness. Sipping between the two, I had a difficult time claiming a favorite. I’ll take both.

Smoked Black Cod w/ Berkshire Pork Jowl & Guinness Glaze

I also tried their 2010 Pinot Grigio, ’10 Torrontes (mineral, citrus stand-out of the whites at $12.99 a bottle), and ’09 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon.

In One Market’s elegant, private dining room, we had a decadent cheese spread (Laura Chenel to start, then a range of cheeses, chutneys and nuts to finish) and meat courses. The highlight in a Lightly-Smoked Black Cod dish (paired with the Torrontes) was Berkshire pork jowl and Guinness glaze. Oh la la… pork and beer.

NY Steak

Roasted Sonoma Lamb Chop & Shank rested on green lentils, roasted garlic and bacon. The Reserva Malbec was at home with medium rare Almond Wood-grilled NY Steak in chimichurri sauce, Blue Lake beans, and a creamy, polenta-like corn base.
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Enter a blissed-out food and wine-induced coma…

HELFRICH Winemaker Dinner at Bar Tartine

Helfirch Wines

Anne-Laure Helfrich is a surprisingly young, lovely, up-and-coming winemaker who was weaned on the vine, having grown up in the Alsace region in a family of third generation Helfrich winemakers. Working alongside her brother, Frederic, and winemaker, Benoit Pattin, she’s taking her international business knowledge and degree to further the reach of Helfrich wines around the world.

The lovely Anne-Laure Helfrich

Already counting Alsatian wines among my favorites, I was pleased to taste through six Helfrich whites, three 2009 wines – Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling (all retailing at a reasonable $14.99) – and three more of the same wines but 2007-08 Grand Cru releases ($24.99). The Rieslings are both light and delicate, taking on a little more complexity as they warm up.

I prefer the honey-colored Pinot Gris, both the silky, fig, peach notes of the 2009, and the similar but more honeyed, rich notes of the 2008 Grand Cru. 2009 Gewurtztraminer hits with lychee and floral notes, warming up with a hint of clove. 2008 Grand Cru Gewurtztraminer intensified in floral, musky notes. All wines are a nice value and a welcome entry point for introducing friends (or yourself) to Alsatian wines.

Roasted (and stuffed) Bunny Leg

The setting for this dinner was one of my beloved restaurants: Bar Tartine. No surprise, Chris Kronner’s food paired happily with the wines. Summer salads refreshed, like Cresta di Gallo Salad ($13) with tomatoes, bacon, avocado, cucumber and fantastic fromage blanc. I love Kronner’s Savory Bread Pudding ($6) as much as I ever did. A dessert of Blossom Bluff Peach Pie ($7.50) with buttermilk ice cream pretty much encapsulates Summer’s goodness.

Decadent Braised Pork Jowls

Watch out for these two kick-ass entrees: Roasted Bunny Leg ($26) must have come from a mighty large rabbit. I was delighted when the juicy meat tasted a little of Thanksgiving filled with a stuffing, served with Thumbalina carrots, crescent potatoes, creme fraiche and dill. You’re pretty much eating a giant slab of silky pig fat with Braised Hog Jowls ($23) with grilled romaine hearts and sweet corn puree. You could deem it too fatty (though you’ll never hear that from me!) but when you get to the crispy bits of skin and char melds with the meat, it’s sublime.

Wine and food marry with ease…