I’ve written before that wine dinners don’t hold much interest for me anymore. For the most part, I feel they’ve run their course. Every now and again, though, I come across a wine dinner that gets my attention.
Such was the case for the upcoming Terra d’Oro wine dinner at the original La Bodega on Feb. 8. Why?
Well, consider the elements coming together here — a California winery in one of the hottest appellations in the state (Amador County), focusing on French and Italian grape varieties, pairing its wines with the Kansas City’s only true Spanish tapas restaurant.
The United States, France, Italy and Spain in one glass matching the flavors on one plate? This I had to see and taste!
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“This is my first wine dinner here at La Bodega, but I’ve done plenty over the years. One of the things I’ve come to realize is that there aren’t rules about pairing wine and food anymore,” said John MacVarish, La Bodega’s bar manager. “It’s a domestic winery with Italian grapes holding a dinner at a Spanish joint on the Boulevard under an overpass in Kansas City in February. Why not?”
MacVarish said he was intrigued by Terra d’Oro’s wines and appellation and was excited that La Bodega’s could “throw out the book” and come up with unique and interesting food pairings whether the dish was Spanish-inspired or not.
I sat down with MacVarish; English Renshaw, La Bodega’s executive chef; and general manager Robert Riekhof to discuss the wines chosen for the four-course dinner and the thinking that went into the cuisine they were matched with.
It was a wide-ranging, free-wheeling discussion with some surprising conclusions. First, that it was OK to start with a salad and a red wine, the Terra d’Oro Sangiovese, before heading back to a white wine with grilled octopus, Terra d’Oro’s Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend.
“Normally there’s a progression from white to red wine, but the Chenin/Viognier was perfect with the second course, and we wanted to start with a salad, which matched well with the Sangiovese. So, we started with a red, go back to a white, then return to red for third course.” MacVarish said.
No rules, right? Only the goal of finding the right wine and the perfect dish to let it shine.
“For me, it was fun to taste through the wines then start bouncing ideas around for the dishes. What ingredients do we have in house? What can we bring in realizing this dinner is right before Valentine’s Day? So, it went back and forth, pretty quickly really, until we came up with this menu,” Renshaw said.
I tried all four of the wines featured in the dinner, including the petit syrah, which will be paired with a grilled lamb loin in a Luxardo cherry demi-glace with sautéed rapini, cipollini onions, and toasted pistachios.
I love lamb but generally do not like petit syrah. This, however, was an inspired match, and a particular favorite of the group.
“We already had the petit syrah on the list, so we liked that wine going into the dinner. And, that wine with that lamb dish is really, really good,” English said. “For me, the lamb and the petit syrah are just perfect, especially with the cherry glace chef is doing,” MacVarish chimed in. “There’s almost an Amarone quality to the wine. I mean, it’s not an Amarone, but there’s a level of sweetness to it that reminds me of an Amarone and that’s awesome.”
For me, the surprise of the tasting was the Terra d’Oro Moscato, a grape I tend to avoid for its sweet, cloying nature. This Moscato, paired with an apple pear tart, drinks more like a Sauternes, and actually has some nice acidity on the finish. It should be terrific with the tart and the ginger creme anglaise it’s served with!
As a special treat, Chris Leamy, Terra d’Oro’s Winemaker, will be in town to host the dinner. It will be nice to get his take on MacVarish and Renshaw’s handiwork. Priced at $45, the dinner takes place Feb. 8. For reservations, call the restaurant at 816-472-8272. To check out the menu, visit labodegakc.com.
Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.