Chow Town

Planning wine dinner gives chance to experience pairings in advance

I’ve got a wine dinner that I’m hosting coming up on Sunday at Jack Stack Barbecue in The Freighthouse.

Shameless plug aside, the dinner’s gonna be awesome, and that has little or nothing to do with me. It’s not that I’m not involved. I am and have been from the beginning.

In fact, I came up with the idea for the dinner months ago, suggested the producer whose wines we’re going to feature — Rodney Strong Vineyards — and offered my insights and opinions on which wines paired best with the various Rodney Strong offerings.

I even suggested a few tweaks to the dishes here and there. And, of course, I’ll be there front and center on the evening of the event itself, illuminating, educating, and hopefully entertaining the crowd with stories of my many visits to Rodney Strong, my love of their wines, and, of course, Jack Stack’s food.

But as with any great dinner, wine-themed or not, the bulk of the credit should go to the man, woman or team creating the culinary extravaganza. In this case, that’s Chef James Hull.

Four of us gathered at Jack Stack on a recent Sunday afternoon to sample the dishes Hull created for the event and match them with the appropriate wines. We had a pretty good sense of what was going to go with what prior to the tasting, but there are always surprises, both good and bad.

Very rarely are there wine and food epiphanies, though there are often seamless pairings that everyone agrees absolutely rock. There were two of those here, along with three other matches that are excellent.

Here’s what Hull had cooked up for the occasion and what the end results will be.

The pass-around appetizer to be served during the opening reception was going to be chilled smoked salmon served in a phyllo dough cup. We figured the Rodney Strong Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc with its slight sweetness, but good acidity, would be a nice match for the salmon, which is naturally sweet itself.

We were wrong. It was a tremendous fit. Seamless.

One of those aforementioned wine and food pairing epiphanies. It was so good, in fact, the group asked Hull if he could expand the dish so we could serve it as the first course of the dinner.

I suggested “salmon two ways,” with the smoked, whipped salmon on one side of the plate and perhaps traditional gravalax on the other.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Grilled, spiced shrimp will be the pass around item. It will also be served with the Sauvignon Blanc. We were off to a very good start.

The next item up was a vegetable lasagne. I have to admit, I had some reservations. It sounds bland and a little lame. Wrong again. Brimming with bright flavors and acidity from fresh tomatoes and using potatoes as well as pasta, this dish was lovely. The trouble was it was absolutely awful with the wine we’d prescribed —the Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay.

However, the next wine up, the Rodney Strong Estate Pinot Noir, worked great with the dish. Problem solved, sort of. You see, we still had the Chard to place, and a glaring hole in our line-up.

Fortunately, the next course provided the answer. Out came pulled pork served over a caramelized onion risotto. I suggested trying that with the Chardonnay, and it was okay, but just okay.

Then a light went off over my head. The Chardonnay is brimming with ripe fruit flavors, primarily apple and pear. Why not incorporate that into the dish? An apple chutney served alongside the pork and risotto, and voila, this should be a match made in heaven.

We decided to flip the courses and serve the pulled pork and Chardonnay after the Sauvignon Blanc and salmon, then follow with the veggie lasagne and Pinot. I was getting excited.

All that was left was the final savory course, a sliced strip loin served in a red wine reduction sauce and a classic creme caramel. We tried two wines with the steak, a single vineyard Cabernet from Alexander Valley and Rodney Strong’s always excellent Bordeaux-blend, Symmetry.

The Cab had more power, the Symmetry more finesse, and, in the end, the group opted for elegance over weight. Not to mention, the Symmetry provided an excellent match to the steak, especially when factoring in the reduction sauce, which was so thick and viscous, it was almost a glaze rather than a sauce. It was awesome.

Lastly, came the creme caramel. For dessert, we decided to go outside the Rodney Strong box, trying a simple Tawny Port, a very old Pedro Jimenez, and an even older Trockenbeerenauslese, a classification for a very sweet Riesling, just this side of Eiswein.

As far as the pairing each wine provided, the Port was good, the Pedro Jimenez very good, and the Riesling, off the charts.

All that’s left now is to experience it all over again with 40 of my closest friends. This wine dinner gig is tough.

There are a few spots open for the dinner. Call 816-472-7427 for more information. The cost is $75.

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.