By Brianne Harrison • image courtesy of palmina.com
Good food and good wine are a match made in heaven, and both came together beautifully at a recent wine dinner hosted by CoolVines at the Blue Bottle Café in Hopewell. CoolVines was celebrating the wines of Steve Clifton, a California winemaker whose mantra that wine should be “an extension of the plate” falls exactly in line with the CoolVines philosophy of offering wines that pair well (and easily) with a wide variety of foods. And we all certainly enjoyed a wide variety that night—courses ranged from a light and refreshing salmon tartare (see recipe below) to Hudson Valley foie gras, seared yellowfin tuna, duck, lamb, and an inventive take on a cheese plate for dessert. The four latter courses were paired perfectly with a wine from Clifton’s Palmina Vineyard in Santa Barbara; the first course was matched with a chardonnay that was the result of a partnership between Clifton and fellow CA winemaker Greg Brewer. Brewer-Clifton produces chardonnays and pinot noirs in small batches—only about 7,000-8,000 cases annually. Judging from the chardonnay we had, I’d definitely recommend grabbing a bottle from this vineyard if you find one.
The wines were surprising—the chardonnay was citrusy and fresh (“no California butterbomb” as Clifton said), the Dolcetto served with the second course was not sweet, as the name implied, but was rich, smooth, deep, and velvety without being overwhelming. The Palmina Barbera is (rightly) known for its acidity but has almost 0% innate tannins, so it doesn’t overwhelm you and pairs nicely with a wide variety of foods.
The food that accompanied each wine was outstanding—wonderfully prepared, and occasionally displaying a touch of whimsy. Rich, melt-in-your-mouth foie gras was served on five-spice pain perdu—a grown-up version of French toast with a blood orange reduction that was just the right balance between sweet and acidic. Gnocchi was cloud-light and played nicely with smoky mushrooms, while buttery sea scallops were offset by toothsome black-eyed peas. Desserts were a surprisingly light s’mores pie (graham cracker crust, chocolate pudding, and fluffy homemade marshmallow) with a scoop of fiery chocolate chili ice cream, and a walnut tart with crumbled blue cheese, accompanied by a blue cheese crème, an excellent balance of sweet and salty on the plate.
Palmina Wines can be purchased at CoolVines in Princeton and Westfield, and the dishes we sampled are on the menu at the Blue Bottle Café in Hopewell. I highly recommend a visit to both.
On the Menu
» Salmon Tartare with Tahini and Lemon Vinaigrette