Monday, March 12, 2012

Trotters, Lamb and Wine in Phoenix

Every winter, the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix holds weekly Winemaker Dinners featuring bold, inventive menus paired with specially selected wines from California and France.  I headed to the Southwest to visit a dear aunt a week or so ago, and decided to spend an evening savoring gourmet food and wine at one of these epicurean evenings.

Heitz Cellars, St. Helena (Napa), California was the sponsor of that week's wine-pairing event.  The dinner was an opportunity to spend time with the creators of the wines, learning about them - in a group setting of about 75 people.  The first wine, a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, began to flow freely at the preliminary reception as we tasted hors d'oeuvres including Salmon Rilette (read more about salmon rilette here - yum!), Rabbit Terrine, and Bacon and Leeks which were highlighted with house-made ricotta and kumquat jam.  I was busy getting to know Tom and Jean, a Denver couple who became my table-mates for the evening...and didn't think to capture photos of these early bites, delivered around the room in tasting spoons by waitstaff who answered most kindly our multiple questions about the ingredients. 

After seating and a warm welcome by one of the Heitz Cellars representatives - and a brief fashion show which featured models in sparkling white evening wear from Saks - the first course, Stuffed Gnocchi with goat cheese, sunchoke, fava beans, radish, and spring lettuce was served, paired with a 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay...

...quickly followed by the second course; cleverly named "Pork and Beans."  This course included Berkshire pork trotter, caraway cabbage, heirloom beans, and house mustard - served with a 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

A pause for definition here.  Pork trotter.  Yes, it is just what the name implies - a portion of the 'pork foreleg' otherwise known as...pig foot.  Thankfully, I did not have this (see photo) visual prior to dining.  It was tender, and well seasoned, tiny, and was...porcine.   Struggling families in years past, and perhaps not so far past, were said to use "every part of the pig but the squeal."  This would be one of those parts. I am amazed that pigs' feet have become culinary works of art, but there it was.  I ate it (all, and tried not to think about the feet of pigs or where they'd been), enjoyed the wine, and soon the waiters were making their way back to the table.

A Lamb Trio, the third course, was served with the 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon "Trailside Vineyard," also (as all the wines were) from Heitz Cellar.  This one wins my personal five-star rating for the best wine of the evening.

The lamb trio included peas, roasted black cherries, mint, and the tiniest portion of buttered yukon potatoes.  I like yukon potatoes...and wished for more yukon, less lamb.  Sigh.  My lamb chop was not tender and melt-in-my-mouth - it was somewhat stringy.  Sorry, chefs.  I was not impressed with this main course...and the question that remains:  trio?  Did they count "2" because there were two chops?  Or was something left off the plate?  Maybe those tiny little squares that appeared to be proscuitto were lamb.  The lamb roulade carried a slight hint of mint - a more pleasant few bites.

I may have much to learn in the world of gourmet food discernment. But I do know what I like and...the wines beat the food in this meal.

Finally, or next-to-finally, the fourth course, called Rhubarb Tasting, was a sweet, molded rhubarb and strawberry treat, with hints of vanilla, citrus sugar, pistachio and a sprinkling of dark chocolate.  Of course I enjoyed this.  I enjoy dessert in almost any form; apparently even rhubarb.  I'm not a fan of rhubarb pie, so sneaking this one in when I wasn't paying much attention to the fact that it was rhubarb was a good thing.  I tasted a distinctly strawberry-ish blend of flavors, and the chocolate (as well as the crispy cookie tucked in the side) made it special.

The dessert was served with 2008 Napa Valley Grignolino.  Excellent choice.

Lastly - just when we thought we were done...the waitstaff presented each table with a plate piled high with fluffy pink cotton candy - served, I assume, for the surprise/fun factor.  I imagined the pink sugary residue that would dissolve in pink blotches around my mouth and did not partake.  Somehow, the complex dessert did not deserve this follow-up.  But it was a fun "first"... and made for plenty of conversation.

As guests of the Winemaker's Dinner, we were invited to share port wine and....cigars...on the patio.  I did taste the port, declined the cigars, then made my way - somewhat wobbily - to my room at this beautiful resort. Overall a pleasant experience - thanks most of all to my charming new friends.