A Completely Amazing Dinner Experience

So, this report is long-overdue.

On New Years’ Eve, Sara and I participated in a 7-course dining extravaganza with our friends Tasi & Kristen and the Perkins family in Springfield, VA. Each participant (or participant household) is responsible for the preparation of one of the courses. The tradition is that Doug (Tasi’s dad), quite the oenophile, pairs each course with an appropriate wine. Being the cerevisaphile (how’s that for a great word!?) that I have fast become, and knowing that Uncle Charlie (a homebrew veteran of over a decade) would be present, I couldn’t resist bringing a couple of special brews along as well.

This proved quite interesting and exciting — while I’ve participated in both wine dinners and beer dinners in the past, and performed no small amount of personal, unscientific thought and practice in the food-pairing department, this was my first opportunity for head-to-head comparison of wine and beer paired with a dish. I loved it. Overview: in every case, the beer was at least as good as the wine, vis a vis the food. In a couple of courses, the beer (I thought) blew the wine out of the water.

Course One (Appetizer): seafood crepe with shrimp and lobster tail. Absolutely delicious. It was paired with a Martini & Rossi Asti sparkling white wine that I could not abide. I gave it a 2.0/5 simply because the crepe made it taste better and it sort of worked. Unfortunately, the beer hadn’t come out yet at this point, but a nice Hefeweizen would have been the ticket, I’m sure.

Course Two (Soup): Sara’s knock-em-dead French Onion Soup. Doug paired it with a 2006 Duckhorn Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc — very respectable with the soup, more of a pleasant counterpoint than a true blending harmony (a trend to be repeated throughout the evening). But then Charlie and I broke out the Cesar Franck Belgian Ale, and true harmony ensued. An amazingly excellent pairing! The caramel from the roasted onions found its partner in the roasted malt and candi sugar in the beer.

Course Three (Salad): spinach salad with clementines, walnuts, cranberries, and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. The Wine: 2004 Jefferson Vineyards Johannesburg Riesling. This was probably, in my opinion, one of the best food-to-wine pairings of the night (even though it was not my favorite wine). The beer: Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat. Also an excellent pairing, as good as the wine — citrus notes responded to the orange slices in the salad.

Course Four (Fish): Blackened catfish with a rice medley. This was one of my favorite food courses, hands-down. The Wine: 2005 Zind Humbrecht Gewurztraminer. Solidly and amazing, this was a perfect pairing (Wunderbar, I said). It was going to be hard to have a beer pair as well as this wine did….until Charlie broke out one of his homebrews, a “citrus Bitter.” And wouldn’t you know it (Charlie also prepared the fish), that beer melted right into the catfish, and was divine. It didn’t dethrone the Gewurz, but it was right up there with it nonetheless.

(An entremet of pineapple sorbet and a walk around the block prepared us for the good things to come.)

Course Five (Meat): Venison tenderloin with a madeira and onion marinade, served with scallions and garlic green beans. I love venison, and this was among the best I’ve eaten. The Wine: 2003 Domaine Font de Michelle Chateauneuf du Pape. A red among reds: deep, dark, strong, valiant, bold. It was a very nice wine, but almost too strong for the venison. The beer: Neil Gow’s Scottish Ale. When eating well-prepared game, go with a Scottish-style beer. Period. The beer won that round, and it was a tough one to win.

Course Six (Dessert): homemade baklava. The Wine: 2003 Chateau Guiraud Sauternes. Heavenly. I gave this wine a 4.0 and didn’t attempt a beer pairing, instead saving my big guns for the course to come….

Course Seven (Cheese): Assortment of five goat cheeses from Spinning Spider in Marshall, NC: chevre, raw milk cheddar, raw milk wensleydale, raw milk gouda, and camilla. The Wine: Bodegas Osborne Oloroso (Medium) 10-year-old Jerez (sherry). Lots of folks couldn’t abide the sherry. I liked it, and it was nice with the cheeses. But, the beer really shone here: Brasserie DuPont III Avec les Bons Voeux AND Tripel Karmeliet. The Tripel Karmeliet was the clear favorite, although I stand by the DuPont as a perfect pair with the gouda. It was amazing how that Tripel could pair so effortlessly with such an assortment of different cheeses. The beer, I think, vanquished the wine. I don’t think I can ever now go back to wine-and-cheese with any sort of clear conscience.

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