If wine is intimidating to you, wine dinners can be downright scary. A room full of “wine snobs” or “foodies” confidently spouting all of their practical knowledge can keep those whom are most eager to learn more about food and wine at bay. It can happen but if done correctly, a wine dinner can be as welcoming as a large sit down dinner with family and friends. This was the case at FISH Restaurant and Wine Bar in Marlborough where wine lovers and novices were treated to an exceptional menu featuring the unique wines of Ravines Wine Cellars.
The “local first” movement is powerful one here in Worcester. Promoting local businesses is a primary if not singular motivation for WorcesterScene. I try to shop locally as best I can but I also try to drink locally. I consider anything east of the Mississippi and North of Mason Dixon line a local wine. I know that Red Sox fans are thinking, New York is not local! New England grape growers do make very good wines from vitus vinifera and a few have had out of market success such as Westport Rivers, Turtle Creek, and Sakonnet. However, Ravines’ is putting the East Coast on the map with expansive nationwide distribution, which is why I chose to attend this event at the urging of the general manager, Ian Nal.
What makes Ravines so unique? The wines are made by European oenologist and owner Morten Hallgren. Hallgren holds an advanced degree in both Enology and Viticulture at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier, France. He was classically trained in Provence before buying Ravines. It’s no wonder that he picked this unique area to set his roots in the New World. You might think snow, ice, and cold for this upstate area of New York and you are right. The area is decidedly cool climate and presents very difficult growing conditions particularly when it pertains to ripening grapes fully. This is not entirely true for Ravines. The grapes are grown on a “hillside overlooking glacier-carved Seneca Lake.” The thermal effects of the lake provides warmth early in the season to protect against frost and again late in the season to prolong the ripening season. This results in fully ripe, aromatic whites and reds with excellent structure which makes them ideal for food pairing.
The dinner began with a serve yourself cheese platter which enabled conversation with other diners, Nal, and Lisa Hallgren, co-owner and Morten’s wife. The salty, rich, hard cheeses were paired with the 2013 Riesling. The wine is intensely aromatic exhibiting peach and honey with a touch of sweetness which matched the salty, creamy, nutty lactic confections. As attendees began to settle in for the first course, a Lobster and spring pea risotto, Lisa attempted to explain the production methods for the Riesling and the second wine, the 2013 Chardonnay. Houston, we have a problem.
This is often a problem at wine dinners but Lisa handled it beautifully. The background noise in the open air establishment was no match for her faint voice. It made it difficult to hear her and to hear questions posed by the audience. After the first course she hung up her bull horn and visited every table personally to take questions. This is an excellent idea. Not only does this contact result in a personal relationship between the consumer and the winery, it also takes some of the fear factor out of asking what the diner might deem, “a stupid question.”
From there we moved seamlessly into the Arctic Char with lentils, horseradish, and pickled onions paired with the light but very Burgundian Pinot Noir followed by my favorite dish of the evening, Seared Duck Breast with cheddar grits and Madeira Sauce. I thought that a concentrated, slightly sweet Madeira sauce would pose a problem for the acidic, tannic 2012 Cabernet Franc. The cheesy, creamy grits coupled with the meaty, savory duck brought harmony to the multitude of components. This dish was a symphony. I had reached the pinnacle of delight and my palate could take no more. The conversation was lively as the dishes were cleared. I was overly satisfied already but then there was dessert which thankfully did not weigh heavily on the mind, stomach, or palate. A simple, light, Crème fraiche panna cotta with a side of apricot compote not only the ideal partner for the off dry but refreshing 2011 Late Harvest Vignoles but also welcome relief and a perfect way to end the night.
While I have long used the wines from Ravines in my wine class at Boston University this was my first visit to FISH. As a wine writer I tend to focus mostly on the wine. The menu, presentation, and expertly paired dishes were so exquisite I could not focus enough to take the detailed wine tasting notes I am used to writing. Frankly, I was in gastronomic ecstasy. There is nothing I like better than to document and share what I am eating or drinking particularly when it is a memorable experience. However, in a social setting such as a three to four course meal with excellent conversation I find that whipping out the smart phone to document my gastronomic experiences is in poor taste, whether I am working or not. I did not bring my phone to this event because I thought that I might be too tempted to indulge in this nasty habit. However, having a photographer on hand to promote the food, wine, and future events is always a good idea as long as it is not invasive. Nothing better than a little social media going on to show everyone all of the fun you’re missing. It is also a great way to promote future events on the website or news feeds. I wish I had some food porn to share with you but the curious always seek it out for themselves. Keep an eye out for future events at FISH and their sister restaurant, Urban Kitchen on Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA.