All duck dinner – duck five ways with five wines!

We are fortunate to live in a city with a restaurant like The Crested Duck.   Chef Kevin Costa painstakingly obsesses to make sure that every single bite is satisfying and tasty – AND reflects the flavors he intended.   With this in mind, and knowing several people who love duck – we at www.off-the-grid.ws challenged The Crested Duck to create a five course dinner with some element of duck in EVERY COURSE!   Chef Costa accepted the challenge and produced a menu that looked great to us, so we sent the invitation hoping to capture the interest of those few who dig duck like us… it sold out in three hours!

Matching the wines to the courses would hopefully be less challenging than creating the food, but we would see…   As it turned out the food was fantastic, and my biggest surprise was the ice cream made with duck fat – Wow!   The wines performed well: the Sauternes was the appropriate and correct match for the Foie Gras, the Decoy Chardonnay was wonderfully crisp for a Californian chardonnay, but despite my imagining that the main duck courses would match better to the smooth and spicy Rioja (which was still a very nice wine), the overwhelming crowd favorite was the Dierberg Pinot Noir.   I will note that one bottle of the Pinot Noir smelled slightly ‘off’ but fortunately this blew off quickly and the wine returned to its normal lushness.   Finally the Gruet Brut NV was the ever-reliable-bubbly that we have loved for years, providing a lively counter to the super rich duck ice cream dessert.

Off-the-Grid Sunday Supper –ALL DUCK DINNER at The Crested Duck

1st COURSE – FOIE GRAS MOUSSE – LEEK CONFIT, BAKED APPLE, PANCETTA

LA FLEUR RENAISSANCE SAUTERNES 2011

 

2nd COURSE – CHARCUTERIE – SMOKED DUCK BREAST, DUCK AND CHERRY PATE, DUCK SPECK

DUCKHORN DECOY CHARDONNAY SONOMA 2013

 

3rd COURSE – DUCK CONFIT CREPE – ORANGE CRÈME FRAICHE, POMEGRANATE, BITTER CHOCOLATE

DIERBERG PINOT NOIR Santa Maria VALLEY 2010

 

4th COURSE – CRISPY DUCK BREAST – MUSHROOM RISOTTO

CVNE VINA REAL RIOJA ALAVESA CRIANZA 2009

 

5th COURSE – CARAMELIZED DUCK FAT & FLEUR DE SEL ICE CREAM – SHORTBREAD COOKIE

GRUET BRUT METHODE CHAMPENOISE NV

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Holiday Bubbly Recommendations!

For the past several years I have organized a holiday happy hour for friends and colleagues (especially ‘Grapenuts’ and the private dinner group www.off-the-grid.ws).   The ‘Big Bubbly Blowout’ has been a favorite event of mine, but this year, my professional work would not allow me to spend the time required to create another fantastic holiday event, so I thought I would offer some sparkling wine recommendations for the Holiday Season.

 Value: Villa Chiara Prosecco NV – Although I generally hold the opinion that most Prosecco is too sweet, too simple and simply flat flavor-wise, from time to time I find a Prosecco that beats the odds.   In this case the Villa Chiara is a fine tasting (hint of sweetness, but only a hint) sparkler with a lively brightness that provides a lift lacking in most Proseccos.   At $10 this prosecco is as easy on the wallet as it is on the palate!  (PLCB code: 32955 was $19.99, now selling for $9.99)

Anna de Codorniu Brut NV – From the famous and storied Codorniu Cava house just outside of Barcelona Spain, unlike the less expensive Cava sparklers, Anna de Codorniu is produced in the traditional Champagne Method which is often thought to yield smaller bubbles and more nuanced flavors.   In a further nod to Champagne traditions, Codorniu breaks with traditional Cava grapes (Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel lo) by including Chardonnay as 75% of blend.   The result is a smooth and tasty sparkler, with delicate mousse countered by easy acidity that makes a fine pairing for appetizers and as a welcoming flute full of fun!  (comes in a fancy zip up bottle-protecting cooler sleeve.  PLCB code: 33033 was $15.00, now selling for $8.99)

Affordable Luxury: Gruet Sparklers – American bubbly from, of all places, New Mexico!  But don’t let the winery location puzzle you – this sparkler is produced by a French-Champagne-making-family from Champagne!   The Gruet family purchased land in New Mexico back in the early 1980s and several family members relocated from Champagne to New Mexico to watch over their vines and wine-making.   Years later their efforts are rewarded by the well-regarded sparklers hitting our shelves.    It is easy to find printed praise for these sparklers and I agree.

Gruet Brut NV (75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir) Delivers a blend of apple and citrus flavors balanced with an appealing creamy toastiness.   (PLCB code: 29250 $16.99)

Gruet Brut Rose NV (100% Pinot Noir) Differing from its Chardonnay dominant sibling, this Pinot dominant sparkler presents red fruits and strawberry flavors complimented by a finish that carries through a crisp, rich creamy mousse.  (PLCB code: 39937 $17.99)

Real Champagne Value: Le Mesnil Blanc De Blancs Grand Cru Champagne NV – Champagne is the top dog in the sparkling wine world.   Generally, Champagne is also the most expensive of our sparkling wine choices.   The expense may sometimes seem unwarranted, but just as often, Champagne’s magical finesse and complexity finds its way into a bottle.   Tasting these bubblies often brings a satisfying sigh from the first toast.   This “Le Mesnil” Champagne is produced by a co-op (hence the more affordable price) within the Grand Cru Mesnil appellation which is famous for Chardonnay based bubbly.  At $33 this ‘bargain’ Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) Champagne is a great value when compared to other Grand Cru Champagnes and yet delivers the wonderfully delicate, finessed apple/chardonnay notes with finely integrated yeast, toast and mineral flavors.   Find a special occasion, or simply declare one, and enjoy this sophisticated Champagne! (PLCB code: 39622 $32.99)

How to enjoy bubbly – Many people ask about the correct temperature to enjoy bubbly.   The notion that a ‘correct’ temperature exists, is widely debated.   For me, the answer is ‘ice cold’.   I say this because in nearly every holiday celebration, if the bubbly hits the glass as cold as possible, the warming in the glass that takes place during the following minutes of celebratory conversation still leaves the sparkler at a tasty temperature.   If bubbly is merely refrigerated, and gets into the glass above ice-cold, the warming will be too great and the flavors will be less crisp, and sometimes can turn ‘grapey’.   My solution to this is to make an ice bath.   I start by placing my bubbly (which can start at room temperature) into a bucket or similar vessel, and then I fill the remaining space with ice being sure to cover up the neck of the bottle.  Finally I fill the bucket containing the bubbly and the ice with water, and then set a timer for 30-40 minutes.   The result will be ice-cold sparkler that will remain cold longer in the glass and show all the wonderful crisp, taught flavors that compliment so many holiday party appetizers.

Need a gift idea for a wine-lover?   A frequent wine tasting attendee and glass artist Jessica Rutherford creates hand-made-one-of-a-kind Wine Stoppers and Wine Charms – her limited addition cuff-links were provided to world-leaders at a recent G20 gathering, so you can imagine how much we like her wine-related gifts!  Check out her page to find a gift for your favorite wine-enthusiast:  https://www.facebook.com/JessicaRutherfordDesigns

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Fantastic American Wine Dinner at Braddock’s American Brasserie

The 15thOff-the-Grid” Sunday Supper Series (www.off-the-grid.ws) wine dinner was fantastic.   For our 15th dinner we wanted to try a dinner theme aimed at the good old USA – and our friends at Braddock’s American Brasserie (at Pittsburgh’s Renaissance Hotel) were more than happy to work with us.  

Jim Henning‘s entire Braddock’s management team and staff were engaged, professional and pleasant to work with throughout our planning and dinner.   Chef Brian Volmrich put together a stunning array of courses AND, most important for the wine enthusiasts in our group, he was happy to work closely with us to make sure the food and wine were complementary throughout.   The result was a dinner that we will all remember for a long time to come – I wish I could have another taste of the braised veal cheek and “Split Fathom” Cabernet…..

Here is what was enjoyed (I would not change a thing!)

First Course (Served on the 14th Floor private roof patio) – American Caviar and Lobster on Buckwheat Blinis with Crème Fraiche –  Gruet Brut NV (Albuquerque, New Mexico) – the delicate lobster and American Caviar flavors complemented the lovely effervescence of the Gruet Brut.

Second Course – Pan-Seared Bronzini with Blue Crab and Peppercress Salad and Warmed Fingerling Potatoes – King Estate Pinot Gris 2009 (Willamette Valley, Oregon) – nicely weighted course, with the Bronzini and Crab flavors matching the light and floral notes of the Pinot Gris

Third Course – Chilled Green and White Asparagus with Roasted Tomatoes, Prosciutto, Olive Bread Crostinis and Opal Basil Vinaigrette – no wine with the salad course, but wow was this salad tasty!

Fourth Course – Duet of Braised Veal Cheek and Grilled Petite Filet Mushroom and Herb Risotto with Bordelais Demi-Glace – Gundlach Bundschu Merlot 2006 (Sonoma, California) AND Treasure Hunter “Split Fathom” 2006 (Napa Valley, California) – no subtle flavors here, two richly flavored meats with serious California reds, the Merlot was good and the “Split Fathom” was big, rich and spicy!

Fifth Course (Served on the 14th Floor private roof patio)  – Chocolate Bete Noire with Strawberry Basil Coulis and Crème Anglaise – Gruet Brut Rose NV (Albuquerque, New Mexico) – anything would have been good while enjoying the city lights on the roof patio, but how can you go wrong with a chocolate and strawberry dessert with a Gruet Brut Rose?

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