Imagine you run a restaurant. What do you do to attract patrons during the Dog Days of Summer? If you are The Capital Grille you devise a wine-food pairing that’s good dining, good fun and good information – all in one package. They call it their Master Wine Tasting Event. Basically, you choose from one to eleven wines from a specially selected list (quantity per pour is somewhat smaller if you choose a large number of the wines). The price is a flat $25! You pay à la carte prices for the food portion of your meal (food purchase required). So, essentially, you get a huge break on the wine part of the bill.
The wines are chosen by group wine director, George Miliotes, who is one of fewer than 200 Master Sommelier’s in the world. He penned a special fold-out to accompany the menu that describes each wine and has pairing suggestions. His tasting notes are straightforwardly understandable and spot-on accurate. Of the eleven wines, one is a sparkler. Three are white. Six are red and one a dessert (sweet) wine. There are several ways you can taste them. For example, you could choose your favorite white and select the recommended menu match. Then choose a red and the matching menu selection. Or you could choose your food and then select the wine. The wait staff has undergone special training on the pairing and they can advise you which wines work best with which dishes.
Since we were reviewing the whole experience, we started with the sparkler. Then we did the three whites together as one flight with our appetizers. Then the four reds with our main courses. The dessert wine was on its own at the end (sweet white wine is so easy to sip slowly at the end of a meal). So here, with my comments, are sommelier George’s wines. They are an eclectic assortment from California, Spain and Australia that goes off the beaten track.
N/V The Chook Sparkling Shiraz, South Australia, Australia. Sparkling Shiraz is an acquired taste that I haven’t acquired. This is a pleasant enough tipple to begin the meal but Shiraz is like Hulk Hogan. While both have pronounced strengths, sparkling is not one of them.
2008 Bodegas Botani Moscatel Seco Sierras de Malaga, Spain. A lightly oaked dry Muscat Alexandria that is a complex knot of floral aromatics. It is very food-friendly, as we found out by pairing it with the seafood platter. It worked as well with briny oysters as it did with sweet crab legs. The reviewers in wine magazines rated this wine highly when it came out and deservedly so.
2008 Penfolds Chardonnay Bin 311, Tumbarumba, New South Wales, Australia. In case you haven’t travelled to Australia, the whole place is full of bins. Right from the before-security side of customs at the airport where they exhort polluted tourists to put their fruit, food, last year’s bikini fashions, etc. into bins, lest they turn the kangaroos mad. If you are not too polluted then they let you in and you can head out on one of the many wine tours. That’s where you discover still more bins, like the Bin 311 at Penfolds. I don’t know why Bin Fetishism is so rampant in an otherwise quite sensible country, and when I was there the winemakers I asked didn’t either. Not to worry, this wine is a serious, complex, minerally Chardonnay with a moderate amount of new oak that fairly clearly disguises its origins. The Tumbarumba region is sufficiently high up and southerly that aussie winemakers can craft cool climate wines. The notes recommend it with the Roasted Chicken or the Broiled Lobster. I tried it with lobster and I agree.
2006 Cambria Bench Break Vineyard, Santa Maria, California. An audacious choice by George Miliotes. Most four year old California chards are on the decline, inferior to their younger brethren. This Cambria showed that is has the breed to age with style. The most oaky of the three whites and a wine that California Chardonnay lovers will take to their hearts. It has all the lush fruit, new French oak and buttery flavors that they expect.
Note the order we tasted the whites. Least oak to most. That was how our waiter, Minh, recommended it and he was right.
The optimal order here was less obvious. Since there were six wines we split them into two flights. The first flight was
2002 Greg Norman Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra, South Australia. Another brave choice for the list. Look at the vintage on that – 2002! That’s eight years old. Greater than the mental age of half the drivers southbound on central expressway at 8am. This wine tasted like an aged Cabernet. The tannins had softened. The flavors resolved. The fruit was still prominent – but attenuated. In all respects a classic Cabernet. The notes recommended it with the filet but frankly, steak ‘n cabernet is a classic combination and I would have this wine with any cut on the menu. We had it with the Delmonico (rib eye) and it was a 10/10.
2003 Freemark Abbey Sycamore Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California. Fifty dollar wine here folks! And it is sold out at retail. However, no way is it over the hill. This was a much younger wine than its age might lead you to believe. Bright Napa fruit and soft luscious tannins. A lot of people who do the Master Wine Tasting are going to rate this one their favorite.
2008 Bodegas Triton, Tinto Del Toro, Castilla Y Leon. This 100% Tempranillo crept into the Cabernet flight over my objections, but waiter Minh turned out to be correct (again). The wine is named after the son of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea who, I am informed, did not have any bins. The flavors in this wine are at one and the same time both massive and totally focused. A good example of Tempranillo in the modern style. My favorite wine of the tasting.
Then the second flight:
2003 Beringer Bancroft Ranch Merlot, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, California. This is Napa Valley royalty in a glass. Softened with age (and at its peak I suspect). Another great match with steak.
2003 Greg Norman Reserve Shiraz, Limestone Coast, South Australia, Australia. I always thought that Coonawarra was too far south to grow Shiraz but I may be proven wrong. The pros. rated this 89/100 on release (Wine Spectator).
2009 Avante Mencia, Bierzo, Spain. The Mencia grape variety is one you don’t see much in Dallas restaurants. This one is soft and forward.
And finally, the dessert wine.
2006 Jorge Ordonez & Co Victoria 2 Malaga. Whatever else you try, have this with dessert. If you don’t have dessert, have this wine in splendid isolation. It is a good example of a sweet wine that is not cloying. Very well balanced and a perfect end to a meal.
This wine-food pairing idea is especially beneficial for people who enjoy wine, but don’t regard themselves as wine experts. The notes guide you to combinations that work in a non intimidating way. The Master Wine Tasting Event continues through September 5th, every day at all locations of The Capital Grille.