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Gourmet Highway

By Doc Lawrence.

A MONTH OF LOVE, WINE AND FINE DINING

“He who loves not wine, women and song remains a fool his whole life long.”
– Martin Luther

February features Valentine’s Day, our gentle ritual, at midpoint. Tradition strongly suggests red roses, chocolates, candlelit dining and a card with a personal proclamation of love. Wine fits here like a hand in glove.

Not just any wine, mind you. A dusty bottle from the supermarket bottom shelf doesn’t say “I love you.” There’s an old French saying that the best use for bad wine is to drive away poor relations.

Armand Cottin heads the French wine giant, Loubourie-Roi in Burgundy and introduced me to Saint-Amour, a good red wine with the perfect Valentine’s Day name. It’s from a village of the same name in Beaujolais and it pairs with everything. In Paris, it is often the restaurant house wine. Here, availability is problematical. It isn’t that it costs much – it is quite affordable – but, like so many wonderful unknown wines lacking consumer demand, finding a bottle of Saint-Amour is an arduous journey.

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DINING ON THE ROAD

The feast is a centerpiece of the celebration of love, honoring intimate relationships from first date to 50th anniversary. Dine beneath Venetian chandeliers in The Olde Pink House in lovely Savannah, the hometown of “my huckleberry friend,” Johnny Mercer, and begin everything with a Low Country staple, She Crab Soup (after tossing in a jigger of Sherry). Originally made by a Charleston chef for George Washington’s first inaugural party, the soup has a magic ingredient, crab roe. Consume enough Champagne, locals say, and you can hear a distant piano playing “Moon River.”

Now long gone, Corrine Dunbar’s was in a lovely Victorian home on St. Charles in the fabled Garden District of New Orleans. There was no menu and courses (with paired wines) were set in advance, served family style. Cocktails were served in the parlor before dinner. The fairy tale-like feast began with a fruit dish, then a soup, followed by Dunbar’s famous specialty, Oysters and Artichokes. The main course was accompanied by fresh vegetables and passed hot biscuits. Then came the goûté, a “small touch of sweet,” ending with a demitasse. Marriage proposals were not unusual at Dunbar’s.

Brennan's Courtyard - New Orleans

The French Quarter epicurean shrine, Brennan’s on Royal Street, serves a February brunch like no other. It’s the home of classics like Bananas Foster and Crepes Suzette where the great Harry Hall, despite the loss of more than 30,000 bottles of rare wines during Katrina, oversees one of the planet’s finest wine cellars.

One of the country’s most romantic restaurants is Robert’s of Charleston, an elegant dining experience featuring fine wine, upscale cuisine, and music that stirs the soul and touches the heart. Enjoying rack of lamb with a bottle of Gervey-Chambertin while Robert Dickson, chef, owner, and resident baritone sings “Some Enchanted Evening,” provides enough stardust to launch a love affair.

Recently, acclaimed Atlanta chef Shaun Doty cooked a Southern-themed dinner at the James Beard House in New York City. His fare was paired with wines from Kluge Estate Winery of Charlottesville, Virginia, literally a stone’s throw away from Monticello where Thomas Jefferson introduced the wine dinner to the New World.

Known for local ingredient-driven cuisine, Chef Doty demonstrated that his modern interpretation of Southern classics and Kluge Estate’s East Coast wines worked in perfectly harmony. Hors d’oeuvres featured Benton’s Smoked Bacon with Ancho chilies and honeycomb plus crispy flatbread with Sweet Grass Dairy Dante goat cheese served with flutes of Kluge Estate SP Rosé.

Dinner consisted of lobster rémoulade with Little Gem lettuce and dill served with Kluge Estate SP Blanc de Blanc, followed by Carolina Gold rice soup with quail, peanuts and scallions with ample glasses of Kluge Albemarle Rosé. Next was the wildly popular dish, shrimp and Anson Mills Grits with organic egg and Creole seasoning paired with Kluge Albemarle Simply Red. The pièce de résistance was Georgia Berkshire Pork with brawn, red wine quince and Sweet Grass Dairy Asher Blue Cheese, a near perfect match with Kluge Estate New World Red.

Dessert demanded Kluge Estate Cru, a fortified Chardonnay that would impress King Arthur’s Court, particularly when served alongside Doty’s fried sweet potato pie with Bourbon ice cream.

Celebrating love should become a habit. Every moment of romance is precious and the wine dinner comes close to bringing everything sensuous together. So pour the Saint-Amour and toast: “Tu es ma joie de vivre.”

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Flavors and More – February 2010

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