Last week we were delighted to attend the Wagner Family Wine Dinner hosted by The Depot in Auburn, Alabama, and International Wines and Craft Beer. We arrived early, as we customarily do, and had a few cocktails at the elegant bar in the entrance of the restaurant. I tried one of the current specialty cocktails, the “Gardner’s Spritz”. It was refreshing and slightly-citrus. It would have been a perfect brunch drink or a dock-side libation. John Mark ordered his usual Maker’s on the rocks.
As attendees started piling into the bar area the wait staff started passing around the appetizers. One them was a crostini-like bread with basil, roasted tomato on top, including a sardine. Chef Scott Simpson explained he wanted to showcase the sardine, as they are a sustainable food. I have tried sardines in the past, and personally, have a strong aversion to anything with a strong fish taste or odor. John Mark enjoyed the bite but agreed that the sardine would not have suited me. The other appetizer being passed around was a black-eyed pea falafel with a Romesco-like sauce and crumbled feta on top. It was absolutely divine. I think these would be a great addition to The Depot’s bar bites menu.
We all promptly seated for dinner and Chef Simpson along with John Mark Davis of International Wines spoke about the courses we were about to be served and the wines that they would be paired with. The Wagner Family of Wines belongs to a family in Napa Valley, California, who have farmed the area since the mid-1800s, beginning to grow grape vines in the early 1960s. They were put on the “wine-world” map in the early 1970s with their Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. The family produces several labels and all of the wines we had this evening were exceptional. The pairing efforts of the chef and sommelier demonstrated beautifully throughout the dinner.
The first courses consisted of a very delicate portion of grouper from the Gulf of Mexico. The grouper was abed a helping of jicama slaw, arugula, and a black-eyed pea puree. Jicama is more commonly known as a Mexican turnip and has a slight sweetness to it. It is often compared to a cross between a potato and a pear if that helps you visualize the texture and taste easier. These flavors were a delightful pairing with the Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay.
For the second course, we were served a wonderful salmon dish. I never order salmon because it can be cooked inconsistently from one restaurant to the next, but this salmon was cooked to perfection. The salmon had been prepared by first having been rubbed in herbs, then later by grilling on cedar planks. It was served atop a bed of spring onion and carrot risotto, which was out of this world good! The blueberry beurre rouge sauce was a very interesting combination with the salmon and risotto, but I was delightfully surprised at how well it paired with the dish and wine, and thoroughly enjoyed trying a blueberry type sauce on a salmon dish; very outside of the box. The beurre rouge is the colorful sibling of beurre blanc, which is more commonly seen on menus. A beurre blanc is a classic French sauce, comprised of shallots, butter, reduction of vinegar, and white wine; whereas, the beurre rouge is made of shallots, butter, and reductions of red wine vinegar and red wine. The blueberry was a nice compliment to the dish, but really brought home the wine pairing of the Mer Soleil Reserve Pinot Noir.
For our third course, chef presented us with a coffee-rubbed Beeler Farm pork cheeks, rosemary fingerling potatoes, broccolini, upon a base of a mole negro demi. Beeler Farms is located in Madison County, Iowa, and they have been raising pigs and selling their pork since 1846. I was pleased to see the cut of pork used, the cheeks. I have had them in the past and knew that the cheeks of the pork were one of the most delicate pieces of pork you can get and that this would be a real treat. The mole negro demi-sauce was excellent, adding great richness and flavor to the pork. This also was another dish I would not mind having again. The Red Schooner Voyage 6 was paired with this course. This wine is a Malbec with grapes grown in the Andes Mountains, that are chilled and then shipped to Napa Valley, California for processing and bottling. The robust flavors of this wine paired wonderfully with the complex and deep flavors of the mole negro demi and pork cheeks.
Finally, the dessert course was brought out. I was very intrigued by the description of the dessert on the menu and was most curious about trying the candied prosciutto. The goat cheese tart itself did not have as much flavor or sweetness as I thought it would. The goat cheese itself was pretty savory. There were honey and Marcona almond base on the plate, which I probably should have scraped onto my fork with each bite of the tart to add the sweetness that was needed. The candied prosciutto was amazing! I would love to see this again and again, used in any way possible. Who doesn’t love candied bacon, in one form or another? The Conundrum Sparkling Rose was a perfect ending and pairing for this dinner. This dry, delicate sparkling wine is the perfect compliment to any dessert and any occasion.
I highly recommend checking out The Depot in Auburn, and/or tasting some of the Wagner Family Wines upon your next opportunity!