Robert Burns dinner
Our friend Barb, a food writer who backs up her words by being one of the best cooks I know, put together a wonderful dinner for a dozen friends last night, honoring the birthday of the great Scottish poet Robert Burns with all due pomp: Celtic music, a Burns grace, a single-malt toast, a guy in a kilt, and even a ceremonial introduction of the haggis!
As befits such an occasion, I brought along two or three unusual bottles to share: An aromatic Italian white, a very unusual Italian-style red from California, and strangest of all, a Belgian beer that's perched out on the ragged edge where beer meets wine.
Bonny Doon "Ca' del Solo" 1996 Monterey Refosco ($12.99)
Only my second tasting ever of the unusual Refosco del Pedunculo Rosso grape, this one was unexpectedly persuasive. It's a very dark reddish-purple wine with a ripe, appealing aroma that marries ripe black cherries and a kind of "weedy" herbaceousness that reminds me of a Loire Chinon. Its flavor is smooth and accessible, with a startling grapey quality underpinned by fragrant black pepper. Very enjoyable wine! (Jan. 17, 1998) (For another of Bonny Doon's Ca' del Solo reds, see my notes for Jan. 19, 1998.
Piume 1995 Oltrepò Pavese Malvasia ($14.99)
I first tasted this very unusual and startlingly aromatic Italian white just two months ago, and it may have dropped a little of its outrageous character since then ... but not much. It's a pale straw color with a startling aroma of mint, almonds and a bizarre but pleasant whiff of caraway seed. It's full and bright on the palate, with a pleasing bitterness in a very long finish. Importer: Elizabeth Imports, Denver. (Jan. 17, 1998)
Cantillon Gueuze Vigneronne Blended Lambic Beer ($11.99/750 ml)
Is this beer, or is it wine? The definition gets a little fuzzy in the esoteric realms of hand-crafted Belgian beer. This is a gueuze (pronounced "GEHR-zuh," approximately), which is a blend of aged and young lambic beers, spontaneously fermented with wild yeast. It's made not from the usual barley malt but "Italian muscat grapes," and it's individually fermented in the bottles by a process that the maker declares is the methode champenoise. The result is something like an exceedingly sour and grapey sparkling wine. It's a hazy pale gold in color, with a thin but persistent white head. Aromas are tangy, earthy and yeasty, and the flavor is very sour, with hints of apricots and grapefruit showing through. It's definitely out of the ordinary, and some of the guests couldn't take more than a sip of it. I found myself drawn back for a second glass, though, and while it's not something I'd sip every day, it was quite an experience. (Jan. 17, 1998)
FOOD MATCH: A hearty Scottish dinner on the table allowed plenty of mix-and-match comparison here. The Refosco was perfect with a well-roasted joint of beef in a heady red-wine sauce. The Italian white stood right up to neeps and tatties and also went surprisingly well with Barb's somewhat throttled-down version of haggis, a delicious pudding made of lamb and oatmeal with hints of nutmeg and cloves ... but leaving out the traditional "pluck" (heart, lungs and liver) and abandoning the traditional practice of cooking it in the sheep's stomach. I am not kidding about this. The beer went nicely with appetizers of tiny new potatoes filled with dabs of creme fraiche and caviar.
All my wine-tasting reports are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores.||