29 June 2009

June Dinner Party

I had a bunch of wines that needed tasting, and felt it was time for a big dinner party. On this occasion I had the pleasure of dining with fellow Memphis blogger Michelle who writes about life downtown in her "Notes from Memphis". I think it's a good idea to cycle some fresh blood through the dinner party crowd, and I also am a strong believer in cross-subject blogger gatherings. No need to cluster together in little cliques, this isn't the 10th grade lunchroom.

We kicked off the event with a tray of appetizers and a bottle of the Mumm Napa Blanc de Noirs (now renamed the Brut Rosé). Made from Pinot Noir, it's a lovely pink sparkler with wonderful raspberry and floral aromas. Crisp raspberry flavors with bright acidity. Beautiful summer bubbly.

So what's on the tray? Clockwise from top left: olives, marinated mushrooms, Edam, Tomme Des Pyrenees, Cahill's Irish Porter Cheddar, Saint-Nectaire, Humboldt Fog. The Humdboldt Fog was runny, stinky, and bold-flavored, but was a huge hit at the party.

The slightly granular soup you see here is homemade cream of asparagus soup, made with just leeks, asparagus, chicken broth, and cream. What it lacks in Cambpell's consistency it more than makes up for in fresh vegetable flavor. I served it with the first of three wines from Viña Carmen in Chile. This is the 2007 Chardonnay from various valleys, 14% abv, $10. Green apples, wildflowers, honey, and a nice round mouthfeel. Only 20% was fermented in barrels, leading to a balanced oak presence.

Carmen is an organic winery, and with this line they are using bottles that weigh 15% less than their standard counterparts. Lighter and more environmentally friendly packaging is a growing concern among wine marketers, and the thickness of the glass is a change that doesn't spark the kind of debate like corks versus screwcaps.

Fish course! Mahi-mahi cooked with olive oil, white vermouth, a splash of orange juice, and sliced fennel. Served with fresh sliced Crenshaw melon and garnished with some of the raw chopped fennel fronds. I personally thought the fish was a little on the dry side, but it might have just been my piece. The melon helped balance out the flavors well, providing a nice touch of sweet to contrast against the fennel.

I thought a pink wine would be fun here, so I picked the 2008 Carmen Rosé, 13.1% abv, $10. Half Shiraz and half Cabernet Sauvignon from the Maipo Valley. Lemon and cranberry flavors, with a full fruit approach and a short finish. Lightly sweet, but still fully on the dry side.

I love a good salad, and try to change up the ingredients to keep things interesting. Here I've got bitter Italian greens with diced pears, soft goat cheese, and a little vinaigrette. I drizzled each salad with a bit of honey that came by way of another new dinner guest, Grace's neighbor Bob. He raises bees in his backyard and jars his own honey. You may think you're eating local with your farmer's market honey, but mine came from less than 3 miles away. The salad was a big hit of the evening, one of those combos that seemed to make everyone happy.

What better choice than a lightly dry German grape? The 2008 Carmen Gewürztraminer, 13.5% abv, $10. A curious blend of 87% Gewürztraminer and 13% Semillon from the Curico Valley. Green apples and spice (nutmeg and pepper), light and refreshing and drier than a lot of the inexpensive bottlings of this grape.

Paul, who once again graciously permitted the use of his house for this dinner party, also contributed the ribeye roast. Very simple here, served with some lightly boiled cream peas from the Farmer's Market and a little fresh horseradish sauce.

We were privileged to enjoy a spectacular red with this course, the 2005 Château Lanessan from Haut-Médoc. Thanks to Dave R, who sent along the wine but was unable to join us. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot, and from an historic vintage. Hints of tobacco, green bell pepper, with an underlying flavor of black cherry and plum. There's nothing quite like a good Bordeaux, and towards the end of the evening as my cooking duties come to a close I can sit back, relax, and get lost in the glass.

With a half hour spent playing Apples to Apples, we were recovered enough to finally sample dessert. My brother and his wife brought along a gigantic and delicious apple pie from Costco.

I felt it was a great time to have another gift wine, this one from wine researcher Tracy Rickman. Months ago she gave me a bottle of the 2006 Tobin James "Liquid Love" Late Harvest Zinfandel. This is a beautiful dessert wine for people that don't want to drink something with the consistency of pancake syrup. The Zinfandel grape is fully present and discernable, and the wine is sweet but not overly so. There is a solid strawberry/raspberry profile here, but I love the fact that it contains that depth of flavor that you get from crunching down on raspberry seeds.

The general jollity went on for another hour or so, with everyone slowly slipping into the contented calm provided by a four hour long meal with six courses. Thanks to all those who participated, and I look forward to more fun this summer as various fruits and vegetables come into season. Who knows? I might even do a completely vegetarian dinner party one of these days...


Nicholas said...

Awesome post... wish we had a similar event in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, the closest thing around here is a 30 pack of Coors Light, burgers on the grill, and horseshoe pits... nothing wrong with that, but would love to participate in a dinner party similar to this...

Regarding the late harvest Zin, I'll have to give it a try... my wife and I tried our first dessert wine a few weeks ago -- a Tawny Port -- and almost choked it up... Like drinking sour grape flavored maple syrup. Hey, I guess there's a time and a place, but just wasn't meant to be that night.

Benito said...


Nothing wrong with burgers and beer! That's a lot more common around my household than a dinner like this.

If you're new to dessert wines you might want to start with a Late Harvest Riesling, a Ruby Port, or a Moscato.


pmjones said...

"Paul, who once again graciously permitted the use of his house for this dinner party ..."

Graciously permitted? More like "eagerly volunteered" or (less kind but more accurate) "demanded". ;-) I love having these at my place.

Dude, fantastic meal, as always. Great company too; it was good to have Michelle and Bob along for this one, along with the regular cast of characters.

Thanks again for putting all this together and giving us an excuse to enjoy good food, good wine, and good friends. :-)

Michelle said...

B E N I T O -
Thanks for the mention and for a great dinner with great company. You are the first blogger I have met in person, thanks to your initiative. I will continue to expand my knowledge of wine, food and party games (ha) by way of your informative blog.

Benito said...


It's always a blast at the Jones house, can't do it without you. Shake and Bake!


Glad you had a great time, everyone enjoyed meeting you. And I'm serious about the bloggers from different categories getting together. Let the healing begin!


Nicholas said...

Benito... one last ? for this post... I'm sure I could find the answer if I wasn't lazy and used the search function... with that said, do you posts recipes in a separate section for each post or are these pulled from a central recipe book?


Benito said...


There are two types of cooks in this world: those who follow recipes, and those who wing it. I fall into the latter category. I enjoy reading cookbooks for new ideas and new techniques, but in the kitchen I'm usually not following a script, rather I'm taking advantage of what's in season/what's on sale/what looks tasty.

Bear in mind I've screwed a lot of stuff up over the years. I didn't use any particular recipes for this meal, but when I use something from a website or cookbook I always link it in my post.

Good resources are the Food Network site, Cooks Illustrated magazine, and Mark Bittman's blog and cookbooks.