My birthday was on Sunday, and on this annual occasion I really don't like to go out. I'm not big on presents or anything like that. But I love throwing a dinner party, and I generally try to invite a group of new friends or people I haven't seen in forever. They don't know it's my birthday, so there's no sense of obligation or confusion ahead of time. Yes, I explain what's going on during the toast, but this is precisely how I want to spend the day.
Speaking of the toast, we kicked off the evening with the NV Toad Hollow Amplexus. Proprietary blend of Chardonnay, Mauzac, and Chenin Blanc. This is a Blanquette de Limoux from the south of France, in an AOC that was making sparkling wine before Champagne. Dominant flavors of green apple and lemon, with a light and refreshing character. Deeper body than Champagne.
Of course, Toad Hollow is fond of irreverence, and it should be noted that amplexus refers to a set of actions that take place during frog sex. This probably explains why I've had such a hard time finding this wine since I first heard of it years ago, but sharing that little nugget of information was a fun way to break the ice with the group, some of whom I hadn't seen in fifteen years. Never be afraid to invite lovely young women from your high school graduating class, it's a strategy that has always worked well for me.
It was a rainy night, evidence of fall's arrival here in Memphis. This worked out well, as my rustic French-Italian menu plans were more geared towards autumn than the blazing heat of summer. I wanted to start out with a soup, but got stumped for a few days. I didn't want to make a "cream of x" soup, nor did I want anything tomato based. I'd already done minestrone and French onion and lots of other standards... A clear broth peasant soup seemed like a good idea. I finally settled on broeta de verza de magro, a Christmas soup from Dalmatia. (Dalmatia is in modern-day Croatia, but it was part of the Republic of Venice for a long time.) It's very simple: fish broth, potatoes, cabbage, onion, garlic. Different, but interesting and surprisingly good. I served this with the Bulgarian Sauvignon Blanc mentioned in Monday's post.
Note: I used Kitchen Basics Seafood Stock, which is delicious. I'm content to use quality boxed stock for cooking, especially since I have limited space in my freezer. But I think this soup could be ten times better if you boiled up a few fish heads, tails, and spine scraps to make the broth from scratch. I would have happily done so, but I faced the problem of not wanting to scare off my diners with the first course. When you get a reputation for weird chickens, organ meats, and Swedish banana casseroles, sometimes you have to reassure folks.
For the pasta course, I was dying to use campanelle, the little bellflower-shaped pasta. Further fiddling around online yielded the perfect recipe, involving salsiccia and cannellini beans. Not a heavy gloopy sauce, but one that would nestle in the bells properly. For a change of pace, I tried out turkey salsiccia and was very happy with the results. A little shredded Piave vecchio on top... My friends loved this dish.
I was excited to finally open the 2008 Domaine de la Mordorée Tavel from the southern Rhône region of France. 60% Grenache, 10% Cinsault, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah, 5% Bourboulenc, 5% Clairette. I've been staring at this lovely rosé for a month, thirsty after reading Fredric's review of the same. Watermelon aromas, with a bright raspberry flavor, light acidity, a touch of earth, and a tiny lemon finish. This wine has layers of complexity that unfold as it creeps up to room temperature. This is a distinguished, serious wine worthy of attention and reflection. Dry rosés can be a show stopper with the right crowd, and this group really enjoyed trying this one. I would strongly recommend the Domaine de la Mordorée if you can find it in your area.
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To recap: a French sparkling wine with a naughty name, a Croatian soup paired with Bulgarian wine, and an Italian pasta dish paired with a French rosé. Where else but in America? But there's more to come... Check back Friday for the final three courses of the dinner party!