17 September 2009

Birthday Dinner Party Part I

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!


Kristin said...


Benito said...


If you hadn't moved to the West Coast, you might have been invited. ;)

Check back late Thursday afternoon, I always publish early to check for errors.


fredric koeppel said...

Happy B'Day, Mr. Eclectic! and thanks as always for the link. That is a great rose, maybe the best.

Big Mike said...

Happy Birthaday belated my friend... Can't wait to see the other courses.

Samantha Dugan said...

Happy Birthday Benito! Sounds good so far pal, I love pasta with white beans....seems like too much when you think about starch and texture but it so works. Nice to see you drinking a 2008 French Rose darlin' (wink).

Benito said...


It's probably the most expensive rosé I've ever had, but it's well worth the price and still quite reasonable in the grand scheme of wine prices.


Thanks Mike, and of course I learned the art of the dinner party from your amazing events.


Benito said...


Many thanks... I give you a little toast each time I open a French wine. :)


Michelle said...

Happy Birthday Benito! I'm a big fan of rosé so I will try the Domaine de la Mordorée.

Benito said...


I don't know if anyone carries it here in town, but it's really wonderful. Retails for $25-30 from what I've seen online.


TWC said...

A superb pair of posts, which I, unfortunately, read backwards because I haven't been over for a few days (I have to work now and again because blogging is a non-union job).

I'm pretty sure those two were vintage Benito at the top of his game.

Happy Birthday, sounds like it was precisely the birthday celebration you wanted.

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.

Nice tip. It didn't work as well for me as it has for you (back in the Pleistocene) but in recent years, if TWC were single, these same girls would be fighting over who gets to camp on my front porch. I can't say this elsewhere, so thanks for indulging me, but I take a really perverse pleasure in that adulation. :-)