Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wild Game BYO Dinner at The Urban Element

Way back before Christmas, Michèle and I, along with our friends, Steve and Carolyn, signed up for a Wild Game BYO evening held this week at The Urban Element. The Urban Element models their BYO evening on Beckta’s La Paulée evening, which Beckta (in turn) based on an end-of-harvest BYO celebration in Burgundy. Chef Michael Moffatt from Beckta/Play set the 4-course wild game menu. Each guest brings the matching wines, so it gives everyone a chance to be the sommelier for an evening. I sat down about a week ago to pick our wines that would go with Chef Moffatt’s dinner.

Chef Moffatt kicked off the evening with a surprise Amuse-Bouche:
Bison New Style Sashimi, Picked Shallots, Fresh Wasabi, Finger Lime
Just watching Chef Moffatt and Beckta’s Chef de Cuisine, Dirk McCabe, assemble this dish got our appetites going. The fresh, raw bison and the combination of pickling juice, Wasabi, and the acidity of the finger limes all combined to get us craving more, much more. Finger Limes come from east coast Australia. The flesh is globular, like caviar. When you bite into the little globes, there’s a burst of tangy, acidic flavour.

On to the main event. First up...
House-Cured Magret Duck Breast “Ham” with Fig Mostarda, Bitter Greens, Cranberry Cumberland Sauce
Easily the toughest dish to match with a wine. My thoughts went in two directions, both Spanish. My second choice was a Cava but my first choice was a Fino Sherry. In Spain, Fino is a popular choice with cured ham and is a classic match with fig. Fino on its own is an acquired taste; during my Sommelier course, it was by far the least popular beverage we tried. But Fino aficionados are fanatical and I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try it with some appropriate food. Unfortunately for my friends, I took them down this road with me. There’s only one Fino choice at Vintages:  GONZALEZ BYASS TIO PEPE PALOMINO FINO EXTRA DRY SHERRY, DO Jerez (Spain).  No surprise, the 15.5% alcohol is readily apparent on the nose. Very reminiscent of eating green grapes and crunching down on the pips: grapey aroma and taste, followed by the dry, somewhat bitter taste of grape seeds. Also showed green apple, green olive, almond, and mineral aromas; it’s no wonder Spaniards frequently serve it with olives and almonds. Absolutely bone-dry. Worked better with the cured flavour of the duck ham than on its own. Not a universal hit with my friends. We had half of the Fino left over, and since Tio Pepe recommends that you consume it within 4 days of opening, I’ll have plenty of opportunity over the next few days to acquire a taste for Fino while watching the Masters!

Ontario Ostrich Tartare, Soft Poached Egg, Parmesan Wafer, Root Cellar Chips
This was an easy wine match for me. Back in January, I tasted the MALIVOIRE GAMAY 2008, VQA Niagara Peninsula and it immediately came back to mind when I thought about a matching wine for this dish. The lightness of the Tartare and of the wine worked beautifully together. Plus the wine has some white pepper and clove flavours, which are great accompaniments to the Tartare’s delicate flavours.

On to...
Mirabel Quebec Wild Turkey – 24-hour sous-vide, “Stuffing” Rosti, Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Bourbon Jus.
The chef put the wild turkey in sealed plastic bags (with duck fat…umm) and cooked it in “hot” water (around 60 degrees) for 24 hours. The result should be tender, flavourful meat. The white breast meat, which was the main component of this dish, was dry…always a risk with turkey. The wild meat was not as gamy as I expected. With the mild flavour of the turkey, I focussed more on the bourbon jus for a matching wine. Bourbon has the flavours from aging in new, charred American oak barrels, so I looked for a wine that had the same aging in American oak. (I don’t think that the “usual” matches of a Pinot Noir or Riesling would work with this turkey dish.) But you don’t want to overwhelm the turkey with the wine either. So a California merlot could work, or a New World Chardonnay. I went with BODEGAS ONDARRE RESERVA 2002, Rioja (Spain). It’s Tempranillo (75%), Grenache (10%) and Mazuelo – aka Carignan (15%). Aged 16 months in American and French oak. Aromas of black cherry and plum, then notes of cedar, tobacco, and leather. Grippier tannins than typical, they probably would soften with longer aging. Great acidity, full-bodied, good length with the fruit and leather continuing through the finish. Worked very well with the turkey, the tannins were much less obvious with the food. Better with the food than on its own, an Old World Wine’s trait. Our neighbours at the table brought a California Chardonnay and were kind enough to share. The Chardonnay showed ripe tree and tropical fruit and butter on the aromas and palate. It worked with the turkey but in a different way; some of us preferred the Rioja red, others preferred the California white. Just goes to show you that matching wine and food often is a question of personal taste.

The dessert was...
Maple 5 Ways: Coffee Cake, Toffee, Gelato, Syrup, and Preserved Strawberry Maple Jam
Very Canadian. I was less patriotic with the wine, matching it with GERNOT GYSLER WEINHEIMER HOELLE EISWEIN RIESLING 1989 QmP, Rheinhessen (Germany) that we brought back from when we lived in Germany. Beautiful copper in colour, the wine had aromas of dried apricot, orange zest, red apple, caramel, and floral. In school, they taught me that I should never use “raisin” (or grape) to describe a wine's aroma but since I mentioned it here, draw your own conclusion. Flavours of dried apricot and caramel; they persist through a very long finish. Viscous mouthfeel. The acidity is beginning to fade just a bit, so we got to this wine just in time. Beautiful match with the maple-themed dessert.

Kudos to Chef Moffatt and Chef de Cuisine McCabe, and to Carley at The Urban Element! Look out for their next BYO event, it’s a great experience.

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