Devon Grille seeks a perfect pairing with new menu
Some of you may be wondering what’s the big deal with “wine pairings” and why should we care? I often find myself thinking that wine pairing is a lot like dating, with the identical goal being to find a good match.
You want the wine to taste as good with the food as it does by itself, and vice versa. It’s one thing to come home happy after a good date, but it’s another to come home thinking this could be the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. A great wine and food pairing can be like that, where you end up wondering “where have you been all my life?!”
The first course paired a Joseph Drouhin “La Foret” Pinot from Burgundy, France — the uncontested heartland of old world Pinot Noir, where the general difference from new world wines is the subtly of the fruit, complexity of flavors, and the wine makers intention to express terroir: “the whole ecology of a vineyard: every aspect of its surroundings from bedrock to late frosts and autumn mists, not excluding the way the vineyard is tended, nor even the soul of the vigneron.” (Hugh Johnson foreword, Terrior by James Wilson.)
New-world wines are considered (there are many exceptions) to be designed more to express ripe fruit flavors (fruit forward) and offer an ability to drink a wine soon after bottling. Traditional old world wines, depending on the varietal, are produced to age over a lengthy period of time — in most cases, several decades. And we all know impatient Americans simply can’t wait that long!
The two styles are very different, comparable to the differences between a southern California girl eager to take you home for one night of raucous fun versus a traditional woman from Marseilles that you may only see under chaperone. In the world of wine, the old world/new world distinction remains a valid one.
The first course looked terrific — roasted beets, gorgonzola, pears, candied walnuts and watercress with a walnut vinaigrette, laid out as if each were a jewel for your inspection. The wine — an inexpensive Pinot without much tannin or complexity but with good acidity and aromas of strawberry — generally held it’s own with the salad which, for its good looks lacked a great deal of flavor. The walnuts in particular contrasted nicely with the cheese, but didn’t work well with the wine — the combination leaving a predictable sourness in the mouth. Salads in general are a tough match for many wines, and typically require a wine with high acidity to stand up to the vinaigrette.
This course was the date that you had a good time with, but said goodnight early with no thoughts of a second date.
The second wine served was MacMurray Ranch from Sonoma — another moderately priced Pinot. Now we’re talking new world wine with the expectation of fruit-forward flavors, and at this price range, often a lack of complexity and and a short finish.
So much for expectations.
After the first sip Deb was promptly impressed and commented that it made her think of sheep, earth, and ripe vegetation. She struggled to find the words and fretted that those she uttered couldn’t possibly relate to correct wine terminology. A bit awed at her accuracy (I shouldn’t have been; she’s a writer and art historian with instinctual expressive abilities), I told her that is a damn decent description of terroir, and what we might have expected from a traditional old world Pinot Noir from Burgundy.
Spicy and gamey with lush notes of red currant, raspberry, sage, mushroom and fresh earth, the MacMurray Pinot Noir was the right wine for the Chive Crepe with wild mushrooms, goat cheese, and spinach drizzled with a red wine reduction.
Again, the dish was gorgeous on the plate, but sadly neither of us thought it tasted half as good as it looked. Those succulent sounding ingredients should have added up to something wonderful and pungent, but instead came out a mishmash of indistinguishable flavors. In Deb’s words, “it’s not singing.” The wine however, was a winner.
Next up was the main course with a choice of Grilled Swordfish over a butternut squash risotto with a cabernet sauce paired with an Erath Vineyards Pinot Noir, or a Braised Short Rib Pappardelle Pasta with roasted root vegetables and a fig demi glace, paired with a Benton Lane Pinot. Both wines are from the Willamette Valley in Oregon — widely considered the best, most successful region in North America for growing and producing Pinot Noir.
The Benton Lane 2007 Estate Pinot Noir is made from 100 percent Willamette Valley fruit and barrel aged over 9 months in French oak, whereas the Erath is made from fruit sourced throughout Oregon; 95 percent of the wine went through micro-oxygenation and 5 percent was aged in French oak.
The swordfish was flavorful and cooked to perfection. The risotto offered butternut squash and butter flavors that complemented the fish, but the texture was a bit of a gloppy mash that often bedevils risotto cooks. The Erath Vineyards Pinot held its own with the full-bodied fish thanks to good acidity and aromas suggesting wild strawberry, vanilla, rhubarb, and sour cherry.
The Short Rib entrée struck gold with rich, well-balanced flavors, terrific textures and fat al dente pappardelle noodles. With the broad, beefy noodles enveloping bite-size chunks of marinated short ribs and roasted root veggies, this was a meal worth going out of your way for. As the for Benton Lane, I thought it tasty but underpowered against the boisterous dish and in fact, after giving it a fair sampling, we ordered a glass of the spicier, more full-bodied MacMurray Ranch to split between us.What the Benton Lane lacks in body and concentration, it makes up for in value — suggested retail price is $26.00.
We should all keep in mind wine pairing is, as with matching people, a hugely subjective business, and no one can know precisely what something tastes like to someone else.
The final course consisted of a gorgeous Ganache chocolate tart, candied orange wedges and pistachio ice cream. It was paired with a Toad Hollow dry Pinot Noir Rosé — “dry” being the operative word as this pairing was doomed from the get-go. Say what you will — a dry Pinot Noir (Rosé or not) is not going to taste good when eaten with ice cream and other sweets.The extreme sweetness of the dessert dictates a sweet wine (or a fortified wine, a liqueur or a brandy), lest the wine be made to taste sour by default. And taste sour it did.
While there may be sweet Rosés that would work, there are none (I know of) made from the Pinot Noir grape, at least not available locally. Another route might have been to pair a sparkling wine, such as a demi-sec Blanc de Noir, made with Pinot Noir, among other grapes. But that would likely have broken the budget for an event this reasonably priced.
Not wanting to end on a down note, I asked our amenable server Tania if they might have a sweet Muscat based wine, and while not on the menu, she did indeed track down an open bottle of Napa Valley 2009 Moscato D’Oro from Robert Mondavi. Not a bad idea, because this pairing couldn’t have been more perfect for the dessert. The sweetness of the fragrantly pungent, ripe, vine-scented wine complimented the full spectrum of flavors in the rich, cream-filled tart, sweetened oranges and ice cream.
By personal dating standards, this was the cocaine of pairings ― the one that makes you feel better than you really are. The date you kiss passionately before you’re out the door, and again as you walk to the car. The one you stay up all night “talking with” on the beach, watching the sunrise in full embrace, never noticing the cold wet sand and biting gnats against your back.
While the dessert and wine match provided suggests the Pinot Noir theme may be a better marketing idea than a food one, when all is said and done, it’s just wine and just food, and well… it’s all good.
Devon Seafood Grille
5715 N. Bayshore Dr.
Glendale, WI 53217
*Exterior photos by Matthew Dwyer. Interior/Food photos by Skip Forrest.