The first dinner of this year was more than just a regular dinner - it also kicked off a whole new region. In 2010, Dogwood's wine club focused on learning about the wine regions of France. With that wrapped up, the focus has shifted south to Italy for 2011. This was good news for Cooper and me, since we like Italian wines, and have a few of them in the cellar, but we really don't know a whole lot about them.
As it turns out, there's a lot to know. As our friend/favorite waiter Nick explained to the group at dinner, Italy's wine scene is highly regionalized and tribal. The laws and designations are more flexible than in France, and as a result, growers are willing to experiment with more non-traditional varietals. Overall, the Italian wine scene is complicated - there are more than 500 varietals grown and everybody's got their own favorite.
For this first wine dinner, we focused on wines from Trentino-Alto Adige and Valle d'Aosta - both regions in northern Italy. Trentino-Alto Adige borders Austria and Valle d'Aosta borders Switzerland, so the food is hearty and wintry and not really pasta-heavy. Perfect for January.
Speaking of food, this is what we ate and drank:
Mini "Grilled Cheese" Fonduta Spec Sandwich
Cavid Lunetta Prosecco NV
Poached Egg on Mushroom Risotto
Bottega Vinaia Pinot Grigio 2009
Duck Confit with Butternut Squash Gnocchi
Les Cretes Pinot Nero 2009
Charcuterie Pate with Brussels Sprouts and Carrot Salad, Pistachio Pommerey Mustard Vinaigrette
Joseph Hofstatter Pinot Bianco 2009
Lamb Stew with Root Vegetables
Joseph Hofstatter Lagrein 2009
Lemony Bread Pudding with Taharka Brothers Ice Cream
Fratelli Lunelli Ferrari Rose 2008
These dinners are always good, but this one was exceptional. So exceptional that by the time we hit the lamb stew, I couldn't finish it and I could only take a couple of bites of the bread pudding. Not that they weren't both delicious - it's just that dinner as a whole was very, very filling.
The highlights, for me, were the poached egg on the mushroom risotto, which was paired with a pinot grigio that totally defied everybody's expectation of that grape. Bridget told us that PG is the wine most frequently sold at Dogwood, and that was not really a surprise to anyone. It's so easy to drink and easy to agree on. This wine was also easy to drink, but it had an intense aroma and much more body than a typical pinot grigio. It paired beautifully with the risotto, which was, according to my notes, "really rich and awesome." It combined the earthy flavor of mushrooms with the stick-to-your-ribsiness of risotto - an excellent combination.
I also loved the butternut squash gnocchi, paired with the pinot nero, which looked light and felt soft in the mouth, but changed dramatically when paired with food. It took on much more structure and a spicier flavor - there were a lot of initial comparisons to Beaujolais (especially based on color). The gnocchi themselves were really lovely - a little sweet and a combination of sweet and crispy. I could've eaten them all night long.
The other big wine surprise of the night was the lagrein. It was a grape that everybody was unfamiliar with and while it wasn't the least challenging bottle of wine ever, it was super interesting and triggered a lot of debate at the table. Debate that I think Karen won, when she said, "It tastes like Texas." It was big and kind of complicated, but also tasty. Texas indeed.
The other exciting news we learned at dinner is that the restaurant is going to be open on Mondays from now on. Normally, when we go to the wine club, the restaurant is closed around us, so we're by ourselves. Starting next month, the restaurant will be open, though wine club will still be stuck together in a corner (or something like that). The details aren't all finalized yet, but it sounds like some version of the wine club menus (which are totally different from the regular menu) will be available.
This month: Lombardia. More food I'm not really familiar with, but which is sure to be amazing.