“Farm to Table” Wine Dinner: one delicious trip!

The Tenant is back, with the story of the latest Bistro wine dinner. It was truly a celebration of everything local at a time when the local eating just doesn’t get any better. And the wine was just as local as the food, being a product of Laurello Vineyards & Winery in Geneva. Not only did Laurello provide a wine for each course, they added a few bonuses: an aperitif to start off the meal and a sneak preview of two of the wines, including (at the end of the dinner) a special pre-release sample available for diners to pre-order. So, whether you were a connoisseur of fine food, fine wine or both, signing up for this event meant you were in for a truly special evening!

The aperitif wine, we learned, was Laurello’s Muscat Blanc ’08. Made with grapes native to Alsace, this was a fruity, flowery, surprisingly dry (without being puckeringly so) wine. I enjoyed it a great deal, and was sorry to learn that this was the final vintage for this particular wine. I liked the fact that despite being a muscat, it wasn’t especially sweet or dessert-like, but apparently that’s what people expect from a muscat and that’s what Laurello’s going to produce from now on.

On to the first course! Normally Bistro wine dinners don’t begin with salad; the salad course usually appears somewhere around midmeal. This one, however, was an exception, focusing on the superstars of the breakfast table, bacon and eggs. Well, pork belly and eggs–and what is bacon, in the USA anyway, if not pork belly? Organic greens bedded a thick chunk of smoky, crispy pork belly, cherry and grape tomatoes from the Bistro’s rooftop garden and a gently sous vide poached organic egg from Blue Pike Farm, an urban farm on East 72nd St. This salad was called a “hunt and peck” salad because the Blue Pike Farm eggs come from hens that freely roam the farm “hunting and pecking” for their meals rather than being fed industrial chicken feed–genetically modified or otherwise. Instead of commercial feed, they’re eating bugs, worms, grass, seeds and whatever other tasty items they find–and, as a result, not only do their eggs taste better, they’re more nutritious, with less cholesterol and saturated fat and more vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. The truly organic “hunt and peck” eggs on this salad truly made it special, and so did the honey-lemon dressing made with honey from Mark’s Apiaries in Painesville. Laurello’s accompanying wine was an ’08 Chardonnay, pleasantly dry and crisp.

I knew from having a little sample in the afternoon that I was absolutely going to love the next course: a big, beautiful bowl of Ohio corn chowder. This version was every bit as delicious as the vegan version the previous week, but it had an additional attraction that version lacked: two pieces of delicately tempura-fried Lake Erie walleye. Just amazing. The wine for this course was a dry Riesling from last year, which I really liked a great deal and went perfectly with the chowder.

The flavor delights of organic produce continued with the third course, the Chicken Roulade with Rooftop Garden Herbs on a bed of local-produce ratatouille. The meat was incredibly flavorful and the vegetables and herbs were savory and just right. You know they haven’t traveled far when they come right down from the roof! I make no bones about loving the fact that as a tenant, I can nip out to the rooftop garden and grab a tomato or some herbs for my own cooking from time to time, but I tend not to get as fancy with what I do as Ruth does. What she makes is terrific! Laurello’s wine for this course was a Cab Franc ’07, a gold-medal winner they look upon as their landmark wine. A combination of Cabernet and Bordeaux grapes gives it a velvety balance of fruit and acidity; they say this is the kind of wine that you can cellar for years and it will hold up beautifully.

For course number four, we were each served a huge and beautiful Caprese Ravioli pocket, made from Ohio City Pasta and stuffed with more rooftop tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and rooftop basil, topped with smoked tomato cream sauce and garnished with leaves of that same basil. I think I could have eaten several of these ravioli happily! Laurello provided us here with the first opportunity in Northeast Ohio to taste their French oak-aged Pinot Noir ’08, which I found sweet, fruity and aromatic yet light.

Finally it was time for dessert, which made it clear that Chef Rich, the Bistro’s ice-cream specialist, has still got the touch. The Brandy Peach Compote made with local fruit was treat enough, but the peach ice cream it graced, made with milk from Pomeroy’s Snowville Creamery, put it over the top. The pasture-raised, grass-grazing cows of Snowville produce rich, sweet and incredibly nutritious milk, and the resulting ice cream is just what you’d expect it to be with that kind of foundation. Each bowl of ice cream was topped with a crispy golden-brown almond tuile, the ideal accent. Laurello’s dessert wine was a 2010 Sweet Genevieve Ice Wine, named for their mother. The course couldn’t have had a more ideal wine.

At the end of dessert, Laurello had one more surprise for us: a bonus tasting of a wine that’s not even on the market yet. Their “Christopher” 2009 Fox Hollow Vineyard Reserve Cuvee is, they say, the richest, most concentrated wine they have ever produced. This one, scheduled for release in October, did indeed taste rich, smooth and incredible.

What I found interesting about Laurello’s wines was not only the high quality and the variety, but the fact that so many of the ones we tasted are relatively inexpensive. I know the next time I’m looking for a nice Riesling, for example, I can buy one from Laurello for $12 a bottle. This whole evening was a fine showcase of just how deliciously, and healthily, you can eat and drink from the bounty of Northeast Ohio. We are truly fortunate to be living in the time and place we are: on rich Lake Erie land, in a time when local vintners realize they can grow far more more than just Catawba and Concord grapes, and enterprising people are staking out vacant lots in the heart of the city, planting them full of good things to eat, and letting flocks of chickens have the run of the place. What they’re creating is nothing less than a renaissance, and we are all benefiting from it.

Keep watching this space. There’ll be some announcements of new events for next month soon, as well as a special one for those who love to eat local. It all sounds to me like it’s going to be pretty wonderful.

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