“Bottle Shock”: a fun tongue-teaser


Hi — it’s The Tenant again, here to give you another review of an exciting event at the Bistro. This time around it was the “Bottle Shock” Wine Tasting, a variation on the legendary 1976 “Judgment of Paris” wine competition that inspired the movie Bottle Shock. The film tells the true story of how a British sommelier surprised a group of Parisian oenophiles by having them conduct a blind taste-test of a selection of wines. The tasting proved to their discriminating palates that California’s best wine could indeed stand up against France’s for quality. In the Bistro 185 version of Bottle Shock, tasters were presented with six different wines and asked to guess whether each was from France or California and to attempt to “name that varietal.” At the end, the names and vintages of each wine were revealed so we could tell how close our guesses had been.

As I’ve mentioned before, I really am not a connoisseur of wine, so I participated in this tasting more for the fun and the opportunity to expose myself to some new tastes than anything else. It was also interesting to try to see whether I’d become any good at distinguishing French wines from California wines merely from my experience at Bistro wine dinners!

The tasting began with a white wine that to me seemed fruity, but not especially or cloyingly sweet. I took a guess on its being a California wine, but which grape it was I could not tell. My companion Mary, who knows far more than I do, took a guess that it was a Chardonnay. The second wine, also a white, seemed less fruity, drier and crisper — very clean, almost without any strong flavor at all. I wasn’t sure about this one, but I put down France as the origin just for a guess. I never did guess a varietal at all.

The third wine was a red with a strong bouquet and a very spicy spectrum of flavors. I guessed this one for a California, possibly a red Zinfandel. (I was remembering a friend of mine from the Bay Area who ordered it once when we were together at a bar, laughing at the tendency of the rest of the country to drink white Zin, which she regarded as a joke — which, I suppose, to serious wine drinkers, it is.) Wine number four was also a red, with a very smooth kind of velvety texture; I guessed it for, possibly, a French Merlot. Number five, a red for which a fresh bottle was opened just before my pour and which emerged very foamy at first, seemed to have a lighter flavor than some of the other reds; I had no idea what the origin or grape might be, so I guessed at a French Syrah. The last wine, another red, was another wine that seemed to have a certain smoothness of flavor and a flowery, fruity bouquet. I put this one down as possibly another California, but couldn’t think of what grape it might be.

When we had each had a taste of every wine and marked down our judgments/guesses, the identity of each wine was revealed to us. Wine #1: 2009 Treasure Hunter Alexander Valley Chardonnay! Our flyers described it as having “a succulent nose of exotic crushed fruit and lemon custard. With an opulent mouthfeel, it still shows good acidity and green apple, honey, spice and heaps of tropical fruit.” Mary got that one right, and I correctly identified it as a California wine.

Number 2: 2008 Escale Chardonnay Vins de pays de Mediterranee, from France. “The nose is very aromatic with notes of peaches and hints of passion fruit. Rich and full on the palate with a long-lasting finish.” I had guessed it for French, at least, so when it came to telling the two wine regions apart, I was two for two!

Wine #3: 2008 Hoe Down Cabernet Sauvignon. Another correct guess of a California, even though I was off on the grape. “This Cabernet has flavors of fresh raspberries and silky blueberries that balance perfectly. It has velvety oak nuances and round tannins.”

On Wine #4, I was again off on the grape, but right on the country. It was 2007 Escale Cabernet Sauvignon vin de pays d’Oc. “A nose of red and dark fruits. On the palate there is a silky texture with flavors of cassis and blackberries with a very nice structure and complex finish.”

On Wine #5, I made my sole correct guess of varietal, even though I missed guessing the origin. It turned out to be 2007 Clayhouse Vineyard Syrah. “Driven by dark berry fruit flavors (blackberry and plum), complemented with hints of black pepper, dusty oak, and slightly floral notes. The fine-grained tannins make it rich and soft in the mouth, and it’s balanced with a tart acid backbone.”

Last of all, Wine #6 was a complete miss for me: 2007 Côtes du Rhône Villages. “Old vines give this wine finesse and elegance. A deep ruby color, sweet aromas of black cherries, raspberries, and licorice. Full-bodied and fine, delivers a long and complex finish.”

At the end of the evening, though, considering how little I know about wine, I was pretty impressed with myself. I had managed to correctly guess four out of the six wine origins, even if I was only 1 for 5 on varietals. Maybe I am learning something! Oh, and congratulations to Ginger, who won the competition for most correct guesses. Thanks also to Greg of Purple Feet Distributing and Richard of Père Jacques Wine Imports for walking us through this test of our noses and palates.

One more thing to note: wine aside, this tasting was made even more enjoyable by the panoply of amazing hors d’ouevres that emerged unceasingly from the kitchen throughout. Chef Ruth outdid herself with mini-bruschettas featuring tapenades of artichoke, olive and roasted red pepper, spanakopitas, Hawaiian meatballs, antipasto skewers, smoked whitefish in phyllo cups, mini-crabcakes, Brie and raspberry preserves rolled in phyllo dough, smoked duck breast on mini-potato pancakes, and corn fritters with “Bistro sauce.” Sheer heaven! All of which means, the next time you see a wine tasting advertised at the Bistro, you’d better sign up quickly. Whether you can tell a French from a California or a Chardonnay from a Pinot Gris, a good time is guaranteed for all!

Our hors d’oeuvre lineup for Wednesday’s wine tasting

If you haven’t yet made your reservation for our “Bottle Shocker” wine tasting this Wednesday, take a look at the lineup of hors d’oeuvres we’re planning on serving with our California and French wines. If you have, take a look and let your mouth start watering!

Brie and Raspberry Phyllo Cigars
Trio of Tapenades on Bruschetta
Smoked Whitefish Paté in Phyllo Cups
House Smoked Duck Breast on Mini Potato Cake
Mini Crab Cakes
Antipasto Skewer
Spinach and Feta in Pastry

Hmm…what was that number for reservations again? We thought you’d be asking. It’s 216.481.9635. Don’t miss out!

Oh, and you may have already read on our Web site or in our Facebook events about the special dinner we have planned for October. We’ll be giving some more special details on that here soon!

Italian Regional Wine Dinner: Molto bene!

Hello, this is The Tenant again, with a review of last night’s Italian Regional Wine Dinner. Ruth and her crew may just have topped themselves this time, as far as I’m concerned. This was possibly the best-paced wine dinner the Bistro has presented yet, with an excellent selection of courses beautifully executed — and those who know more about wine than I admittedly do also said the wines were paired perfectly to each course.

Last night’s wines were presented by Jim Dunlevy of Barrel Aged Wine in Concord, Ohio, a direct importer of artisan wines from small Italian regional wineries. He readily shared with us his expertise on these wines, most of which are produced and imported in very small quantities.

The feast began with individual antipasto plates filled with every variety of traditional Italian appetizer, from mozzarella rolls to sliced meats to Italian-style tuna salad, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Slender breadsticks also graced every table and made fine palate cleansers between courses and wines. The antipasto platters were served with 2007 Nicolis Valpolicella Classico DOC, from the region north of Verona and east of Lake Garda, a red wine made with the same varietals found in Amarone and Reciotto. This was a smooth and easily drinkable wine that was a perfect accompaniment to the antipasto.

Next came Tortellini en Brodo, or wild-mushroom tortellini in a very clear, lovely broth. Accompanying this course was 2005 Pavia Bricca Blina Barbera D’Asti DOC. This red wine, a great pasta accompaniment, is very rich and full-bodied, no doubt due to the 11-month-long rest it enjoys in stainless steel tanks following fermentation, to bring out all the flavor of the Barbera grapes the Pavia family has used exclusively in its five generations of winemaking.

The Pappardelle Pasta Bolognese and Natural Pan Sauce with Petit Veal Osso Bucco, with its tender fall-off-the-bone veal and spicy tomato-sauced pasta, had just the right match in the 2006 Poggerino Chianti Classico DOCG. Only 200 cases of this wine are imported into the United States each year; if you were at last night’s dinner you had the opportunity to order your own share, a wonderful idea if you love a wine with a heady bouquet that holds its own when teamed up with a rich meat dish.

Following this course was the delightful Caprese Salad in a Parmesan Basket, bright and fresh with a variety of greens, grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella slices and balsamic vinaigrette. The salad spilled from a basket made of 100 percent shredded Parmesan cheese — no flour, no filler — and crispy and tasty as could be. Its selected wine was 2007 Piero Busso Langhe Bianco DOC, a spirited 50-50 chardonnay-sauvignon blended white that is also fermented in stainless steel, and imported to this country exclusively by Barrel Aged Wine (only 3,000 bottles are produced each year). As we learned, it’s an ideal wine for salad or for drinking on its own.

So many Bistro patrons especially appreciate Chef Ruth’s touch with a scallop, and that was once again on display last night in the Seared Scallop with Black Truffle Soft Polenta and Asparagus. Each scallop, perfectly cooked, sat on a bed of baby-soft polenta, surrounded by crisp green asparagus slices. The 2005 Palagetto Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, fermented and aged in oak for more than a year, tasted just right alongside.

The ideal finish to the evening came in the form of a Ricotta Mascarpone Crêpe with Zabaglione and Fresh Berries. The zabaglione, flavorful with lemon zest and Limoncello, was delightful and the little added treats on the plate (such as mocha custard in a chocolate cup, topped with a berry) made dessert even more special. So did the wine served with it, 2007 CA’D GAL Moscato Di Asti. The bright, crisp, fruity taste of this white makes it yet another wine that’s very easy to enjoy on its own as well as with a dessert. This one is produced in only a 1,000-case quantity each year and only 100 of those cases per year make it to the USA, so once again this was an opportunity to sample a wine not easily obtained in this country.

It was a special night, full of interesting information, magnificent flavors and experiences, and many delights for anyone who loves well-prepared food and lovingly created small-batch Italian wines. Kudos once again to Chef Ruth and her crew, Jim Dunlevy and the entire Bistro 185 staff for another memorable evening!

If you missed out, the video below will give you a little taste of this very enjoyable evening — and maybe encourage you to sign up for the next wine dinner February 15! Details to come!

Wine pairings for our Italian Regional Wine Dinner

This time we’re going to go one better in telling you about what’s in store for our upcoming wine dinner by listing each course with the wine we’re pairing it with. Here’s our lineup for the Italian Regional Wine Dinner January 26:

Individual Antipasto — 2007 Valpolicella DOC Classico

Tortellini en Brodo — 2005 Barbera D’Asti Bricco Blina DOCG

Veal Osso Bucco with Pappardelle Pasta and Natural Pan Sauce — 2006 Chianti Classico DOCG

Caprese Salad — 2007 Langhe Bianco “Sauvignon Blanc — Chardonnay” Bianco

Seared Scallop on Black Truffle Soft Polenta and Asparagus — 2005 Vernaccia Di San Gimignano Riserva DOCG

Ricotta Mascarpone Crêpe with Zabaglione and Fresh Berries — 2007 Moscato D’Asti Lumine DOCG

With a lineup like that, you won’t want to miss this one. Call 216.481.9635 and make your reservation now!

Mamma Mia! Don’t miss our Regional Italian Wine Dinner Jan. 26!

Whether you’ve enjoyed our wine dinners so far or never been to one before, you’re not going to want to miss out on our Italian Regional Wine Dinner Tuesday, January 26. It will feature a wonderful selection of regional Italian wines paired with each course — and oh, what courses!

Individual Antipasto

Tortellini en Brodo

Veal Osso Bucco with Pappardelle Pasta and Natural Pan Sauce

Caprese Salad

Seared Scallop on Black Truffle Soft Polenta and Asparagus

Ricotta Mascarpone Crêpe with Zabaglione and Fresh Berries

Our wine dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. and cost is $60 per person, tax and gratuity additional. Our last dinner sold out, so don’t miss your chance to escape the drab and dreary Cleveland winter for a few hours for a romantic night of great cuisine Italian style. Call 216.481.9635 and make your paid reservation now!

AND…BEARD IS BACK!! Our James Beard Project resumes the week of January 11 with two more weeks featuring a classic James Beard-inspired dish as part of our dinner specials each night! Watch this blog for more information coming soon.