I went to an evening of the wines of the northern Rhone at Hearth on Monday. The tasting was planned and run by owner/beverage guru, Paul Grieco, and chef/owner Marco Canora orchestrated the food. Paul acted as host, discussing the wines, the grapes, the vintages, the history of the area, and his thoughts regarding pairing.
The tasting started with a glass of dry sherry in the bar and then we all moved into the dining area adjacent to the open kitchen, which was set up with two large tables for about 10-12 people each. Being as this was more a wine-themed dinner than a wine tasting I will comment on the pairings as well as give my palate and nose notes for each wine.
Cornas, Robert Michel, '85
Nose: Blueberry, raspberry, soy, miso, lavender, and minerals
Palate: Soft, elegant, blueberry, velvety harmony
Pairing: BROOK TROUT with Lentils, Smoked Razor Clams and a Red Wine Sauce. The trout, a strong fish, was made more robust by the red wine sauce, while ingredients like thyme and the smoked clam drew out elements of this rather linear wine. The age of the wine obviously softened any edges that it may have had in the past and it might have disappeared next to the heartier dishes you would instinctively pair with younger Cornas.
Saint Joseph, 420 nuits, Alain Paret, '01
Nose: Blueberries, raspberries, white pepper, mint
Palate: Big acidic attack, a sacchariny finish, simple
Côte-Rôtie, Robert Jasmin, '96 from magnum
Nose: Roasted meats, mint, barnyard, wood
Palate: Tart, raspberries, lively acids
Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine Combier, '04
Nose: Perfume, hawthorn, verbena, violets, white pepper, and lavender
Palate: Crushed red fruit, tobacco, artificially sweet mid-palate, a slutty red
Hermitage, Les Dionniers, Fayolle, '01
Nose: Green herbs, lavender, crushed berries, fennel, and black tea
Palate: Green notes, elegant, well structured red fruit
Pairing: ROASTED LOIN OF VENISON with Savoy Cabbage, Shallot marmalade and potatoes Boulangére. The brilliance of this dish was the shallot marmalade. Due to its leanness, there is a huge risk in the preparation of venison of overcooking it but, as with all roasted meats, it benefits from deep carmelization, making the line between great and dead thin. In this case, the marmalade brought such hearty roasted flavors of carmelization there was no need to sear the loin. The end result showed the depth of the roasted game, while maintaining the perfect texture to play with the velvety feel of these two wines, and the burnt sugar flavors of the dish let the fruit in the wines shine.
Condrieu Vandage Tardive, Les Ayguets, Yves Cuilleron, '04
Nose: White flowers, flan, water chestnut, marzipan, chilies and butter cookies
Palate: Butter cookies, clean acids, hints of boytrytis, real sweetness while remaining on the refreshing side.
Pairing: PEAR ALMOND FINANCIER with Orange Vanilla Sabayon. A direct line can be drawn between the wine's flavors and the dessert's. Without getting cloying, both stood side-by-side and each brought out depth from the other.
My favorite thing to declare to a cork dork is that there is no red that goes with lobster. When someone does rise to the challenge and make a good pairing, it is so wonderful to be proven wrong. It is seldom, however, that someone finds a red to put with fish that pairs so well that I can't think of a white that would have been better. This happened in course one, so we were really off and running here as far as my excitement goes.
I like the exercise of pure wine tasting as a way to build up one's experience to put wine exactly where it belongs, with food. Real, pure wine tasting could never happen in Hearth: the lighting is bad for it, the room is alive, and the kitchen is open, beckoning you to eat Marco's creations and adding all kinds of smells to the place. As a result, Paul plays to the strengths he has played to since I first met him back at Gramercy, the joys of good food well paired with good wine.
If you don't already know Hearth, I definitely think it is worth a visit. If you are already familiar with the restaurant and its sensibilities work in line with yours (as they do mine) I can't imagine a better wine dinner. The entire experience jibed perfectly with the price. Great wines methodically paired with great food, a communal table near an open kitchen, a group of hedonists gathered round a learned professional, appreciating the joy that is good juice: haven't had a better Monday in a while.