By Barbara Haas
[Editor's Note: I am very excited to share my mom's first contribution to the Tablas Creek blog. She has been an active partner in this project from the beginning, and the source of many of our best ideas (such as in making our first rosé back in 1999). While this is her first blog, she had a hand in much of the written material we produced in the early days of Tablas Creek. I look forward to many more entries. Thank you to the Windham Hill Inn, which took and shared the photos that appear with this piece.]
Being in the wine business means being in the business of giving pleasure. We want our wines to taste good and to improve the moments in which they are served. In order for us to do this, we frequently depend on the shared experience of good food. The way that wine and food speak to each other is critically important to the appreciation of both. Think of musical instruments either in tune or not.
As someone who has been privileged to share a large number of “winemaker” dinners (dinners designed to highlight wine and food), I am reflecting on a recent experience which was one of the best I have had, and I have thought a lot about why this was true.
The beautiful, historic Windham Hill Inn and Restaurant in Townshend, VT, has been a steadfast supporter of Tablas Creek wines and owns several vintages in their cellar. To get there, you really have to know where it is! A 30-minute drive from our house in Chester, the inn is tucked into a beautiful property at the end of a dirt road, and is totally peaceful and quiet. The flagstone pathway is bordered by an array of lilies and hydrangeas, and the double entrance doorway (to keep out gusts of snow in the winter) leads you into a warm reception area, which could easily be in a French auberge. Lots of polished wood, warm fabrics and comfortable furniture surround a small bar area and awaken your sense of anticipation for the aperitif and dinner to follow.
Windham Hill Inn has created dinners to highlight our wines at least eight years in a row, and in my opinion, each year better than the last. This year’s was a triumph: focused, generous, and original.
The food was not heavy. I was still as eager for the fourth course as I was for the first. With each course, I was delighted by discovery: on my plate and in my glass. The wines and their paired dishes sang in harmonious duets.
The harmony gave each element more than either had alone. It was a remarkable experience. For example: a perfectly cooked piece of swordfish was accompanied by charred green onion, grilled pineapple, sesame and ginger. Each element found a responding taste in the Tablas Esprit Blanc 2012. I marvel at the talent which first recognizes the elements of taste in a wine, and then goes and finds a food which highlights that taste.
Another example was herb-rubbed Vermont lamb loin, with baby bok choy, and fermented black bean and garlic sauce. The sauces throughout the meal had clean, clear flavors but no heaviness. In the case of the lamb, the sauce was a simple, clear “jus”. The rare lamb and its deep-flavored sauce gave the Mourvèdre 2011 ample room and encouragement to express itself.
The chef showed both intelligence and generosity by keeping his dishes focused and simple; in other words, not so tarted up with heavy sauces and irrelevant flavors that they dominated the wine. This is not an easy job. Home cooks and professionals alike tend to make food too complicated and “loud” when they are trying to impress, what I like to call “high-decibel food.” The same tendency happens in wine making.
Achieving balance and harmony is challenging but eminently more satisfying, and makes a diner want to come back for more. A professional taster may recognize each achievement of the chef and winemaker. A non-professional will simply have a wonderful, satisfying dining experience, without needing to analyze why.
Thank you and congratulations to Chef David Crone and Wine Director Dan Pisarczyk of Windham Hill Inn for discovering the hidden secrets in our Tablas Creek wines and bringing them to light and value.