It was our anniversary this weekend, so we decided to try a restaurant in Ann Arbor that is focused on using local ingredients. It was our first time there, so we tried their five course tasting menu to see what the chef was capable of. The restaurant offered an accompanying wine pairing for half of what dinner cost. While I sometimes have had good experiences with these restaurant offered pairings, this is usually only the case if the restaurant has a sommelier and is as devoted to its wine menu as it is to its cuisine. Somehow, this place (and their wine menu) did not give off that impression, so I was reluctant to take it.
Given that the tasting menu was a surprise menu, it was not the easiest thing to decide what wine to go for then. Given that there was no riesling on the menu (shame on them), we decided to go with a lighter red wine that could complement most of what was possibly going to come, and sit out on the wine when it did not match at all. I find Côtes du Rhône wines to usually be a good companion when it comes to this. They are not as heavy bodied as other French reds, and at the same time offer an interesting mix of spices and earthiness. The only Côtes du Rhône the restaurant had was this one, so we decided to go for it.
Today I found out that Kermit Lynch is a major wine merchant in the tradition of French négociants from California. They offer a whole variety of wines from France and Italy with a gazillion of producers working for them. This particular Côtes du Rhône blend is vinified by Jean-François Pasturel from Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan grapes from 40 year old vines on 36 hectares around Avignon.
The wine had a medium ruby color. Its nose was nicely perfumy with wooden and earthy notes, Nina detected some blueberries that were definitely there. On the palate, the wine was on the lower end of medium bodied, and it showed a nice fruitiness of red berries and herbal, foresty aromas. The finish was of medium length, with a nice peppery note to it. It was pretty yummy to guzzle at dinner, and was just the right weight.
It also paired nicely with our – quite disappointing – dinner. The first course was a duck liver paté, to which the earthy notes paired well. The second course was a very nice salad with pan-seared (over-peppered) local trout, where it sort of worked. This was followed by uninspired “gnocchi” (which had nothing in common with gnocchi any Italian would serve) in a tomato sauce – the wine worked again. The next course was pork loin with potatoes (talk about uninspired again), where the wine complemented the roast aromas on the pork and went nicely with the onions. The dessert was an abomination of a panna cotta, made with buttermilk which destroyed its texture and taste (hardly any vanilla, and not even a reminder of the creaminess a panna cotta should have) and topped with a horrible concord grape syrup that tasted as bad as a Welch grape juice (which I completely detest)…luckily, I had the wine to clean my palate from the few spoons I ate before I abandoned the dish.
It was kind of a sad thing, this dinner. While I want to support locally sourced restaurants and like the idea, using these ingredients does not absolve you from making dishes that taste good. It is like organic wines. There is no inherent goodness in making wines in an organic fashion. They have to taste good first and foremost. If the two go together, the better. If not, I will relinquish ingredients over taste at any moment.
The wine was nice, so I recommend it.
Happy belated anniversary! I am a fan of Côtes du Rhône and after reading makes me think a trip to the local wine market, if time allows, is in order this weekend.
We actually saw this exact same wine in a wine store today…but ended up buying others…
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I’m sorry the food wasn’t fantastic. That’s always disappointing. I’ve had some of Kermit Lynch’s imports, and have always been pleased with them.
Thanks! I now know that I won’t be overlooking their bottles when I see them.
Happy Anniversary, the wine and the company were fine. Two out of three is better than one out of three. There is always another restaurant to try.
Thank you, John! Much appreciated.
Don’t get me started on restaurants and the restaurant industry. I once thought about writing a book called “The Chef’s New Clothes.” based on the Hans Christian Anderson Emperor’s New Clothes–nobody had the courage to say, “Hey, that guy is buck naked!” because he was the Emperor.
Going to culinary school does not automatically make someone a good chef. The problem is, so many of these people think they’re like emperors or something, their egos make them think that they can’t do anything wrong, and if they do, the rest of us plebes won’t know anyway.
I’m sorry you spent money to be disappointed. It’s very frustrating when that happens.
I definitely felt duped by the chef. That restaurant has a quite high reputation here in Ann Arbor, at least from what I was able to gather…
I like your metaphor, but just like in the metaphor, these guys are also enabled by their customers who do not seem to have a clue about things…
Peer pressure–the need to belong to the group, to fit in by agreeing that everything “we–the groovy kids” say is cool, is cooler than everything “they– the dweebie kids” don’t know or get, never really goes away; it just changes form.
It’s very hard for most people to resist agreeing that whatever is trendy, is great. If so-and-so said it was great, who am I to disagree? (And what if I say so out loud and I’m wrong? Then everyone will know that I’m not cool).
For most people, the consequence of being uncool is that it results in being uninvited to social gatherings and less employable in the most-wanted jobs, therefore one becomes lonely and poor. It’s not easy to choose to have an independent mind.
I’m glad the wine was good, and sorry to hear that dinner was not that great. Seriously – someone would put a grape jelly in a dessert? I don’t think you should visit that restaurant again.
There was an interesting article about Kermit Lynch, I think in a Wine Spectator – he has very strict rules in terms of quality of the wines he carries, so it is very difficult for the wineries to get on his distribution list.
I don’t think so I agree with your note regarding the organic wines – first of all, the term is very tricky – are you referring to all of the organic/biodynaimc/sustained/natural wines? This is rather a large group of wines, and there are many amazing wines in that category… Just saying : )
My shock was more that someone thought using buttermilk was a good idea for a panna cotta…and I surely am not heading back to that restaurant. Thank you also for the info on Kermit Lynch. I thought it was impressive that he listed all the contributing wineries on his website.
Regarding my rant about organic wines. It is more my frustration with friends that buy wines and automatically think they are better than non-organic wines taste wise. Just like people buy organic produce and then think it tastes better no matter what you do with it. Cooking and wine is about taste first and foremost…
I know some vintners that use very low intrusive methods, Reuscher-Haart in Piesport to name just one example. Their wines are excellent. So, I did not try to say that organic wines all taste bad. I wanted to express that people should not simply equate good and organic.
then we are in a complete agreement : ) Organic by itself doesn’t mean anything – it doesn’t mean that it will be good.
I’m sorry to hear that your anniversary dinner was not as you wanted it to be :(
When it comes to organic wines I often have the feeling that the result is a better wine. Organic wines for example have far less sulfites which causes organic wines to give less of a head-ache if you drink much of it. But I agree with you that the taste is more important. If a product tasted bad then it doesn’t matter if it’s organic or not. I personally always look for good-tasting wine and food in general but always see whether there is an organic option at a reasonable price available.
Thanks for your comment! I probably was not clear enough in my statement. I do agree with the benefits of organic wine for sure. Not only do they tend to be less intrusive for the environment, but also better health-wise for consumers. But the taste, just like you said, should be the key.