Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sublime Pairings-A Night of Australian Vino Raises the Bar on Going Down Under

Something amazing tends to happen when you gather vibrant people together for an evening of innovative cuisine and superb wines. A recent adventure at Zin American Bistro was no exception. Owner Mindy Reed has recently taken to hosting monthly wine dinners, which showcase her knack for pairing some delectable bottles with the flavorful food stylings of rogue Chef Aaron Kiefer.

On this particular evening, we were treated to some terrific selections from three different regions of Australia, starting in the southeast with the 2007 Shoofly 'Buzz Cut.' A blend of Viognier, Riesling, Chardonnay, Verdelho and Semillon, this wine is a terrific marriage of bright citrus fruit and a subtle grassiness-the perfect beginning to what was to be an evening of magnificent indulgence.

Next up was Shoofly's 2008 Chardonnay Chook Raffle, which turned out to have a crisp, tropical style to it, along with a steely minerality. Along with unmistakable melon and peach flavors, I got an aroma of banana nut bread on the nose. This island-inspired wine paired beautifully with a starter of Ahi tuna, which was served three ways and featured Aaron's grapefruit "caviar."

My favorite selection of the evening turned out to be the 2008 Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir, produced in the Yarra Valley. If there was every a cherry bomb in a glass, this is it folks. This particular vintage is full of juicy dark fruit and holiday spice, and I found it to be a bit earthy, which married well with the gaminess of bacon-wrapped quail stuffed with cranberries. I overheard one of my fellow wine lovers refer to this offering as a 'schizophrenic' wine, and the metaphor was dead on. There was a lot going on in the glass, and this Pinot seemed to morph into several incarnations during this particular pairing.

The love affair with Innocent Bystander continued, as Mindy began pouring a wonderful Shiraz-Viognier blend. Sometimes, this combination elicits a skeptical reaction from the uninitiated, because the idea of blending red and white grapes to produce a red wine seems a bit odd at first. The wine is actually fermented with the skins of the Viognier grape only, and this particular incarnation sports a gorgeous ruby tint. Peppery on the nose and spicy to taste, its tannins were smooth and silky. I adored the fruit flavors that emerged as I took my first bite of succulent mustard-encrusted rack of lamb, which rested on a bed of blueberry risotto, inspiring my foodie friend Kimberly to exclaim with epiphany "the blueberry is the bridge!"

With what turned out to be the most sinfully delicious version of bread pudding I have ever eaten, we sipped a D'Arenberg Old Vine Shiraz from the McLaren Vale appellation. Dark licorice and deep raspberry flavors explode all at once with this elegant offering, which didn't surprise me, since the grapes come from vines that are more than 80 years old. The result was nothing short of sublime when matched with warm vanilla and candied pecans, among other flavors.

Having made some wonderful new friends and feeling wholly decadent in my indulgences, I still found myself wanting something more as I walked out the door. I wanted to know when I could reserve my seat for the next dinner.

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