The ever-popular Westin Winemaker Dinner Series, an annual slate of wine dinners at the Westin Resort and Spa that dates back more than a decade, launched its 2013 series on 11 January with a tribute to the wines of Chile and Argentina.
One of the constants on Cayman’s annual culinary calendar over the years has been the Westin Wine Dinner Series, which dates back to 2003.
The monthly dinners, which start in January and run through June, all feature a particular theme, usually around a wine region, and the dinner menu is designed around the wine.
This year’s Winemaker Dinner Series started on 11 January with a dinner themed around South American wines, specifically Chile and Argentina.
Depending on the weather and the availability of areas around The Westin’s restaurants, the dinners and the receptions can take place in different locations. Often, the cocktail reception takes place outside near the beach, but for the January event it took place in the bar next to Ferdinand’s restaurant. The dinner was served in the cosy Casa Havana restaurant.
The event marked the Westin Winemaker Dinner Series debut for new Executive Chef Michael Farrell, who had just come from the highly regarded Le Meritage Restaurant in the Maison Dupuy Hotel in New Orleans, where he also served as executive chef.
One of the fixtures at the Westin wine dinners has been Aaron Jay, the director of sales in the Western Hemisphere for Palm Bay International, the distributor of the wines always served at the Winemaker dinners.
After the guests took their seats, Jay spoke about the wines they would be drinking with the meal.
“I am very proud of the wines we have selected for you tonight,” he said, adding that it would be the first time that Torrontes – from the iconic Argentinian white grape – would be served at one of the Westin Winemaker Dinners.
“I believe Torrontes could be the next big wine to make an impact in the industry,” he told the guests.
The 2011 Killka Torrontes is a fragrant wine with floral aromas. It was refreshing on the palate with undertones of tropical fruit. Served with albacore tuna crudo topped with a tangerine segment, it was a perfect start to the meal.
From the second course, the wine went to Chile and Montgras Chardonnay Reserva served with Lobster Crumple, a modern, fine-dining twist on a pot pie that featured pieces of lobster, corn, peas and asparagus and a light buttery sauce in a crumpled, open-faced crust.
It was paired with the rich, lightly oaked Chardonnay, which had flavours of tropical fruits and a creamy finish, making it a good pairing with the dish.
“This is the kind of seafood this wine is perfect for,” Jay said, adding that it would also be good with shrimp dishes and sweet, white-fleshed fish like sea bass.
Duck and wine two ways
As the wine went from white to red, the proteins went from sea to land – and the air in the form of duck.
The duck was prepared two delicious different ways, with one topped with foie gras; the other with fig compote. Two Argentine wines were served with the dish – 2010 Killka Malbec and 2006 Salentein Primum Malbec.
Malbec, the French grape that lost popularity in France starting in the late 1950s, has been one of the driving forces behind Argentina’s rise as a major wine producing country. Used in many countries as a blending grape for red wines, Malbec is quite often used to make single varietal wines in Argentina. The jammy, earthy characteristics of this wine make it a classic pairing with meats, beef in particular.
The Killka Malbec, which has lighter and had softer flavours, paired better with the duck than the Salentein Primum, which was a full-bodied powerhouse with rich aromas and an elegant, smooth mouth feel.
Jay told people at the start of the dinner they would like the Primum best, and he was right.
“Primum is a Malbec that is absolutely spectacular,” he said. “When you taste it, you’re going to say ‘oh, my God’. It is aged in new oak barrels and only produced in the best vintages. I think you’re going to enjoy it.”
Beef and red wines
Although wine drinkers no longer follow the red-with-meat-white-with-fish rule when it comes pairing wines with food, there’s no denying that big red wines and steak are a wonderful combination.
The main entree featured peppercorn crusted beef tenderloin with a blue cheese tartlet and caramelised onions. It was paired specifically with 2011 Antu Ninquen Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile that is blended with 15 per cent Carmenere. Blending the full-bodied and tannic Cabernet with a lighter and less tannic Carmenere makes the wine more pleasant to drink when young, softening the tannins and lowering the alcohol content a bit. But Antu is still a full-bodied wine that paired well with the tenderloin.
Because two wines had been served with the previous course, most guests still had wine left in their glasses. The Salentein Primum Malbec was actually an even bolder wine than the Malbec and it not only paired excellently with the steak, it was great with the blue cheese tartlet as well.
Since a dessert wine wasn’t served and guests had one or more red wines still in their glasses, the dessert needed to pair well with red wine. The chili chocolate flourless torte did just that, bringing a sweet and somewhat spicy end to the evening.
As is the custom at the Westin Winemaker Dinners, the kitchen crew, led by Chef Farrell came out to take a bow and receive some much deserved recognition.
The dinner series continues on 22 February with a dinner themed around the Fontanafredda winery in Piedmont, Italy. On 22 March, the wines from Spain and Portugal will be featured. After taking a break in April, the series will resume on Friday 24 May with a dinner featuring wines from Tuscany and Veneto. The 2013 Winemaker Dinner Series will then conclude on 21 June the same way it did in 2012, with a tribute to Italian wines that received the coveted Tre Bicchieri award.