Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review: Experience Colorado Wine Dinner

Posted By on Wed, Nov 10, 2010 at 6:10 PM

Though you'll see mostly food photos below, Tuesday's Experience Colorado Wine Dinner at The Broadmoor's Charles Court was really built around vino.

Specifically, around the winning wines from Aug. 25's Celebration of Premier Colorado Wines at the Governor's Residence, where Charles Court chef Greg Barnhill helped judge.

Our Colorado wine lineup for the evening: flavors that monkey around in very good ways.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Our Colorado wine lineup for the evening: flavors that monkey around in very good ways.

From the above photo, you'll notice that Barnhill and Johnathan Shankland, manager at Charles Court and West Lobby Bar, chose two charger wines for the pre-dinner reception. Both hail from Denver's The Infinite Monkey Theorem, celebrated by many local drinkers, including Fruition's Alex Seidel, as a favorite outfit.

Between the two, we were more impressed with the Rosé (motto: "real men drink pink") than the Sauvignon Blanc. Far from the White Zinfandel-esque nature of many lesser Rosés, it has a more rich, velvety body with lots of fruit in the nose and flavor. Read the winery's more sophisticated description on their site.

Our Amuse-Bouche course: the Cuban Cigar. Its actually Cuban-seasoned local pork wrapped in Swiss chard, dipped in and plated with an ash of ground black and white sesame seeds and salt. Simply brilliant.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Our Amuse-Bouche course: the Cuban Cigar. It's actually Cuban-seasoned local pork wrapped in Swiss chard, dipped in and plated with an "ash" of ground black and white sesame seeds and salt. Simply brilliant. Source note: The pork comes from CB Livestock in Peyton.

Our first winning wine came from Boulder Creek Winery: the 2009 Gen Y Riesling, winner of the Best of Show in addition to a gold medal at the Governor's competition.

It retails for around $15 and is truly an exceptional model of the varietal: perfectly sweet (as in not too sweet) and crisp. It paired marvelously with the scallop dish pictured below, teasing out more of the corn's sweetness and also underscoring the seafood flavors.

We had the privilege of sitting beside Boulder Creek owners Mike and Jackie Thompson, so we learned the most about their winery (which is why I'll say much more about it than the other two featured wineries).

This winning Riesling is actually made by their college-aged son Will (with Jackie's oversight). The family only produces around 2,000 cases annually, and most of it is sold in the Boulder area; though you can find samples of their wine at Wines of Colorado, says Jackie.

The family has enjoyed a good run of acclaim lately. In addition to winning the Governor's award, they won Double Gold and Best of Show for their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon at September's Colorado Mountain Winefest (they've netted Best of Show a stunning three out of seven years they've entered). In 2009, they earned Colorado's first victory in the prestigious Jefferson Cup Invitational.

What we found even more interesting than discussing their accolades with them was hearing their take on where parts of our state and specifically Boulder county are behind on supporting the wine industry.

Jackie in particular said our state tourism board could do so much more to market our wineries as destinations and that Boulder city and county are actually "obstacles" with outdated laws. For instance, her winery, because of certain zoning laws, has to be located in a far from scenic industrial/manufacturing area, which also limits her access to easy pedestrian traffic, she says.

Our first and my overall favorite course: a pan-seared diver scallop atop Olathe corn and foie gras risotto with a lobster and uni (sea urchin roe) cream. (Chef Barnhill acknowledged a few obvious ingredients on this plate that you can't get locally.)
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Our first and my overall favorite course: a pan-seared diver scallop atop Olathe corn and foie gras risotto with a lobster and uni (sea urchin roe) cream. (Chef Barnhill acknowledged a few obvious ingredients on this plate that you can't get locally.)

But back to the food for a moment:

It was impressive to stand inside chef Barnhill's kitchen to photograph our food, and watch the sizable work force in action. It was like watching a hive of bees that had been stirred up.

Having personally been a part of several restaurant operations in my past (some tight, some not so much), I can say that this crew looked on top of their game — both front and back of the house. The Broadmoor's award-winning standard is evident, yet there were plenty of smiles to go around and everyone looked relatively relaxed. (Of course, there's a media dude there with a camera — let's assume this was best behavior.)

Chef Barnhill (right) and his team assemble our entree course.

The entrée below was simply a powerhouse of creativity, presentation and most importantly, flavor. Some additional notes to those in the photo caption: The jellyfish-like garnish is actually shaved fennel that Barnhill "ice tempered", which he says changes the cell structure and makes it super crisp without cooking it. A little more about the cool olive oil powder I describe in the photo caption: To make it, Barnhill mixes the oil with multidextarin, "a derivative of the cassava root also used to make tapioca," which turns the oil solid.

The course was paired with Alfred Eames Cellars' 2008 Sangre del Dol red wine. Eames introduced his wine with a short speech in which he elaborated that this wine is "a blend of this, that and the other," earning laughs from guests expecting exacting details. It's mostly a Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot blend that changes a bit from year to year.

The smokey beef flavors of the dish were a no-brainer pairing that worked beautifully, helping highlight the French oak signature in the dark wine. ("Blood of the Sun" indeed.)

Presentations dont get much better than this. </p>
<p>The menu description calls it a house bacon larded tenderloin of natural beef with a warm Colorado potato salad and Caraibe (chocolate) and port wine reduction. </p>
<p>Chef Barnhill later elaborated that its basically an inside-out, bacon-wrapped filet. Note the powdery white substance to the right — no cause for alarm. Its actually a fun bit of molecular gastronomy: powdered olive oil that turns back to liquid in your mouth.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Presentations don't get much better than this. You're looking at a house bacon-larded tenderloin of natural beef with a warm Colorado potato salad, multicolored carrots and Caribe (Valrhona French chocolate) and port wine reduction. Chef Barnhill later elaborated that it's basically an inside-out, bacon-wrapped filet. Note the powdery white substance to the right — no cause for alarm. It's actually a fun bit of molecular gastronomy: powdered olive oil that turns back to liquid in your mouth. Source notes: The potatoes are from San Luis Valley's White Mountain Farm and the carrots are from Venetucci Farm.

A little more description on the dessert I describe in the photo caption before I detail its wine pairing: An homage of sorts to Bit-O-Honey, chef Barnhill caramelized honey with black cardamom seeds and added it to a vanilla-based ice cream. "I didn't want the cardamom to be overpowering, just something that hit you every couple of bites," he says. "When the portion of caramelized cardamom honey that I did not use set up, we broke it up into pieces and folded it into the the ice cream." Hence the chewy, Bit-O-Honey-like bits that briefly clung to our teeth. Super fun.

Now to the final wine, Bookcliff Vineyards' Barrel Aged Black Muscat represented last night by owner John Garlich. No surprise, it worked great with the pear dish — the rose essence of the sweet dessert wine complimenting the subtle floral hint of cardamom in the ice cream.

The dark fruitiness of the sticky wine also matched the the ice cream's sticky honey element. Somehow in all that, the pungent bleu cheese notes didn't overpower. Practically a dessert on its own, this is a great muscat.

Meet the bleu cheese-stuffed, pastry-wrapped Gunnison Valley pear with pear syrup and black cardamom honey ice cream.
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Meet the bleu cheese-stuffed, pastry-wrapped Gunnison Valley pear with pear syrup and black cardamom honey ice cream. Source note: The pears and honey are from Paonia's Austin Family Farms.

If it's somehow ambiguous from my praise above — it's not — I loved this dinner.

It was a great idea to expand the Governor's Residence event by building a meal around the winning wines and I'd say that anyone working to highlight local goods is fighting the good fight. It's now old news that Colorado makes good wines; it's time to elevate the reputation by getting the word out that we also make some great wines. Those served last night are all the evidence any skeptic should need.

Chef Barnhill again deserves praise for his efforts to incorporate and showcase local items at the Broadmoor.

That being my first meal inside Charles Court (yes, I was long, long overdue), I was quite impressed by the level of play and creativity on the plates — a far cry from a stuffy fine dining outfit bent on traditional regurgitations. This wing of the five-star hotel gives off a fairly relaxed and more casual vibe similar to that found at the Summit. Make no mistake — dress up and get ready for top tier service — but don't shy from it because you think it's out of your league. You could easily spend as much in other independent fine dining outfits locally.

This special wine dinner was priced at a very reasonable (considering the overall quality and quantity) $60 plus tax/tip.

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