What's so great about California, that big, Schwarzenegger-run state on the West Coast? Sure, it has the mainland market cornered on surfing, fad diets, plastic surgery and television, but why should it claim wine, too? All 50 states now boast a winery of some sort. (North Dakota became the last, in 2002, to add commercial wine production.) That California routinely kicks the tar out of the other 49 when it comes to winemaking is an anomaly that Jake and Telly's challenged on May 19.
Jake and Telly's has been an Old Colorado City fixture since 1997, when the Topakas brothers brought upscale Greek dining to the West Side. Now, with the help of new general manager Corey Wilson, the restaurant appears to be branching out. They've played host to numerous non-Greek-themed wine tastings in the past months, such as a recent exploration of Italian food and wine, complete with instructions on how to extract the marrow from osso bucco. The May 19 event homed in on six American wines from places other than California, paced out beautifully over four varied courses.
The evening began with an aperitif, a sparkler from, of all places, New Mexico. Such skepticism might be forgiven, seeing that New Mexico is as known for wine as Boston is for, say, even-tempered baseball fans. But the cuvee of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay by Gruet was surprisingly fantastic. Produced 150 miles south of Albuquerque by a French family who employs traditional methods in a wholly untraditional climate, the Gruet was the evening's best selection, a well-structured and austere wine with punchy acids and plenty of yeast.
The first course, an oyster chowder, was a subtle and mild concoction of large chunks of potato and oyster, with the garnish of tiny cheddar crackers adding a certain flair. The chowder was paired with a Mosel-style Riesling by Dr. Frank, grown near the Finger Lakes of New York. High in minerals and green apples, the wine carved through the cream of the chowder, producing a surprisingly summery dish.
Diners then tackled a sizeable hunk of salmon, glazed with hoisin and set over a nest of udon in dashi, a classical Japanese broth of dried Bonito tuna flakes and kelp. While the Montinore Pinot Noir from Oregon's Willamette Valley didn't stand out, the dish's plum and salt characters worked beautifully with the noodles' texture and the fish's high fat content.
Wilson then provided a much-needed breather, acquainting guests with the upcoming wines. The next selection was from Plum Creek, a Colorado vineyard that started in 1982. Colorado's short history of wine production is less than celebrated, but Plum Creek is the oldest operating vintner in the state. Its passable Merlot was served with an apple and mushroom stuffed pork loin in a black currant jus. Respect for the kitchen skyrocketed with this course: Not many places could host a 45-person wine tasting, a full dining room, a full patio and maintain a perfectly medium pork, but Jake and Telly's eagerly met the challenge. The course was doubly paired with Washington state's Columbia Winery's Cabernet. No sprawling, dementedly tannic Napa monster, this clove- and cherry-noted fruit-forward impeccably complemented the pork.
Dessert, peach cobbler with lemon Chantilly cream, was great, especially with the dessert wine, a fortified Chardonnay by Kluge from Virginia, an essentially untouched varietal juice augmented with brandy. With an alcohol content of 18 percent, it's closer to liqueur than wine, but no one seemed to complain -- quite the contrary. After dessert and an Ouzo-aided toast of "Opa!" spirits ran high.
Spurred along by helpful commentary from Wilson, the evening was an unostentatious foray into wine and food, everything flawlessly presented. This was not an event for established wine snobs, but simply a fun and educational night out for the curious, peppered with friendly chatter among the communal tables.
Next month's tasting falls on June 23, and finds Jake and Telly's returning to its roots: a tour of Greece's wines matched with their ever-solid Greek recipes. With a retinue of loyal attendees scheduled for future tastings, each at a reasonable $49, Jake and Telly's runs no risk of being pigeonholed as a tourist gyro stand.
"People at these tastings come to us with two problems," Wilson said after the meal. "They're hungry and they're sober. We try to solve those problems."
Opa to that, and mission accomplished.
-- Aaron Retka
Jake and Telly's menu will change this weekend to accommodate Territory Days' festivities. Their usual menu will resume promptly thereafter.
The Wines of Greece
Thursday, June 23, 7 p.m.
Jake and Telly's Greek Cuisine
2616 W. Colorado Ave.
$49 per person
Call 633-0406 for reservations.