The art of fine dining 

Food, wine and art converge at Taste of the Nation Winemakers Dinner

click to enlarge Taste the magic of Chef Jeff Knight of the Craftwood Inn. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Taste the magic of Chef Jeff Knight of the Craftwood Inn.

Three old lovers gathered on a rocky outcropping in the Manitou foothills for a much-anticipated reunion. For years, each has enhanced the lives of people living all over the world. Guided by two deft hands and nurtured by a warm spring breeze, the three rekindled an ancient flame. Into the night their fire burned, showering magical sparks on the lucky 60 who basked in its glow.

Lest you be alarmed at the lascivious turn this column has taken, the three lovers here mentioned are food, wine and art. They congregated on May 21 at the Taste of the Nation Winemaker's Dinner to raise money for Care and Share, an organization that supports Colorado food pantries and feeds the hungry. In this, they were a great success, pulling together enough funds to provide 30,000 meals to Colorado Springs families.

The gifted hands that brought them together are those of Jeff Knight, chef at the Craftwood Inn; and Jan Shrem, owner and winemaker of Napa Valley's Clos Pegase vineyard. The two have much in common. Both sport a slight frame, scraggly hair, abundant energy and an alchemist's gift for transforming the simple into the sublime. Knight is a rising star with seemingly limitless talent and creativity. Shrem, now in his 70s, built a publishing empire before choosing to embark on a second career as a vintner early in the 1980s.

From the beginning, Shrem committed to bringing art and wine together, evidenced by the buildings at his winery and also on the labels of his reserve wines, which each year pay homage to pieces from his personal art collection. Add to that Shrem's oenological artistry and Knight's six courses of edible art and you have a table that rivals the greatest canvases in the Louvre.

Chef Knight began the banquet by pairing scallops with Shrem's top chardonnay. Encrusted with black and white sesame seeds, then seared, the scallops matched the creamy wine's texture perfectly, and a restrained tarragon cream sauce picked up its acidity. Next, a trio of tart and tangy sorbets refreshed our palates as we moved from surf to turf. Prickly pear sorbet added visual drama with its brilliant magenta hue, and the orange sorbet offset the grassiness of Clos Pegase Sauvignon Blanc by bringing forward its floral elements.

As the sun set behind Pikes Peak, day gave way to night and the wine shifted from white to red. An earthy Pinot Noir from Carneros was well suited to a salad of black forest sprouts and small medallions of wild boar. Slightly bitter, the greens balanced the rich, sweet, and impossibly tender boar. The garlic confit vinaigrette added a deep aroma without overwhelming the other flavors, and tiny strips of fried yucca added the perfect crunch to a remarkable dish.

Both food and wine took a more serious turn as Knight brought out almond roast loin of Nilgai antelope to complement Clos Pegase's highly rated 2000 Merlot. The wine is a blockbuster, with a prodigious aroma of red fruits, chocolate, pepper and spice that somehow manages a soft, velvety landing in your mouth. A rich and extracted porcini mushroom gravy maximized the wild flavors of both the antelope and the wine, while taming the Merlot's power.

Sometimes at events like these, the best wines get only lip service rather than table service. Not so on this night. The best of Colorado and California met when Shrem brought out his finest bottles to accompany Colorado lamb chops. Clos Pegase's 1994 and 1999 Hommage are reserve wines crafted in a Bordeaux style, with backbones of Cabernet Sauvignon fleshed out with small amounts of Petit Verdot and Merlot to add aroma, texture and complexity. Since both retail above $80, it was a treat to sample them. The 1999, still brash in its youth, showcases muscular tannins and dark fruit. It tastes great now but will reach its peak in a decade or so. The 1994, now in the prime of its life, is lavish with currants, minerals and refined tannins. Knight's lamb dish proved equally complex, as a sun-dried tomato glaze pulled out the meat's richness while the grilled risotto cakes with pistachios balanced the sweet with salt and added texture.

Just as we were about to collectively burst, Shrem and Knight orchestrated a final salvo aimed directly at the hedonists in the room. To match Knight's layered chocolate "pate" -- alternating swaths of chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache, Shrem offered Cabernet Sauvignon from a single vineyard in the Palisades appellation near Calistoga. The balsamic-infused sour cherries atop the cake were a dead match with the wine, and together brought out the fruit flavors that lurk within dark chocolate. With that, the artistic feast reached its climactic conclusion.

I encourage you to try some of Shrem's wines, many of which sell below $30 per bottle, as they represent some of the best Napa Valley has to offer. Better yet, head over to the Craftwood and let Chef Jeff create you a feast of edible art.


Craftwood Inn, 404 El Paso Blvd., Manitou Springs

Dinner from 5:30 p.m. nightly


Clos Pegase wines can be found locally at Cheers or ordered online at www.clospegase.com

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