We all know or at least heard of those special people who throw amazing parties. It's an art, not a science. Every year I look forward to Christie's parties (previously documented here and here.) The woman has a knack for putting together a guest list that ensures fun for all. Having worked and played with her for some years, I know from experience that she is one cool lady. But I am certain even readers of this blog would get a sense of this woman's fun loving nature, if only judging from the coolness of her friends. :)
Christie has a thing for supporting the High museum and its wine auction. In return for her generosity, the High provides the forum for her butt kicking parties. This year, the venue was the Wisebram's beautiful home in Vinings.
After days of continuous rain, we were blessed with a bright sunny day perfect for appreciating the beautiful fall colors from the Wisebram's lovely back deck.
Of course, it's not a wine party if there is no wine, so we started things off with Iron Horse bubblies and a three liter bottle of 2002 Au Bon Climat Hildegard white blend. This blend had great acidity and a surprising whiff of yeast amidst the vanilla. The mouth feel was smooth and it tasted faintly of tropical fruits and buttered toast. The yesty nose made for a great champagne alternative.
There is nothing quite like a roaring fire on a fall deck to bring old and new friends together. Something about warmth in crisp air gets into everyone's spirit.
Before long, people started to goof off. (lovely host on left)
Inside, the Muss & Turner chefs churned out artful nibbles for the hungry guests.
For those who cannot wait, there was a fully loaded charcuterie board for sampling. The chorizo, whose spiciness excited our waiting palates, attracted ample attention.
Every few minutes, the ultra friendly servers came by with a new creation from the kitchen. Here we have a white anchovy on black pepper cracker with cornichon slaw, all nut free to put a smile on Robert's face. It was my first bite at the party and its briny and acid nature really whet my appetite.
What I tasted next was one of the simplest but most exciting bites of the evening. A tender endive leaf held together cubes of vanilla roasted pears with Gorgonzola & aged balsamic. The ingredients were of superb quality and worked together like a charm. I am determined to reproduce this for home consumption this holiday season.
No successful party is music free. And live is always better. Christie had the great fortune of living her early party days during one of the most happening music eras and we all got the benefit of that sound this evening. :)
After the early warm up, we got into serious wine business. Dick Denny, our wine master for the evening, gave an introduction to the large list of wines (18 wineries/vineyards were featured and this doesn't even include the different varietals) we'll be tasting as the evening progressed.
I haven't seen this kind of line up at a private event since those eight hour Sundays I spent at the AIA trying to pass the International Sommelier Guild's levels 1&2 certification. And there is not even a teacher here to remind me to spit. :) (Btw, I highly recommend this course at the AIA to anyone who loves wine. Yes, eight hours every Sunday for four month does sound like a big commitment. But you walk away with such a new perspective on drinking wine, it forever changes the way you learn and taste. The most empowering thing I learned is that the whole tasting experience is personal as each wine is different and ever changing. Despite what the experts may say, no one can tell you absolutely what you should smell, taste, or love. You get to decide. Cool, no?)
For precisely this decide-for-yourself reason, Dick particularly encouraged a blind tasting of the 2007 Kosta Browne Pinot Noir and a Dunah, both from Russian River (KB is about three times the price of the Dunah). I did the tasting. Price aside, my preference was for the KB. The earthier and more barnyardy nose, baked fruits, and heavier body weight were very attractive to me. But for those who prefer a more herbal nose and a less rich style, the Dunah had great refined red fruits and a nice lingering finish.
The Muss & Turner chefs stopped working temporarily to enjoy some sips. Chef Chris Hall and the Muss & Turner folks are close to finalizing a new restaurant in the midtown area. Let's all hope that they pull through soon. These are very fun folks to hang out with and they make unpretentious good food.
Soon it was time to eat again. Here is a seasonal scallop on sweet potato puree.
Another crowd pleaser was this pickled shrimp and local rattlesnake bean topped with a bacon concoction.
But my favorite of favorites was this extra smoky and creamy smoked north Georgia mountain trout with apples. Normally, fish does not stand up well to the stronger red wines, but this smoked trout was mighty enough to stand shoulder to shoulder even with the syrah lot.
The most wonderful pairing of the evening was this duck confit in herbed crepe with macerated blueberries washed down with the Kosta Browne. The duck's earthiness sought out its counterpart in the wine and validated the classical marriage of duck with pinot noir.
A little spontaneity in the kitchen by chef Hidinger proved that more is sometimes just more. What you see here is a spoonful of sinful pleasure. Can you say bacon, cream, and foie gras in the same sentence without going breathless? I think not. :)
Side effects of the sinful spoonful included uncontrollable hugging of the chef. Totally involuntary!
Let's just say that I dripped all over myself eating this slider and didn't even know it. The tangy and sweet sauce really hit the spot and benefited from the sinus clearing qualities of the red onions. Along side the slider, I tried a pair of syrahs (the 2004 Dutton Estate and the Qupe from Santa Maria). The Dutton had some great dark fruits, soft spices, and felt velvety smooth. The Qupe on the other hand, was a bit hot and brooding. I didn't have enough time for it to sit in the glass, so never found out if it mellowed out more later. At this point, I had a short exchange with Dick, the wine master for the evening, who asked what I was enjoying. I shared with him my preference for the Dutton and he had the best response "oh good, that's the one with my name on it." Sure enough, a close inspection of the label revealed "Dick Denny Cuvee." Nice!
Around dessert time, a pair of Colgins were popped open. Being one of the original cult wines, they are hard to get, so I have never had the pleasure of tasting either. Needless to say, this was a treat. First up was the 2005 IX estate syrah. Maybe because it didn't get a chance to breath before being poured, the nose was a bit closed off initially. But one thing I could tell immediately was a nice balance. I really wish we had more time to sit with this to observe the changes in the glass, but I had to enjoy the stewed berries that just began to bloom quickly before the next one was poured. I did, however, pick up a faint note of licorice at the end. For some reason though, the finish on this wine dropped off abruptly.
The 1998 cabernet sauvignon from Herb Lamb estate had a pretty distinct green vegetable nose (maybe that's why the herb lamb name? :)). This was not a heavy bodied wine and also had a nice balance. But yet again, the finish closed off fairly fast and left me somewhat wanting. I am wondering if I am really missing something here by getting such a quick snap shot of the wine and no observation of development. It reminded me of an article on David Doyle, the owner of a $40 million cellar. In the article Doyle said that one major draw back of severely inflated wine prices is that even collectors feel that it requires a gathering to warrant tasting of a great wine. But in doing so, no one gets to experience what's truly beautiful about a wine, its ability to morph over a period of time.
Wine aside, we got some excellent desserts. I am glad that Jenna took this photo before I started licking off the milk chocolate mousse with macadamia nuts and sea salt flakes (not pretty).
Also passed around were these cubes of pumkin cake with pumpkin frosting. I love moist cakes and these were right up my alley.
I am not a big peanut butter fan, but these truffles were nice and not at all over powering. It must have been the light salty notes that drew me in.
We opened and finished every single bottle of wine (not all shown). Luckily, not a single bottle was corked.
We certainly look happy by the end, don't we?
Thanks to all these wonderful folks for making this special evening happen (left to right: Woodie and Steve Wisebram, Christie, Marg and Dick Denny).