I went to the Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark in Albany, NY last night, and had a great duo of appetizers along with some accompanying wines. As always, I sit at the bar and pepper the manager (Jonathan, who also picks out the wine) with all sorts of wine / pairing questions.
First up, I tasted their 2010 Abbazia di Nova Ella Kerner from Alto Adige. Kerner is a hybrid of Riesling and Trollinger, giving it similar minerality that you usually find in a riesling but a bit more fruit (not necessarily residual sugar) taste than a semi-dry due to the Trollinger grape. I had tasted this vintage at another restaurant and found what I thought was more of a grapefruit influence, but thankfully last night it was lots of peach, with some apricot and slight watermelon on the nose. On the palate, more peach, along with the typical grassy / minerality inherent in Riesling. There was medium acidity overall, with some slight pepper on the finish.
To get a better idea of the wine before tasting, I had asked Jonathan for a pairing recommendation, between their Maryland Lump Crab "BLT" and the smoked trout panzanella. If he had chosen the crab cake, it would have spoken more to a medium-bodied wine that would be better able to stand up to that type of dish as opposed to the panzanella. However, keeping in mind that Kerner is part Riesling, I was pretty sure that he was going to choose the panzanella (which in the end he did).
The smoked trout panzanella was comprised of ricotta salata, tomato and cucumber chutney, charred herb croutons (which were actually split open and soaked, somewhat resembling bread pieces torn off by hand), caper berries, and cornichons. There was the addition of a yellow wax pepper on the side, in case adding heat was an option (which I actually did near the middle). And last but not least of course, the smoked trout. The dish had a lot of different textures, and the ability to have 7 or 8 flavors working together allowed for a lot of different tastes and varieties (there were even 2 kinds of tomatoes in there). If there was an overpowering element it would have had to been the smoked trout which was salt-forward, but in this type of dish all you had to do was pair it with any of the other ingredients and it would all sort of work itself out.
The Kerner paired well with the dish, especially the peach and fruit elements in the wine. Near the end of the dish where in my opinion there was a bit too much olive oil at the bottom, the acidity and minerality in the Kerner helped balance out the richness of the oil and chutney reduction.
Next up was a 2009 Cannonau, Argiolas "Costera" from Sardegna, Italy. Cannonau is synonymous with Grenache, or Garnacha. The actual origins of the grape seem to change based on who you ask, but the Italians insist that Cannonau is native to Italy, and was spread by the Spanish Aragonians (who had ruled Sardinia (Sardegna) for over 400 years. It's all very complicated (really?) but the takeaway is that anyone who likes Riojas or Rhone blends will really enjoy the wine.
On the nose there was plenty of dark Concord grape, blackberry, and slight honey. The bouquet is however completely different than the flavor profile, which makes it interesting. The medium to heavy tannins, the intense oak and cherry flavors are all there which are pretty well developed for a 3-year old wine. In comparison, I also tasted a 2009 Cabernet Franc from the Languedoc region, and a 2009 Carmenere which needed a lot more time to develop in my opinion. Rounding out the flavors in the Cannonau were medium acidity, with peppercorn and slight alcohol burn at the end of a medium finish.
This was paired with hangar steak (medium-rare) and fried gnocchi. Frying the gnocchi gives them a crunchy texture, which plays well with the salt, five spice, and fennel crusted hangar steak. In addition, various sized green onions (sliced at different angles) add to the presentation, and assorted vegetables with a balsamic vinegar reduction round out the flavors. Grated Grana Padano cheese tops it off.
According to Jonathan, this dish sells like crack -- which sort of surprised me because he doesn't look like the typical crack dealer, which I mentioned to him. He wanted to pair this with a Chardonnay from Sonoma, but I insisted on a more traditional pairing with a red. It's always a joy to have a medium-rare piece of meat and red wine, but even better to have it served over fried semolina with balsamic reduction and veggies. Good stuff.
Last up for the evening was a 2009 Zinfandel, "Chiles Canyon", from the Green and Red Vineyards in Napa Valley. I'll start by saying that this is a very atypical Zin, not at all jammy and syrupy like so many other Zinfandels that are out there today. There is light cherry, raspberry and cocoa on the nose. No intense aromas at all, but such a deep and complex mouthfeel, with a heavy tannic structure that gives an OK to years of aging. There are espresso, cherry, leather, and floral notes intertwined throughout, from beginning to end. As opposed to the dynamic Cannonau tasted earlier, this wine takes a lot more thought and observation to really appreciate. Certainly this was my favorite wine for the evening and I think the most rewarding wine I've tasted at the Wine Bar and Bistro on Lark.