Winter might be ‘wining’ down, but we've always got the fall!
As the 2017 summer season approaches, local eateries are squeezing in the last of the wine/beer/whatever-pairing dinners. Though the concept started off slowly, the idea of teaming up with a local alcohol distributor to fill your restaurant in the winter - on a weeknight - caught on quickly. And in the business of eating at the beach, anything that fills a restaurant in the off-season is a good thing.
I like these events not only because I get to taste vintages and/or brews I might not otherwise have tasted, but I also get to watch local chefs have fun going off menu. In the last few days, I had the pleasure of attending two upscale wine dinners – both of which were sold out a week before they took place.
Local wine aficionados know that there’s never a dull moment when Karen Sposato is in the house. Tony and Karen Sposato are the owners of the ubiquitous Sposato Landscape Company and the newcomer Sposato Vineyards. Karen is like the Energizer Bunny, except with a bottle instead of a battery. And she is particularly enthusiastic when she’s talking about Sposato Wines. When I interviewed them on my radio show, Tony said, “Well, we figured we spent a lot of time digging in the dirt anyway, so why not plant some grapevines!” The kicker is that those grapevines are growing in Argentina at their very own Sposato Winery.
Last week Tony and Karen’s wines were combined with a feast assembled by none other than Gary and Lorraine Papp (the opening chefs at The Buttery many years ago) and Executive Chef Tim McNitt of the Back Porch Café, now entering its 43rd season here at the beach. In the off-season, Chef Tim helps Gary and Lorraine run their tiny but delicious Palate Bistro & Catering by the Safeway in Rehoboth Beach.
The theme was definitely Argentinian as we nibbled on beef brisket empanadas and grilled provoleta perched on thinly sliced crostini. As we noshed our way through charred calamaretti salad (pasta that resembles calamari) and hickory-smoked lamb lollipops, Karen tutored the sold-out house on the proper technique for tasting wine. The highlight of my night came when we were all obediently whiffing the bouquet and swirling the wine in the glass as per Karen’s detailed instructions. At a large table by the wall, 13-year-old Lucas Franzetti was also carefully following Karen’s commands - swirl, inhale, step by step - but with his ginger ale. Turned out that most of the people at the table were Argentinian (including Lucas’ dad) and were familiar with the region where Sposato’s grapes are grown. Lucas’ smile and personality was the only thing that came close to eclipsing Karen’s upbeat presentation.
You do not want to miss Sposato’s new Bonarda (Karen calls it “bangin’ Bonarda”) and of course their Malbec Reserve. The velvety, fruit-forward Malbec grape is very much at home in Argentina, and though we like all of their wines, the Malbec Reserve could very well be the star of the Sposato show.
Lewes is not without its upscale eateries, one of which is the relatively young Heirloom at Third and Savannah. Hands-on proprietor Meghan Lee is not happy unless she’s going over the top, and that probably explains why getting a seat at Heirloom is so difficult. Butter-poached clams with preserved lemon, pickled beech mushrooms and asparagus salad – topped with a 60-minute egg with almond vinaigrette, yet - kicked off the festivities. The wines selected to accompany Chef Matt Kern’s creations ranged from Austrian to Italian and back around the globe to Washington State. Kern’s house-pickled rhubarb and candy-striped beets rested on a bed of chicken liver paté, laying the groundwork for house-made spring pea gnocchi with forest-dark morels and sweet pea ricotta.
The beautiful yellow-gold nasturtium decorating the (ridiculously good) butterscotch pudding with candied pecans and cinnamon was most certainly inspired by the last wine of the evening, the typically sweet La Fleur d’Or Sauternes from Bordeaux, France. The name of the wine translates to “the golden flower.”
As I said, Meghan does everything over the top, and her guests that evening were treated to little swag bags filled with Heirloom-inspired goodies like house-made mini-bruschette, cute bird-seed feeders to hang in your back yard, citrus-stamped stationery and even a little sparkler sporting a “you light up my life” tag. You can always expect the best - and a little bit more - when Meghan Lee is at the helm.
Though the summer season is not without tasty adventures of its own, I can’t help but look forward to what our Cape Region chefs and restaurateurs have in store to lure us out of our igloos when the winds of November come early.