Tuesday, February 15, 2011

“Huge California and Washington Red Tasting”, Hosted by Wine Vault + Dinner at Aria

The tasting crowd
 The Food Baby.com bottom line:
  • Amazing event hosted by The Wine Vault…and, yes, you can try almost 24 wines in 1 hour if you put your mind to it (in case you were wondering).
  • Aria remains a personal favorite, particularly for their small antipasti plates.
  • Blonde Mafia makes its blog debut!
On February 10th, The Food Baby ladies plus their amazing and beautiful friend Kiley (collectively known as the “Blonde Mafia”) attended a most fabulous wine tasting after work.   The “Huge California and Washington Red Tasting” at Founder’s Hall uptown was hosted by The Wine Vault, and drew an impressive crowd.  The bustling crowd ranged from social swillers to the serious wine buying set, and the energy was great.  The Wine Vault organized the event well – splitting the crowd into a 5:30PM wave and a 7:00PM wave, each lasting one hour and limited to 40 people, which ensured that each of the four tasting tables were accessible at most times.  The cost of the event was $25 (waived with the purchase of a case of wine), and there were over two-dozen wines being poured.  While the event was dubbed as a Cali/Washington event, there were a few Spanish and Australian numbers that snuck into the rotation as well (not complaining!).  To put a proverbial cherry on top, The Wine Vault partnered with Aria and Sonoma to offer attendees special deals – each restaurant extended their 3 courses for $30 menu from Charlotte Restaurant Week.  In addition, there was no corkage fee for any wines purchased at the tasting.  Lastly, The Wine Vault was offering amazing discounted prices for bottles, mixed cases and full cases.  What a great set up!

The Blonde Mafia elected to do the 5:30PM tasting, and arrived right on time so as not to waste a precious moment of our tasting hour.  We started at Scott’s table, where a nice variety was being poured.  For me, the standouts at that table were the Fall Line Aldercreek Red Blend from Washington and the Orin Swift “Prisoner” from Napa.  The Fall Line (mostly Merlot and Cab Franc) was delicious, with ripe plum and cherry flavors.  This was one of Lauren’s favorite wines of the night.  The Orin Swift had a deep ruby hue and dark red fruit flavors.  The Prisoner is a red blend that is predominately Zin, with a healthy dose of Cab Sav and Syrah to boot. We must have been getting hungry at this point, because we immediately started listing off all the foods we wanted to pair it with (mostly charcuterie and cheese related!).  The evening was starting off on the right foot so far!

Next, we meandered over to Thad’s table (my favorite of the night!).  The first wine he poured was the Hope Shiraz “The Ripper” from Australia.  Kiley said this was one of her top picks of the evening, noting its inky purplish hue and berry and chocolate flavors.  My top choice of the evening was the 2007 Flora Springs “Trilogy” from Napa that Thad was serving up.  The Trilogy is a blend of Cab Sav (74%), Merlot (21%) and Petit Verdot (5%).  The “bouquet” (do I sound like a cheesy wine snob yet?) was a jammy bomb of ripe red fruits, and I tasted hints of cocoa and cherry.  It was medium- to full-bodied and had a lasting finish.  I was seriously reticent to leave Thad’s amazing table, but alas, the tasting must go on!

Our next stop was Christine’s table, where our unanimous favorite was the Rockblock “SoNo” Syrah.  When Christine told us that this little gem from Oregon was made by Domaine Serene, we were sold.  The wine was lush, with coffee and plum flavors.  We found it to be a straightforward, easy drinking wine.  After the Rockblock, we teetered over to Woody’s table.  There were a few gems, but our biggest surprise was the pocketbook friendly Ludovicus red blend from Spain (or “Luda” as we dubbed it).   The Luda is blend of Granacha, Tempranillo, Syrah and Cab Sav aged in French and American oak.  It has a ripe cherry nose, and the bright fruit flavors and mineral undertones balance out nicely.  It was another easy-drinking wine that we knew would pair well with any number of foods.  We immediately decided this would be the wine to accompany our dinner at Aria that evening and snapped up a bottle (or two?) at a discounted price of $19/btl. 

Wild Mushroom Pizza
At long last, it was time for dinner at Aria.  We were promptly seated, and our waitress offered to open our bottle of Luda right away.  She walked us through the 3 courses for $30 option, and also gave a few a la carte recommendations.  After some deep philosophical conversation, we elected to share a bunch of small plates.  We started with the Antipasto Plate, the Wild Mushroom Pizza and the Caramelized Gnocchi.  The clear stand out of round one (and of the evening) was the Mushroom Pizza.  It had wild mushrooms, goat cheese, caramelized onions, arugula and truffle oil atop a thin and perfectly crispy crust.  The sharp goat cheese, sweet onions and peppery arugula worked perfectly with the earthiness of the mushrooms and truffle oil.  Even Kiley, who isn’t a fan of mushrooms, agreed that the pizza was delicious.  The Gnocchi ranked #2 in this wave of food.  The pillowy little gnocchi were served over prosciutto di parma, pears and gorgonzola and then drizzled with truffle oil.  I found the flavors to be very harmonious and the gnocchi well-prepared.  Our only complaint was that the dish was a bit dry.  While the truffle oil drizzle added much in the way of flavor, the plate seemed to be screaming for some sort of sauce to bring it all together.  Last place in round one definitively went to the Antipasto plate.  It had salumi, cheese, olives, peppers and marinated artichokes.  The meat to cheese ratio was off (dare I say, too much meat?), and the plate would have benefitted from another component or two – perhaps a whole-grain mustard and some fruit?  The cheese selection was also a bit strange – our plate mostly had a sharp and pungent bleu cheese – I would have loved a more balanced offering.  So we were 2 for 3 at this point, but still happy and hungry!  We were also almost into bottle number two of the Luda…let the fun continue!!
Antipasto Plate
For round two, it was seafood time – we chose the Fritto Misto and the Pan Roasted Crab Cake.  While we waited for our food, I scanned the upstairs section of the restaurant where we were seated.  It was my first time dining upstairs – typically you will find me at the main bar having cocktails and apps, or in the main dining room downstairs.  On this particular evening, the upstairs space was nearly full, and buzzing with the conversations of happy diners.  We really enjoyed the vibe, and ended up striking up an engaging (and unquestionably inappropriate) conversation with the table next to us.   Ok, back to the food.  The Fritto Misto arrived and it had fried calamari and scallops served with a marinara sauce and lemon wedges.  It was pretty much what you look for in a dish like this – crispy fried exterior with tender seafood interior and just the right amount of saltiness.  I was certainly pleased with it.  The Crab Cake was also tasty.  It was served with a tomato compote and a horseradish remoulade.  The cakes were mostly crab – not a lot of filler – always a plus in my book (and hard to find sometimes).  Lauren liked the horseradish sauce, but thought it needed a touch more kick.  Our amazing waitress happened to be checking in on us, and immediately offered to bring more horseradish.  At this juncture we were full and happy, and it was time to call it a night. 
Crab Cake
Fritto Misto

To sum up, what a terrific evening!  The wine tasting was a blast– we will definitely be on the lookout for future Wine Vault tastings.  Make sure to check our calendar of local events regularly to find information on upcoming Wine Vault soirees.  Dinner at Aria was delicious and the service was great.  While I highly recommend dining at Aria for any occasion, I personally remain most partial to the downstairs bar for its bar bites menu and amazing atmosphere.  Thank you Wine Vault and Aria from Food Baby and the Blonde Mafia! 
Blonde Mafia

- Brianna    

Aria Tuscan Grill on Urbanspoon
The Wine Vault on Urbanspoon

No comments:

Post a Comment