[scrollGallery id=608]T he White Horse and Kitchen 1454 teamed up to present a spectacular wine dinner featuring Sans Liege wines Thursday night at Kitchen 1454. The wines and food were paired so perfectly it was difficult to decide whether the food or the wine was the star of the night.
The icing on the cake was Sans Liege winemaker Curt Schalchlin’s appearance to talk about the wines and answer any questions. Sans Liege has been a favorite with The White Horse and its customers, so it was a special treat to finally meet the man responsible for such incredible wines.
Sans Liege produces wines under two labels: Groundwork and Sans Liege. Each label has its own characteristics and each label is a work of art. Some of that art is inspired by Dante’s Inferno, and I thought learning about that now was incredible timing because Dan Brown’s newest book Inferno was just released.
Here’s what Sans Liege’s website says about the art: “Additional artwork is inspired by Dante’s Inferno, and is collaged utilizing panels from Gustav Dore’s intricate illustrations thereof. Just like Sans Liege itself, each mash-up is something entirely new, replete with nuance, referential to the classics, but beholden to nothing.”
The wines come from California’s Central Coast and feature Rhone varieties. But Schalchlin is likely to combine grapes in ways never imagined by Rhone traditionalists. I have yet to taste one of his wines that I didn’t like, and the full-house crowd at Kitchen 1454 raved about the wines all night long.
We started with the Groundwork Grenache Rose, a beautiful Rose that matched surprisingly well with Crispy Prosciutto Ribbons. The salty bacon-like Prosciutto brought out the fresh fruit in the wine. The wine has a fresh fruit aroma followed by delightful tastes of raspberry with a slight mineral hint. This is a wine best served chilled.
The second course was zucchini noodles with butter sauce and English pea pesto served with Groundwork Grenache Blanc. As much as we liked the wine and food in the first course, we decided this was even better. It was to be a recurring theme throughout the night.
Each wine and each course was better than the previous one. This is not easy to pull off, but Chef Edward Mendoza, Schalchlin and the folks at The White Horse were masterful in the pairings and the progression.
The zucchini was in little curls that appeared to have been lightly blanched along with a little ribbon of smoked salmon. It made for a beautiful plate, and the sauce pulled everything together.
The Grenache Blanc was smooth with a warm mouthfeel. There was no alcohol burn in the taste, which featured notes of lemon and spice leading to a long, smooth finish. The grapes were fermented in stainless steel, giving the wine a bright, crisp feel perfect for refreshing your palate on a hot summer day.
Schalchlin said the Grenache Blanc also would pair well with sashimi.
The third course featured eastern spotted skate win with risotto and lemon beurre blanc paired with Sans Liege Cotes du Coast, a beautiful wine I have had many times. Skate is something you don’t see much in Augusta restaurants, but it had a wonderful taste and texture.
In the ocean it looks like a small stingray. The meat comes from the “wings” out to the side of the body. The fish moves by flapping its wings.
My wife Teri thought the texture was similar to lobster tail, and we noted that it would be easy to overcook the meat and make it tough. This skate was perfection, lightly breaded and tender. It looked like it might have been dragged through a frying pan for only a few seconds and topped with capers. The capers added the perfect touch of saltiness and the sauce with the risotto was just right.
The wine was fermented in oak barrels with 40% undergoing malolactic fermentation. It then spent 18 months sur lie in French barriques. The blend is classic Rhone: 54% Viognier, 19% Roussanne, 15% Grenache Blanc, 12% Marsanne.
The taste is superb, rich and creamy, full of citrus and spice. Schalchlin said the oak aging really brings depth to the wine that otherwise wouldn’t be there.
The next course was quail with fire-roasted corn paired with Groundwork Grenache. Lip-smacking good. The meat practically fell off the bone and had a sweet taste. The corn and onion had a sour taste which we later learned was from rice wine vinegar. The mix of tastes was wonderful, and was matched by the complexity of the Grenache.
The wine is dark and focused, with scents of strawberry, cherry and ginger. The rich, full, fruity taste is full of blackberry, herbs and minerals. It is a luscious, fruity wine without being jammy. The wine spent 17 months in French oak.
The final course was an incredible coffee-rubbed beef tenderloin, sweet potato puree and broccoli served with two powerful wines: The Offering and The Prophetess. I have had The Offering before and love it. I would have been happy to end the meal with it.
But once we tried The Prophetess, it was lights out. It is a wine you could build a meal around.
The Offering is a rich, dense, seductive wine that is aged 22 months in French oak. Fresh fruit aromas lead to tastes of berry cobbler, cocoa and pepper. It is a blend of 48% Grenache, 29% Syrah, 21% Mourvedre and a splash of Viognier.
The Prophetess is even denser and darker, featuring 70% Syrah and 30% Mourvedre. Aromas of blackberries and flowers give way to wonderfully complex tastes of cherry, herbs and a hint of cinnamon. The wine is aged 16-28 months in 75% neutral French barriques and 25% new French barriques.
Both wines were excellent with the beef and vegetables, adding to the complexity of tastes. We finished with a morsel of chocolate that also went well with the final two wines.
It was an incredible evening, pairing some of the best food in Augusta with some of the best wines in the world. It was fun being around two artists like Schalchlin and Chef Mendoza.
I asked Schalchlin what made his wines so special, and he pointed to his growers. He has contracts with 19 different vineyards, and he gets to select the best grapes for each of his wines.
“The growers are pioneers,” he said. “Many are first-generation growers, and they are doing incredible things. I work with six different vineyard managers and they’re all quality farmers.”
The first thing you notice about Schalchlin’s wines are the labels on the bottles. I’m sure that draws many people in to try his wines, and then when they taste what’s inside they keep coming back.
It’s worth a visit to the Sans Liege website to see some of the beautiful artwork and read about the wines. The website is at www.sansliege.com.
In addition to the Dore-inspired work, Schalchlin also uses a New York artist Gene Ploss to create works inspired by the German Impressionist movement. “There is an honest darkness, a raw, visceral uncertainty, that resonates with my story and the story of my wines,” says Schalchlin.
But there is no uncertainty about the wines. They are deep, complex and thoroughly enjoyable.