Extremism in defense of tastiness is no vice.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rhône Wine and a Lyonnaise Message

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending L'Etoile's Rhône Wine Dinner. Like one of Mrs. Lovett's meat pies, it proved an altogether delicious experience that was punctuated by a single moment of shocking horror.
My favorite course of the evening featured a classic onion soup paired with Domaine la Soumade's 2001 "Cuvée Confiance," an outstanding Rasteau. While I'm not terribly experienced with the AOC, this one has certainly piqued my interest in the region. The head was peppery and intense, and the flavors rich and complex, with good acid, but also fruit and berries. The finish was just insane; like the Longines Symphonette or the birdhouse in my soul, it didn't rest. Retailing for just under $50, this is far from a viable everyday wine, but I would happily drink it on a special occasion in the future, especially alongside another country soup or stew.

This particular soup was gratinéed with Uplands Cheese Company's 20-month Pleasant Ridge Reserve (an interesting local favorite made in Dodgeville), and the cheese's sharp complexity played incredibly with some of the darker notes in the Rasteau. From there, the flavors transitioned smoothly into sweet onion, making for a simple and elegant finish.

In other words, the pairing totally kicked ass.

Also excellent was the course of cassoulet and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this time Domaine Marcoux's 2003. The combination is classic, but the individual components made this instance noteworthy. The wine opened with dark, jammy notes, and finished with nice fruit and pleasant mineral undertones--at $50 a bottle I may never taste this excellent Châteauneuf again, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone looking for a splurge.

Cassoulet, meanwhile, enjoys near legendary status, but I find that in practice it almost always disappoints. (Campagne, I'm looking at you.) I can say without hesitation that this was the best I've ever tasted. The house made Saucisse de Toulouse was a refined example of the traditional sausage , the Blue Valley Garden confit reaffirmed my love of duck, and the incredibly tender Grass is Greener shouder of lamb was a credit to the art of braising. Together, they made for a superlative cassoulet.

Unfortunately, there was a darker side to the meal. Upon taking my seat, I was presented not only with a glass of rosé, but also with this:

Beignet de Fromage

Warm Roth Käse Private Reserve Cheese Pâte à Choux

What could this mean? A week earlier I had posted a recipe for the very same dish, less only the 350 degree oil.

Then it dawned on me. Just the previous day, The Isthmus had linked to my hard-hitting exposé on the gross iniquities in the Wisconsin cattle markets--an exposé that also alluded to the very Rhône Wine dinner I was attending.

Innocuous coincidence, or nefarious conspiracy to maintain, through fear, their stranglehold on local ribeye futures? You be the judge, but I'm not taking any chances. For me, it wouldn't have been clearer had each beignet been a fish wrapped in newspaper.

This was an Alice Waters-inspired, locally produced, Lyonnaise Message. I won't be silenced, but I will be watching my back when I'm at the market shopping for gruyère or oranges. Thank God the cassoulet was so good.

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