When fellow beer lover, and good friend of mine, Leah, announced that she was partnering with The Tasting Room to do a Grapes Vs. Grains (wine vs. beer) dinner, I was excited to see what they would come up with. As the Houston Ladies of Craft Beer organizer, Leah hosts monthly happy hours to encourage ladies to come out to local craft beer-centric bars and restaurants and join our craft beer community, and I know how excited she is to help host this dinner battle between beer and wine.
The big showdown will be on Monday, November 7, and is limited to 40 people. There are 5 courses, 5 beer pairings and 5 wine pairings, for $65. If you attend, besides the great food, beer and wine, you will have the opportunity to purchase some of the wines at a special discount. *Tickets can be purchased here or at the Uptown location (skip those fees!).
Leah asked me to attend a preview of the dinner, along with Ronnie Crocker of the Beer,TX blog at the Chronicle and Alvin Schultz, a local chef and Master Chef contestant. I was excited to be in such great company and to see what everyone had put together. Learning their thought processes on the choices and being able to discuss our thoughts in such an intimate setting was definitely a treat. The group sat around a table in fancy leather chairs in the Tasting Room’s Uptown location wine cellar while Chef Steve Marques explained that he chose the courses without knowing the pairings, he wanted to make it difficult for both parties to really see what they could do. It was quite obvious he was both a beer and wine connoisseur and definitely gave them level playing fields. Neither Gary Lapuyade, The Tasting Room’s Sommelier and wine sales manager, nor Will Sandifer, Manager at the Houston and Sugar Land Flying Saucers and a Certified Cicerone®, have tried the dishes, they aren’t on the regular menu. Unfortunately Will couldn’t join us at the preview, but Leah gave notes on the beers for those who were unfamiliar with the selections.
I won’t say what the preview group picked as the winner, but I will say it was a tough choice and several dishes could have gone either way. The most interesting part was to see how each person chose the winner for each course. When we tried the beer and wine before the food course, everyone had a favorite, but when we tried each with the food, it was a different story. It was great for me, a beer lover, to experience different wines with food, something I don’t normally do. I have a narrow range of wines that I gravitate toward, mostly because I haven’t tried great wines of other varietals. This dinner will be a great experience for anyone wanting to explore beer or wine and the range of flavors and pairing abilities they each have. I definitely learned a lot about wine at the preview, Gary made understanding the wine and his pairing choices much more accessible to a beginner and a beer lover like myself.
Since I can’t help myself, I want to share one course from the dinner. The first course, which made me extremely happy, was gulf oysters (pre-red tide, at the actual dinner they will have to be a variety from the Northeast most likely) laid on a fennel slaw with a fennel vinaigrette, topped with crème fraîche and horseradish. The oysters were paired with Liefmans Goudenband and the wine (champagne) was Krug Grande Cuvee Brut.
I’ve always been a bit reserved about fennel, since most people’s descriptions include licorice, which I cannot stand, however I didn’t get that at all. There was a slight spice from the horseradish, a subtle hint of sweet from the fennel, and the vinaigrette gave the dish such a fresh and bright touch. The crunch of the fennel provided a great contrast to the oyster’s texture, and the brininess from the oyster was great against the acidity of both the beer and champagne. I’ve had the Goudenband before and absolutely adore it; the dry acidity, fruit, caramel and slight sour cherry notes complemented the vinaigrette so well. The sweetness of the beer helped to cut through the vinegar while the champagne seemed to enhance the vinegar. I am not a champagne drinker, mostly because I’ve only had crappy champagne, but this was just exquisite. The bubbles were very fine and dense and it was not sweet like I expect from bubbles. Two completely different outcomes from trying one oyster with the beer and one oyster with the champagne.
I wish I could give you all the details, but what would be the fun in that? You’ll have to attend the Grapes vs. Grains showdown to hear the winner from our group and decide for yourself!