Evolution Wine and Spirits Winemaker Dinner - Featuring the Fine Wines of Yalumba and the Prairie Grass Cafe

Some time ago a friend of mine bragged to me about a dinner party he had attended.  My friend talked at length about the food, the hosts many trips to the wine cellar, and the interesting conversation.  I jealously listened and thought, “if only I had such a friend.”  On March 8, 2012 my wife and I were lucky enough to be invited by Evolution Wine and Spirits to a similar dinner party at the Prairie Grass Café in Northbrook.  Cozy, friendly, and not at all pretentious, the Prairie Grass Café is a perfect spot for any dinner party and is known for their unique spin on classic American dishes as well as their efforts to locally source food as much as possible.  A local magazine also recently voted them as having the best burger and pie in the Chicagoland area.  Paired with their thoughtfully prepared dishes were exquisitely crafted wines from the Yalumba winery.  Located in the Barossa Valley, the Yalumba winery has been crafting wine since 1849, and is Australia’s oldest family owned winery.  Hosting the event was Jane Ferrari (a self described Yalumba “crusader” and "wine ambassador") who provided insight into the presented wines.  She also entertained the crowd with stories concerning her frequent wandering through North America as well as tales from the Land Down Under.

Jane Ferrari "Ambasador of Wine"

The evening began with a reception that offered bacon tempura and a mini crab cake on a spoon with basil remoulade.  NV Jansz Sparkling Rose accompanied the dish.

Mini crab cake on a spoon paired with a NV Jansz Sparkling Rose

Although the bacon tempura was a bit greasy for my taste, other guests enjoyed the sheer decadence of the treat.  The mini crab cake was delicious and left me wanting more.  I also truly enjoyed the Jansz Sparkling Rose.  It was tart, crisp, and the perfect drink to whet ones appetite before dinner.

Next course offered was a  Mushroom Soup with a petite Capriole Farm Goat Cheese “cake” served with a 2010 Yalumba Barossa Eden

Mushroom Soup with a petite Capriole Farm Goat Cheese “cake” served with a 2010 Yalumba Barossa Eden

This pairing was divine.  There was nothing subtle about the strong, but not overbearing mushroom flavors.  The goat cheese cake centered in the soup bowl was also bold and provided a delicious contrast to the soup.  The wine tied everything together with its fruit forward tendencies.  Tasting notes provided by Jane Ferrari indicated that the Barossa Eden (which is 100% Grenache) offer cherry and plum notes.  I tasted more raspberry.  Regardless, in a night that really had no culinary letdowns, this was my favorite pairing.

After the soup, dinner proceeded with white fish accompanied with avocado, grapefruit and cucumber salad (Sauteed Loup De Mar).  Paired with the fish was a 2010 Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier.

The Sauteed Loup De Mar paired with a 2010 Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier

The star of this pairing was the Viognier which deftly complemented the fish.  The Viognier is not an easily pleased grape (Jane Ferrari referred to it as the “diva of the grape wine.”)  With that said, it would be hard for me to imagine any other Viognier highlighting the subtle white fish flavors as well.  Too light, and the fish would have overtaken the wine.  A heavier wine, however, would have undoubtedly drowned the fish.  The 2010 Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier took a capable dish and made it much better.

Following the fish were the delectable slow braised short ribs over potato puree and root vegetables.  Offered with this entre was the 2006 Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Shiraz and the 2009 Yalumba The Cigar Cabernet.  

Slow braised short ribs over potato puree and root vegetables, the 2006 Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Shiraz, and the 2009 Yalumba The Cigar Cabernet

Again, the wines paired wonderfully with the entre.  This meat and potato entre called for a heavy wine and both the Cigar and Signature delivered.  The signature was described in the tasting notes as being “broad shoulder, intense and concentrated with lingering red and black currant notes.”  I would say that description fit both wines.  There also were lingering hints of chocolate and spices.  The food was equally robust and was a good end point to the dinner. 

Completing the meal was an Artisanal Cheese Course paired with a library bottling of Yalumba Octavius Shiraz. 

The Artisanal Cheese Course paired with a library bottling of Yalumba Octavius Shiraz

I love cheeses and found the blue cheese memorable.  My wife does not like strong smelling cheeses and would not recommend the same cheese (she was also upset with me when I insisted she try it).  There was no disagreement however with the Octavius Shiraz.  Again, I refer to the tasting notes which describe the Shiraz as having a “fine nose of plums, prunes, dark fruits and spices [that] combine with coffee and mocha chocolate.”  It was also wonderfully balanced and very enjoyable.  In my opinion a diner seated nearby described it best when he called the wine “yummy.”

Brian Rose (far right), founder of Evolution Wine and Spirits, with friend

Bottom line:  I found the evening to be enjoyable and an excellent opportunity to sample wines and food that I might not otherwise be able to do.  The price of the evening was $92 a person and included all food, wine, taxes, and gratuities.  The retail values of the wines sampled varied greatly.  For the night of this review, the 2003 Octavius Shiraz was priced at $90.  Both the 2010 Eden Valley Viognier and the 2010 Yalumba Barossa Eden were a more modest $17.  All other wines were in between those price points and retail for more that was offered on the night of the dinner.

For more information regarding Evolution Wine and Spirits, the Prairie Grass Café, and the Yalumba Winery click on the following links:




Photos by:  Noel Schecter


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