Recently we were lucky enough to be invited to attend a collaborative wine pairing event hosted by Fleming's and Connoisseur Wines, featuring wines from Qupe, a winery in California's Central Coast that specializes in the French Rhone style. The Rhone region is known for Syrah, Grenache, and Mouvedre grapes, and it is these grapes which Qupe sources from a variety of Central Coast vineyards. They also have an emphasis on organic and biodynamic cultivation, a labor-intensive process that reflects the care this boutique winery takes in all facets of its operation.
In the right hands, Rhone wines produce great balance and subtlety, and when paired with skill, as they were for this event, they can provide a lot of bang for the buck. The suggested retail on Qupe wines placed them clearly in the 'value' tier, and we ended up ordering a couple bottles of one of the wines we were served from a local liquor store.
Qupe focuses on vineyards in higher elevations, with a wide temperature range, contrasting their wines with many California wines, which can have a cloying fruitiness and boldness that overpower the food. In true French tradition, these wines are designed to complement a meal rather than overwhelm it. Fleming's management will be carrying Qupe wines in their well-regarded cellars. Since we had previously noted Fleming's wine acumen in a prior review, the fact that they were the host for this event carried some weight with us.
Five courses were served: appetizer, salad, fish, meat, and dessert, and each course was expertly paired to the featured Qupe product, enhancing our enjoyment of the wines' subtleties. In addition, each course was introduced by Connoisseur's capo, Ron Balter, who provided background on the sourcing and some backstory on the partner vineyards for each wine.
- Appetizer: Sweet Chile shrimp on lotus root-Crab salad nested in endive
- Wine: Viognier/Chardonnay Bien Nacido Cuvee 2010
We arrived just as the appetizer--a sweet shrimp puff--was being served. The acidity of the wine balanced the shrimp puff-- Qupe's wines are subtler than most California wines, and the Chardonnay was far less cloying than is common in California wines. This subtlety is in part due to the long, cool growing season at the higher altitude vineyards which Qupe prefers. The Bien Nacido Cuvee had a gentle nose of hyacinth, and a finish with pear rather than the banana typical of most California Chardonnay, complementing the spicy-sweet shrimp instead of overwhelming it. The crab salad with endive had a similar dynamic, but bitter/savory rather than spicy-sweet, which brought out the crispness of the wine in the same way the shrimp had highlighted its acidity.
- First Course: Roasted Beet Salad-Goat Cheese and Baby Greens
- Wine: Chardonnay Bien Nacido Y Block 2009
This pairing highlighted the earthiness of the beet as well as the slight oakiness of the wine, which was balanced with a citrusy nose, which worked well with the vinaigrette, lending a sweetness to it, while the beet and goat cheese added textural complexity to the course. While I'm not typically a fan of beets this pairing worked well, and the overall effect was similar to pairing pickles and cheese with beer, presenting Chardonnay as "the people's wine", an interesting choice regardless of context.
- Second Course: Sesame Crusted Salmon over Braised Swiss Chard
- Wine: Grenache, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard 2009 (star of the show and not surprisingly, in short supply)
This course was another bittersweet pairing which included a celery in wine reduction that mirrored rhubarb, and the Grenache had bittersweet flavors of pomegranate and rhubarb, as well as notes of blackberry and currant on the finish, an outstandingly complex wine at a value price point. In discussion at our table, we noted that salmon is one of the fish that breaks the myth about "white wine with seafood",as the oils in salmon and other hearty ocean fish work well with acidity, especially with a well-balanced wine like this Grenache, which has curtailed tannins, spicy on the nose but with a subdued currant-flavored finish.
- Third Course: Filet Mignon, celery root puree and Syrah reduction
- Wine: Los Olivos Cuvee, 2007
In a previous review we noted the exquisite handling of steak at Fleming's, so it's no surprise that this course was absolutely perfect. The Los Olivos Cuvee, an exquisite blend of Syrah, Mouvedre, and Grenache, anchored this course. This wine stunned us with its simplicity and depth, which wrapped around a tender, fatty filet, instead of trying to trump it with sharp tannins. We thought it would be great with smoked Gouda, and were happy to test that theory when we ordered two bottles at our local wine shop, and even happier when we found it value priced in the low twenty dollar level (this was actually our Valentine's Day wine). We found its delicate nose and light acidity with hints of black fruit to be a welcome respite from the typical high-tannin cabernet pairing with red meat. The celery root puree, which was amplified by whipped potatoes, was a perfect bed for a top-notch filet handled by a top-notch restaurant. After this course, we decided that when we are in the mood for steak in the future, we'll likely go to Fleming's, as we felt they do this better than many other places we've tried.
- Desert Course: Chocolate Raspberry Mousse
- Wine: Syrah, Bien Nacido Vineyard 2008
The meal's finale, a rich mousse, was served up with a Syrah whose berry palate created a soft landing spot for a velvet concoction of cacao. While we scooped in each spoonful, the Syrah cascaded over it, adding a gentle sauce rather than demanding center stage.
The Qupe wines follow French standards closely and lend themselves well to food pairings, which, during our meal, were handled expertly by Fleming's chefs. Qupe wines will be well-represented at the Lincolnshire Fleming’s location as well as others, so we'd strongly recommend that you ask for them if you're interested in wines that complement a meal without overwhelming it. We heartily recommend the Los Olivos Cuvee, which is also in general distribution at a price that's a steal for wine of this quality.
2963 Grand Ave
Los Olivos, CA 93441
960 Milwaukee Avenue
Lincolnshire, Il 60069
Other Locations: www.FlemingsSteakhouse.com
7510 N. Caldwell Ave
Niles, Il 60714