I was invited to a Port and Champagne Dinner by the Center for Wine Origins at the Amaya Restaurant at the Grand Del Mar hotel not too long ago. I brought Stacey with me as my partner in crime that night and I was so glad I was able to bring someone to the dinner with me. We felt a bit out of place, sipping on champagne in the Grand Del Mar’s decadent courtyard. It was almost like stepping into the Twilight Zone, except that the Twilight Zone was really extravagant and really nice and the only weird things that were happening was the everyone was calling us ma’am and offering us more wine to drink. That’d be a really boring episode of the Twilight Zone, actually.
Rather than go through every course, I thought I’d just do the highlights and share my new found love for Port Wine and the mission of the Center for Wine Origins.
Before this dinner, I had never had Port before. I knew nothing about it. All I knew was that it was red, my previous experiences with red wines were not fun, and that it’s usually considered to be a “dessert” wine.
What I’ve learned is that Port, to be a true Port, must come from a particular region in Portugal called the Douro Valley. As with any wine, getting something from the correct and original region is important to ensure you’re drinking a quality wine that truly represents the region that it comes from.
We had a number of Ports and Champagnes, each paired delicately with every course, but these were my favorites.
[Left: Charles Heidsieck, Brut Reserve Rose Reims NV, Right: Taylor-Fladgate, Late Bottle Vintage Port 2005]
By the time we got to these two lovelies, we were on the “Meat Course”, or the 4th course of night. I don’t remember much about the champagne, but I do remember this port!
The port, upon first sip, started out a bit sweet. The flavor of it is very intense and rich, with some fruit flavors mixed in. After you’ve drank it, it gets a little dry and there was virtually no aftertaste. Just a clean end, which I really appreciated.
[Crispy Duck Breast with Dried Cherry and Red Rice Risotto and Foie Gras Sauce]
The two above were paired with this really lovely duck dish. The duck was cooked absolutely perfect. The skin retained a wonderful crispness and the meat just melted in my mouth. The cherry and red rice risotto was the perfect balance of sweetness and flavor to go along with the duck and the foie gras sauce just really brought the whole dish together. The port enhanced all of the flavors here for me, especially that cherry and red rice risotto and I think that I was in love. Both with the dish and with the Taylor Fladgate port!
I ended up loving the port so much that a few weeks late I bought my own bottle at BevMo and happily introduced the port to my dad and a few friends. Nothing like sharing a great wine with folks that you love!
[Peanut Butter Chocolate Pudding with Roasted Peanut and Graham Crust with Peanut Butter Ice Cream]
The other true highlight of that night was this dessert.
I could have married this dessert.
That orange and brown thing above? That was a disk of decorated chocolate! Oh yes it was! I was full at this point – full of great foods, buzzed from a lot of wine – but I ate every single bite. It took willpower to not lick that plate clean. The pudding was so smooth and perfectly sweet, the crust balanced it out with a hint of saltiness and the peanut butter ice cream was just to die for.
I would come back to fancy pants hotel land for this little dessert. Oh yes I would.
[Sandeman, Tawny, 40 year Port]
And paired with dessert was this delicious smelling port wine. I kept eating bites of dessert and then just sniffing this drink. It tasted good, of course, but I absolutely loved the smell of it. It was intoxicating and rich, it smells like dessert itself. It had a warm, nutty smell and really complimented the dessert so nicely. I probably could have just sat there, sniffing that wine. It was kind of crazy.
[Just a few of the “Cast of Characters”, featured champagnes and port wines]
These are just a few of the wines we had that night; we felt enriched and full and happy and Stacey and I walked the grounds of the hotel after dinner just to look at how pretty it all was.
I was left with a feeling of happiness from the food and glad to know that there were some more wines out there that I could love. I haven’t had much experience with wines, but I can safely say that this dinner opened my eyes to wines and how they can be paired to enhance and enrich a dining experience.
I also look away a new love for this Port right up above. I managed to find it at my local BevMo and I bought myself a bottle when Jake and I were Christmas shopping last month for everyone else. I figured that after all of that shopped, I needed a present for myself.
Thanks for the Center for Wine Origins to inviting me to such a spectacular meal and showing me the richness of Port and Champagne wines. For introducing me to what is now one of my favorite drinks and for educating me about the importance of where wine comes from.
You, too, can learn about different wines and where they come from by visiting the Center of Wine Origins website. Take a chance and try out a new champagne or port from your local beverage store and pair it up in different ways!