Lovers of adventurous dining gathered recently in the 150-year-old, stone-carved caves of Hermannhof Winery for a candlelit dinner by entre UNDERGROUND, an innovative dining concept helmed by chef John Perkins that brings diners to a different location each month to enjoy a unique menu created around a theme. The dinner prepared by Perkins and his team for this Missouri-wine-themed event highlighted the wine-making traditions and triumphs of our region.
Attending an entre UNDERGROUND dinner is an intimate experience; diners and chefs become acquainted on a culinary level through entre’s creative yet straightforward take on classic dishes that communicates a passion for simple, good food and the conviviality of the communal dining experience.
The evolution of the Midwest wine industry boasts internationally lauded wines in nearly every recognized wine style. The transformation resembles many New World wine regions – think West Coast in the 1970s ‒ as producers develop progressive and relevant grape-growing and wine-making practices for our climate while guiding consumers toward classic wine styles. This commitment to “sense of place” makes Missouri wines splendid matches for entre’s emphasis on “dining in the moment.”
Concepting the dinner with Perkins began by sitting at his dining table overflowing with 30 or so Missouri wines. We tasted through many great examples that demonstrated the diversity of local wine varieties and styles. Delighted by this experience, Perkins deemed “the stereotype of Missouri wine … was pleasantly turned on its head.” When it came to crafting his menu, Missouri varietals such as Traminette and Norton inspired Perkins to use, “a very simple, pared-down approach toward each dish,” emphasizing a balance of flavors within each pairing. His vision was, in his words, “Nothing overly complicated, and each plate with nothing more than three or four elements.”
Strussione Cave White Chambourcin Rosé, N.V.
Paired with: Reuben Sandwiches on Rye Gougère
This rosé’s lively acidity underscores the rich, buttery flakiness of the gougère. Perkins highlighted the wine’s juicy, strawberry-raspberry fruit profile and slight earthy notes with a creamy and tangy version of Russian dressing and hearty corned beef on bite-sized Reuben sandwiches. Cave Vineyard’s rosé is produced from the Chambourcin grape, using free-run juice (the juice from the first press with the most sugars, acids and nuanced flavors). This juice was allowed to remain in contact with its dark skins for a short time, imparting a light ruby color. Chambourcin is a red-grape hybrid from the original Montpelier hybrid program of northwestern France. The grape grows well in the Midwest as well as in the Loire Valley and Australia.
Cave Vineyard, Ste. Genevieve, Mo., cavevineyard.com
Hermannhof Chambourcin Vin Gris Rosé 2010
The bright, wet-stone minerality and acidity of this wine – made from Chambourcin grapes grown in Hermann’s clay and limestone soils – set the stage for the bison’s melt-in-your-mouth freshness, without competing with the clean aromatics of the mustard seeds. Full-bodied and quaffable, with cranberry and citrus notes, Hermannhof’s rosé is a bit off-dry, with substantial acidity, emphasizing the crisp edges and creamy texture of the egg yolk. This wine is also produced from free-run juice. The grapes were harvested during cool nights; gently pressed to reduce harsh phenolic compounds; and cold fermented in stainless steel from yeast used for Grenache, a French grape from the Rhone Valley that, not so coincidentally, is the predominant grape in the great rosés of Tavel.
Hermannhof Vineyards, Hermann, Mo., hermannhof.com
Chaumette Vineyards & Winery Traminette 2011
Paired with: Beet Soup with Spätzle and Crème Fraîche
This dish, the wine – the pairing itself – are truly an ode to Germany, as this bottling steered Perkins’ creative palate toward the Old World. The earthy, creamy richness of the soup seems further seasoned by the Traminette’s restrained lemon peel, orange blossom and allspice profile. The wine's abundant acidity and underlying chalky minerality guide the soup to envelop the uncomplicated crunch of spätzle. Perkins felt this pairing was an example of “balanced accentuation and contrast,” illustrated by how the elegant tang of crème fraîche complements the off-dry style of the wine, and the simplicity of this dish prevents it from overpowering the wine’s nuanced complexity. Traminette is a hybrid grape that has retained the heady profile of its parent grape Gewürztraminer. Chaumette tames these bold tendencies by de-stemming, whole-berry pressing and cold fermenting the grapes.
Chaumette Vineyards & Winery, Ste. Genevieve, Mo., chaumette.com
EdgeWild Vignoles 2010
The trout’s perfectly crisp skin and nutty brown-butter flavor are lifted by Vignoles’ excellent acidity. The wine’s round, full-bodied mouth feel and light sweetness provide a nice contrast to the natural bitterness of the endive. Refreshment seems to be an ingredient here. Perkins created this restrained dish of four ingredients to underscore the wine’s passion fruit, mango and papaya characteristics, particularly from the juicy tartness that the blood orange lends to the dish. Vignoles grapes are challenging to grow because of their proneness to disease, but it is an absolutely enchanting wine to produce, with its stunning aromatics, ample acid and sugar levels, and stylistic diversity.
EdgeWild Restaurant and Winery, Chesterfield, Mo., edgewildwinery.com
Augusta Winery Norton 2009
Perkins designed this dish around Norton’s full-bodied nature, relatively high acidity and compatibility with wild game and red meat. He chose duck as a delightful alternative to the more obvious beef or barbecue. This dish and wine are meant for one another; the heartiness and finesse of each are mutually flattering. Simply cooked in its rendered fat, the duck is seared and roasted, and its richness and nuanced gamey flavors are tamed by this mouth-watering wine full of tobacco, chocolate and ripe cherry flavors, with subtle hints of bacon. The creamy grits and tart, smoky compote marry the pairing’s flavors further. Perkins notes that “the compote was the key element, bringing out the rich, dark, fruity aspects of the wine. The smoke hints at barbecue while not fully giving in to the expected.” Augusta Winery’s Norton is produced from 100 percent estate-grown grapes and aged in Missouri oak barrels that are sought after by top wine producers from such regions as Napa Valley, Spain and Italy.
Augusta Winery, Augusta, Mo., augustawinery.com
Noboleis Vineyards Semisweet Vignoles
Breakfast for dessert is a great idea, particularly with Noboleis’ semisweet Vignoles. The wine’s tangerine, gooseberry and pineapple notes enliven this dish marked by the flavor of black walnuts and drizzled with just enough syrup to whet the palate. Perkins was careful to restrain the dessert’s sweetness so it would not overpower the semisweet wine. The small dollops of unsweetened crème fraîche and the fluffiness of the pancakes soften the wine’s healthy acidity. This wine demonstrates the magic of beautifully ripened Vignoles grapes at harvest. One of Noboleis’ strategies for producing a great Vignoles is to begin tasting grapes daily two weeks before harvest, cross-checking ripeness on the palate with traditional harvest measurements based on the grapes’ chemistry.
Noboleis Vineyards, Augusta, Mo., noboleisvineyards.com