Sarasota is fortunate to be home to so many amazing chefs who, night after night, created sumptuous dishes for all of us to enjoy.
But it’s when a chef is given the reins to create a wine pairing dinner where guests see that creativity go through the roof. So when we were privileged to be invited to Element’s monthly wine dinner featuring one of SarasotaFoodies favorite local chefs, Nils Tarantik, and sample wines of the Pacific Northwest, provided by the renowned vineyards, Ste. Michelle, naturally we jumped at the chance.
Held in Element’s elegant private dining room, a sold out dinner for 24 people and a memorable evening was in store. Is it just me, or when events such as these take place, that the diners are positively buzzing, even giddy? Yes and yes, and for good reason.
To wit – all were greeted with a glass of Ste. Michelle Brut from the Columbia Valley in Washington. Described as “fresh and vibrant, with pretty pear and spice flavors,” this is a glass of bubbly that I would definitely seek out in future.
With that sparkling wine, we enjoyed the crunchy and earthy flavors of two olive tapenade preparations, one with black olives, and the other composed of green olives. Here’s a fun trivia party fact: there are no green olive trees! The color of an olive is an indication of its ripeness. Green olives ripen and become either black light brown, vibrant red or purple, all the way down the color spectrum to the deepest, darkest black. Darker olives are those that were riper when they were picked! So, knowing this, it was a pleasure to try the two different olives tapenades pared with the St Michelle Brut!
When we were seated for the evening, we were introduced to our wine guide of the evening, Kimberly Edmiston of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Kimberly was a true wealth of information, sharing that knowledge on each wine presented that evening, with stories of the grapes themselves, and the wine makers who brought each bottle to life.
Our first course consisted of a lovely Watercress Salad, with Spiced Almonds, Micro-Celery, some peppery Wasabi Greens, dressed minimally (read: perfectly,) with a White Balsamic Reduction. This was paired with a 2016 Eroica Riesling, also hailing from the Columbia Valley. The Eroica is often described as a “luxury riesling”, and is the most highly rated Riesling produced in the U.S., with sweet lime and mandarin orange aromas with a hint of mineral notes. That appears to be a good description of this crisp white wine, which has been a Wine Spectator 90+ point wine for 5 straight years. The pairing was indeed harmonious. (But of course!)
The second course presented was a charming Peppercorn-Encrusted Goat Cheese wrapped in Prosciutto with grilled asparagus, and maple butter. The cheese was served slightly chilled, and the overall dish was a satisfyingly savory combination, and appropriately sized for the occasion. That maple butter was just spectacular with every bite, be it the asparagus, goat cheese or Prosciutto. This course was paired with our first red wine of the evening, a 2015 Erath Pinot Noir from the Estate Selection in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Now, I’m an unabashed fan of this most fickle grape, and while I could try to sound like a serious wine enthusiast, I’ll stick with the graceful description of this wine, as provided by the menu notes. The Erath Pinot Noir is described as ” having Nostalgia-inducing aromas of Marionberry pie, root beer, vanilla, and lavender to soothe the senses, while mixed berries, red plum, mission fig with a hint of pomegranate are subtly layered on the palate.” (Marion Barry? Wasn’t he once the Mayor of Washington D.C.?) Another triumphant pairing!
As with a truly fine dining experience, we paused briefly to savor the Intermezzo of a smoky honeydew melon chilled soup. Ahhhh… Who knew that honeydew would be so delightful with a hint of smokiness? You do now!
The lively chatter and camaraderie among the guests were in full swing by this time, (fantastic food and great wine have that effect on people,) as we awaited our main course.
Beef Braciole, Parmesan Cheese, Herbs, Garlic, and Bresaola was served over a Smoked Tomato Ragu, which was every bit as flavorful, and then some, as the ingredients would lend you to believe. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes ask myself, “Could I make this at home?” The answer is always the same . . . “I’d rather leave this to experts, thanks. I can cook, but why compare myself to a talent like Chef Nils?”
The Beef Braciole was perfectly complemented with an earthy, dusty Bordeaux in a 2014 “Uriah” Red Blend from the Walla Walla Valley in Washington. Again from the “Cliff’s Notes” (a.k.a. the wine tasting menu), the Uriah has an herbal nose with hints of cassis (black currents) and cherries. Lightly spiced, the texture is rich with velvety tannin and an ultra-long finish. Kimberly explained to us that only six states in the entire country carry this wine, and it has a serious cult following. After tasting it, I certainly understand the devotion! Many of us thought this was the wine of the night!
To finish the evening, everyone was awed with Chef Nil’s Baked Gorgonzola in a Puff Pastry, and Wicked Cherries Col Solare. This was the ideal desert for a wine dinner. More savory than sweet, the puff pastry and Gorgonzola melted in your mouth, while the tart cherries were the perfect foil for the savory cheese. offering a wicked tartness. One bite and I decides this was, for me, hands down the best course of the night. That’s saying something considering the food Nirvana we had just experienced! Paired with 2014 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from the Columbia Valley, the black cherry, berry and dark chocolate notes from the Cabernet were fused with smooth vanilla and spice, making for the perfect wine to end a flawless evening.
As mentioned at the outset, Element Modern Mediterranean Grill holds wine dinners monthly. However . . . when the team at Element asked how many of the guests at last night’s wine tasting had attended the month before, almost half of the guests raised their hand. So, it would obviously be prudent to book a.s.a.p. if you’d like to attend any of the forthcoming tastings.
So go ahead, you deserve to spoil yourself. Go to Element’s website and book your seat(s) for a wine dinner you’ll remember. You’ll thank me, and I’ll say “You’re welcome!”