But for men like John Ekezian, beverage manager at John Ascuaga’s Nugget, and Dave Brody, the hotel’s vice president of food and beverage, the process is much more discriminating.
“Wine is as vital a component of the meal as the ingredients that go in what you’re serving,” Ekezian said.
In that spirit, the Nugget on Monday is kicking off its Wine Maker Dinner Series. Now in its fifth year, the series will consist of six monthly dinners showcasing the wines of different vineyards and specially made dinners to complement the vintages. The Nugget’s new head chef, Mike Norton, will lead a team of culinary wizards in creating dishes that strive to form a perfect marriage between taste and the wines.
“We really think this is our showcase,” Brody said. “We let the chefs go pretty wild.”
For the first installment of this year’s series, the chefs have already gone wild by creating a dinner to go with the wines of California-based Paul Hobbs winery. Before the menu for any of the dinners is set, it goes through extensive taste testing on several knoledgable palettes. The food being served Monday was made, tasted, re-made and re-tasted and even shuffled to make sure each course was served with the appropriate wine.
Monday’s premiere dinner will consist of three courses, an entree and dessert. The first course, a seafood ravioli served with a 2006 Russian River Valley chardonnay, was reduced to a smaller portion during testing since it is, after all, just the beginning. There needs to be room for the second course: smoked duck served with a 2006 Russian River pinot noir.
The third course and the entree, both described by Norton as “rich,” were swapped during the testing phase because of the powerful flavors of the wine being served. The third course was changed to a black pepper, sesame-crusted Wagyu beef served with a 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. After a grapefruit tarragon sorbet to clean the palette, an entree of Osso Bucco lamb and blueberry venison sausage will be served with a 2006 vintage from an Argentinian vineyard that is part of the Hobbs operation.
“We knew we wanted to end the program (with the Argentinian wine) because of the flavor,” Brody said. “It’s just such a mouthful of fruit.”
But the meal actually doesn’t quite end there. Dessert will be a toasted almond bavarian pear encapsulated in pulled sugar. Brody, Ekezian and Norton wouldn’t elaborate on their description except to say that there is a secret to eating it because it’s like a “little Christmas package.” The surprise will be accompanied by a 2000 Aszu wine from the Tokaji area of Hungary.
“It’s the perfect finish to a great evening,” Norton said.
Norton said these events represent the Nugget staff’s best efforts.
“We think of this as the cream of the crop for us,” he said.
Because of the intricacy of the dishes and the intimacy of the event, ticket sales will be limited to about 60 attendees. Monday’s dinner will be hosted by Paul Hobbs Winery national sales director Bill Wiebalk, who will talk about each wine being served. Subsequent dinners will be hosted by wine makers themselves; Hobbs will be unable to attend Monday’s dinner because he will be in Argentina tending to his product.
What a tough job.
Tickets for Monday’s dinner are $95 plus tax and can be purchased online at www.janugget.com or by calling 356-3300. Information on all the Wine Maker Dinner Series events can also be found online. Prices for the other five dinners are yet to be announced.