Tortoise Creek Wine Dinner at bar Vino
272 Main Street North Creek, NY 12853
518 251 0199
North Country restaurants often need to think of creative ways to put patrons in the dining room at this time of year. Summer tourists and weekend homeowners disappear soon after Labor Day, and the ski season doesn’t start in earnest for another month. Many area restaurants just close the doors for a few months. This shoulder season often brings discounts and incentives from area businesses that do stay open, and if you pay attention, some extraordinary opportunities at the local restaurants. One of those occasions was a “wine dinner” last night at North Creek’s barVino Restaurant and Wine Bar, which focused on the wines of Tortoise Creek, and showcased the talents of the restaurant’s sous chef, Kevin Gardner. Anna Bowers, the restaurant’s co-owner and contributor to the Albany Times Union’s Vinoteca wine blog, supervised the table service.
Mel and Janie Masters, the owners of Tortoise Creek Wines were in attendance, and provided the color commentary for the evening’s festivities. They produce wines in both France and California. They act principally as negociants, purchasing and blending grapes from small local growers. Their French wines are from the Languedoc region, which stretches from the Spanish border in southeastern France to Provence. This wine region offers some great offerings of what I call “bistro” wines, value priced but well made wines blended from less well known grape varietals. Local grapes include Viognier, a wonderful example of which was included in last night’s dinner. Another offering was made from Carignon, typically used in the Languedoc as one of many component grapes in blended wines, but offered last night as a stand alone bottling, which I had never tasted before. Wonderful stuff it was.
Chef Gardner produced a fabulous slate of offerings to complement each of the five wines that the Masters had brought along for the event. The Viognier paired perfectly with a spinach and roasted beet salad, tossed with toasted pumpkin seeds, and a Gorgonzola vinaigrette dressing. The next course was even better.
In addition to Tortoise Creek’s European operations, they also blend wines in the Lodi region of California. To taste with a crab cake appetizer, a glass of their 2010 “Jam’s Blend” chardonnay was served. The panko crusted crab cake was topped with delicate pungent slices of preserved black trumpet mushrooms that the chef had harvested in August. For me it was the highlight of the dinner, and was matched perfectly by the crisp clean – almost “french style” – chard.
For the main course we were presented with a platter of sliced prime rib topped with horseradish cream, served with whipped Adirondack red potatoes, and a chiffonade of butter poached brussel sprouts. A glass of 2009 “Cherokee Lane” Cabernet Sauvignon, from Lodi was presented with it. Chef Gardner had to explain the prime rib preparation before I understood how it came to be so incredibly tender. Typically a rib roast spends a few hours in the oven at 325F. This beef had spent the better part of the day slow roasting at 200F, which is basically a traditional “low & slow BBQ” methodology. It worked, and I will definitely try it at home soon. It also worked well with the Cabernet, especially when I saw that it was a $13 bottle of wine. What a deal, and what a meal.
We were all very happy to hear that this first “wine dinner” will not be barVino’s last. I will be sure to post any planned future dinners on the Rambler calendar. The Bowers family’s restaurant has quickly garnered a well earned, region-wide reputation for great food and wine at very reasonable prices in a casual – and most enjoyable – setting. They told me last night that they always like to have at least one family member present to try and assure that every guest is made to “feel at home”. Mike Bowers says he and his family feel like they are just throwing a big dinner party every night. We feel the same way, and boy do they know how to throw a party.
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