Recently, Claude Koeberle, who (along wtih friend and partner Don Plumley) owns Soliste, located in the western part of Sonoma, presided over a wine dinner at Restaurant Eve in Old Town Alexandria. It was a combination of one of the east coast's best chefs with one of the west coast's best small wineries--a recipe for a great evening.
As it has on previous occasions, Claude's outgoing personality lit up the evening. Don Plumley has called him "a force of nature"--and that's accurate. But he's not just full of entertaining stories--thought there are plenty of those--he's also warm and engaging. It's common to see people who've attended previous dinners with Claude return for a second and third time.
The evening began with apertifs--Soliste's Soleil Rouge rosé of pinot noir. I've had it before and enjoyed it--but on this occasion, I particularly liked it. Very good depth. And I wasn't the only one who felt that way. A number of us at the table made a note to order some.
Then Chef Armstrong's sauteed softshell crab paired with the 2011 Saint-Andelain Sauvignon Blanc--a particular favorite of mine. Last year, I described it as the most interesting new wine of the year...and my opinion hasn't changed. Excellent complexity--like cool jazz. I ordered more.
That was followed by the 2011 L'Age D'Or Chardonnay paired with arctic char and butternut squash ravioli. Truth be told, it's not my favorite dish...but the chardonnay combined the restrained elegance of good white Burgundy with the ripe sunshine of California's Russian River Valley. For me, the wine made it work. Fish lovers might have thought it was the other way around. In either case, it worked.
The 2009 Sonatera Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was paired with pan-fried veal sweetbreads, wild cepes and truffles. An elegant dish--and a complex wine. It had good fruit...but also good spiciness and hints of forest floor. This wine was not a lumberjack at a picnic table--but neither was it a dandy in black tie at a lace covered dinner table. It was somewhere in between...comfortable in its own skin. Happy to complement the food...but willing to take the lead if anyone wanted.
The beef course was braised short rib--a dish I really like. And this might have been the best I've ever had. Tender...great texture and rich flavor. Did that influence my opinion of the wine? Hard to know for sure. It was the 2009 Out of the Shadows Syrah from the Bennett Valley (in Sonoma County). I've had it once before. I liked it, then. I didn't just like it this time. I loved it! Rich flavor with the beef's rich flavor. But this was no big blowsy milkshake. It had great definition and minerality. Again...I ordered some.
What a nice night. A wine dinner at Restaurant Eve doesn't come cheap. But all at my table agreed that this one was worth it. Excellent food, beautifully served, with outstanding wine presented by a personable and engaging owner. That's the way it should be.....