The artistry at Alinea extends to their wine pairings.
By Lou Marmon
Gazette Newspapers August 21, 2013
Inventive, exciting, imaginative, fascinating, thrilling, exceptional, delicious, amazing … the list of superlatives used to describe dinner at Alinea is nearly as long as the drive from O’Hare to the restaurant’s location in Chicago’s Lincoln Park district. At Alinea a refined, exquisitely prepared meal is transformed into performance art where the chef, staff and diner are each intimately involved in the entire experience.
It is no easy feat to match wines with ingredients as varied as rabbit, cherry blossom, wasabi and smoke. The courses dance from light and airy (green apple taffy balloon) to multifaceted and profound, each designed to require the diners to interact with the preparations. This makes the wine pairings even more difficult since there are often multiple options within each course that provide different intensities and sequences of flavors. Not surprisingly, the talented team at Alinea made outstanding wine selections that both complemented and enhanced the evening’s multiple dishes.
Alinea offers two levels of wine pairings. Considering the price of the evening and the reputation of the establishment, it was easy to opt for the less exclusive choice, confident that the wines would be both excellent and surprising. They opened with Jean Lallement et Fils “Verzanay” Brut Grand Cru Champagne. One of the smaller champagne producers, Lallement farms slightly less than 10 acres in Montagne de Reims, Champagne’s most northern region. A blend of 80 percent Pinot and 20 percent Chardonnay, it had floral, fig and citrus aromas that extended into subtle stone fruit, melon, honey and herbaceous flavors. The long finish was complemented with clove, pepper and candied fruit.
The next pairing wasn’t really a wine, but rather Sake which is produced by fermenting rice in a fashion similar to making beer. The Takasago Ginza Shizuku “Divine Droplets” Junmai Daiginjo-shu is created in igloos located in the northern Japanese province of Hokkaido when the temperature falls below 14 degrees. It was silky, very fragrant beauty that began with cedar, mint and slightly salty aromas which flowed beautifully into delicate honeydew, jasmine, and mineral notes with an almost sweet, persistent finish.
German Rieslings are underappreciated in the U.S. The Dr. Thanisch “Berncasteler Doctor” Kabinett 2010 — so named because a 13th century Archbishop was miraculously cured with a sip of wine from this vineyard — is one of the country’s finest Rieslings. Elegant, refined and enticingly complex, it had pear, peach and smoky spice fragrances that led into concentrated and ideally balanced apple, melon, and pear flavors combined with hints of petrol, honey and minerals.
It is an axiom that it is nearly impossible to pair any wine with artichokes. That is why the surprising Lopez de Heredia “Vina Gravonia” Blanco 2003 was such an inspired, ideal choice. A Rioja white created from 50 year old vines, this 100 percent Viura had almond, honey and stone fruit aromas that joined layers of oak, apple, earth, wax and pear flavors to provide a complex, medium-bodied and unique foil to the earthiness and flavors of the artichokes.
Complementing the veal cheeks and a melange of “spring bounty” was the Ar. Pe. Pe. Grumello “Rocca de Piro” Valtellina 2006, a sophisticated Nebbiolo with a nose of candied cherry, roses and raspberries expanding into notes of dark berries, earth and leather. Chosen to pair with a diverse panoply of condiments to savor with five different duck preparations was the marvelous Chateau Musar 2004 that showed spicy dark cherry, raspberry, toffee and subtle gamey favors. The best of the dessert wine offerings was the delicious caramel, honey and lemon peel flavored Disznoko 5 Puttonyos Tokaji-Aszu 2005, a nectar like delight with seamless balance and alluring sweetness.