When Eatum Diem Meets Carpe Vinum at Isa’s

Guest post by: Sam Ritter and Rebecca Snider

On Thursday evening, January 15th, Chef Duane Fernandes and Steve Pignatiello teamed up to put on a fantastic wine dinner at Isa’s Bistro. Executive Chef and General Manager Duane Fernandes brought his seasoned culinary finesse to the table preparing cuisine that is innovative, seasonally inspired and new American. Chef Fernandes leads the culinary team at Isa’s Bistro after taking leave from the four-star Horizons restaurant at the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa. Fernandes also previously acted as the Executive Chef of Gabrielle’s at the Richmond Hill Inn. Educated at Johnson & Wales University and then the Culinary Institute of Charleston, Fernandes spent much of his early career polishing his abilities in the celebrated kitchens of Charleston’s four-diamond Peninsula Grill and the five-diamond Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, VA. His blossoming career then led him to the kitchen of Thomas Keller’s iconic Michelin 3-star Per Se in New York.

Steve Pignatiello, “The Burgundy Man”, is a Certified Sommelier and a Knight of The Confrerie des Chevaliers de Tastevin, one of the very few Americans to be so honored. He first lived in France in 1979 and has done so for the past 30+ years on and off, where he has become close personal friends with some of the most celebrated winemakers in Burgundy. Steve is the exclusive importer of many of the finest limited-production Premier and Grand Crus from this region. The best wines from Burgundy are made by small, single-family winemakers, who Steve has developed close personal relationships with. These are NOT the highly-marketed, widely-available Burgundies, but rather the high-quality wines that the winemaker families reserve for themselves. Since Steve personally knows many of these families, some of them for generations, he has exclusive access to their delicious, highly sought-after wines. He imports into the southeastern United States the private and exclusive wines of about 15 of these storied families.

Chef Duane created a wonderful menu to complement Steve’s fantastic wines. Steve paired 5 wines with the incredible edible cuisine. Two of the five wines are among the most prestigious single-vineyard offerings from Burgundy. One is a wine from Chablis of which they only make 100 cases per year and the other is from the famous town of Gevrey-Chambertin in The Cote de Nuits in Northern Burgundy making only 150 cases.

THE DINNER

Meet and Greet
Alain Patriarche 2011 Bourgogne Aligote

The key word for Alain is PASSION. Alain says that the quality of a great wine owes nothing to chance. The soil in his well-situated vineyards must be environmentally maintained. The vines must be worked and harvested by hand only. Only the highest quality fruit is chosen for the wines. Then, the winemaking process is watched every step of the way with complete respect for the traditions. His family has been making wine since 1830. The entire estate is only Alain, his wife (Christiane), his two daughters, and one son in law – a true family affair. Alain’s granddaughter, Clotilde, is being groomed as the 7th generation winemaker in this talented family. Without hesitation, Alain states that his wines are food wines. That is, they are made to go with a meal. Burgundy has one of the greatest food reputations in the world and Alain makes his wines to complement each course of a dinner. He says that when you share time with friends, you should punctuate that time with great food and great wines.

Aligote is the second most-produced white wine in Burgundy behind Chardonnay. It is mainly from the Bouzeron area of the Cote Chalonnaise, a subregion of Burgundy. It was made wildly popular when the then-mayor of Dijon, Felix Kir, mixed Aligote, (now any white wine, even sparkling white) with creme de cassis, a blackcurrant liqueur, to “invent” a drink subsequently named in his honor, the Kir Royale!! But….I digress!! Bring on the food!!

FIRST COURSE
Hendersonville Apple and Pear Salad with watercress, Snow Camp Goat Cheese, pomegranates, and walnut vinaigrette. An unbelievably light and balanced palate-pleaser. A picture IS worth…..

Hendersonville Apple & Pear Salad

This was accompanied by Francois Servin 2011 Chablis Montee de Tonnerre PREMIER CRU

The northernmost section of Burgundy is Chablis. No, Chablis is not a grape variety; it is a town where the Chardonnay grape produces quality wines with steely and mineral characteristics.

The world-famous reputation of these wines prompted manufacturers to label their jug wine as “Chablis,” but those wines do a disservice to the dry and crisp wines produced in this region. In fact, some of the most elegant white wines in the world are proudly produced in Chablis. Steve imports wines from only one Chablis family. The trade journal over there says that Servin is one of the top two winemakers in all of Chablis.

Francois makes wine because he loves to make wine. He uses old-world traditions and also benefits from modern technology. Francois feels that the winemaker is more important than the barrel maker. He says that making wine is an art, whereas so many people reduce it to a science. The Servin family traces its roots in Chablis all the way back to 1652.

Bourgogne Aujourd’hui, the trade journal in Burgundy, rates Francois as one of the TOP TWO winemakers out of 120 in all of Chablis. In a recent “bragging rights’ competition (which is not publicized) in Chablis, Francois took home 2 of the 9 medals, including a gold medal. At the recent wine competition at the Hotel Bellagio in Las Vegas, several hundred Chardonnays were ranked. Francois only submitted 3 wines and all 3 of them were awarded places in the top eleven. At the Atlanta Int’l Wine Challenge, Francois’ basic Chablis earned the silver medal. The list of awards could go on and on.

SECOND COURSE
Wild Mushroom Ravioli, truffle emulsion, charred rosemary oil, parmesan crisp. A truly inspired and absolutely mouthwateringly delicious prep.

Wild Mushroom Ravioli

The wine pairing was Francois Leclerc 2010 Bourgogne Pinot Noir. The earthiness of this Pinot Noir was a perfect match to the preparation of this mushroom/truffle ravioli.

The Leclerc family uses the same traditional vinification techniques on all of their wines, including the basic Bourgogne Pinot Noir. They emphasize the fruit component of wine by pressing the grapes for only 3 hours, instead of the usual 10 hours. Thus, they get the best juice for their wines while avoiding the bitter tannins. By the way, their press is one of only 3 of its kind that are still in existence that aren’t in a museum.

Francois uses oak only to bring out the fruit flavors in the wines. And they use very few new oak barrels. Too much oak, Francois says, dries out a wine and makes it less pleasurable. For the Leclerc family, this is art, not simply a scientific recipe. In short, these are traditional wines of uncompromising quality.

THIRD COURSE
Whole Grilled Filet Mignon, braised short rib and barley “stew”
No…you CANNOT imagine what this tasted like!! So…..look and drool!!

Whole Grilled Filet Mignon

The wine pairing was Rene Leclerc (father of Francois) 2010 Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Prieur. This was a full-bodied, spectacular example of what Burgundian Pinot Noir is all about, and paired exquisitely with the course.

Gevrey-Chambertin is one of the world’s most famous red-wine towns. It didn’t hurt that the Chambertin wine was Napoleon’s favorite wine. It is often called the “King of red wines”. Of the big-name towns in the Cote de Nuits, Gevrey-Chambertin is the most northern. It starts a stretch of some of the most famous red-wine vineyards in the world. Gevrey-Chambertin proudly boasts 9 of the red Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy – more than any other town.

Rene Leclerc says he does not want to make technical wine. Instead, he wants to make wine from experience. Rene has been making wine under his own label since the mid 1970’s. Today, he is one of the best known and most highly respected craftsmen in Burgundy. He simply makes great wine year in and year out.

Rene is slowly passing the reins of the domaine to his son, Francois, who was married to an American from Macon, Georgia, NOT Macon, Burgundy!!. They have two beautiful children. Francois has trained in both France and America. He works closely with his dad because he wants to continue the successful winemaking style that Rene has perfected – both for the Rene Leclerc wines as well as for his own wines with the Francois Leclerc label.

DESSERT
White Chocolate Sphere, caramelized pastry crisp, strawberry reduction. This “tastes-as-good-as-it-looks” artistic palate-pleaser actually took two full days to prepare…and two full minuted (actually, LESS), to eat!!

White-Chocolate-Sphere-e

The perfectly-paired vino was a Jean Luc Joillot NV Cremant de Bourgogne – ROSE

Jean-Luc is the “diaper dandy” of Pommard. While he is in his 40′s, he has the experience and maturity of a winemaker who is 65 years old and ready to retire. And he has earned the respect of the entire winemaking community. In fact, Jean-Luc was President of the Winemakers’ Association in Pommard until 2009 … a big honor to be selected out of the 70 winemakers in Pommard.

Crémant” (pronounced “cray-mawn”) originally indicated a less-bubbly style of sparkling wine. Think gentle fizz, not the nose-tingling experience of some bubblies.

The term is also used to designate sparkling wines made by the méthode champenoise but falling outside the boundaries of the Champagne region. Since EU laws enacted in 1985, the term “Champagne” may be used EXCLUSIVELY by sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France, save a few “grandfathered-in” exceptions. Crémants might also be made from grapes other than the traditional Champagne varieties.

Jean-Luc Joillot has learned to strike a keen balance between a wine that is cellar-able for years and a wine that is a pleasure to drink now. His wines are well structured, but also retain the elegance so characteristic of only the best Burgundies. It’s no wonder that year in and year out, Jean-Luc wins so many awards for his wines. Jean-Luc puts it best when he says, “I put my heart in every bottle.”

So…a perfect pairing was enjoyed thoroughly by all who attended.

If you have not been to Isa’s, it is a MUST for foodies. (see previous reviews at Carolina Epicurean.com). If you have not experienced the Burgundy portfolio of Steve Pignatiello (pcommswines.com website), run…do not walk…and drink!!

To summarize a perfect evening….

Steve, Sam, Duane

CARPE VINUM (left), EATUM DIEM (right), LIBENTER CIBUM ET POTUM ( I gladly eat and drink)(center)!!

Isa’s is located at 1 Battery Park Avenue in the heart of Asheville. 828-575-9636 for reservations, easy directions, and more information.