Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
No "Whinning" from Samuel Adams
Preisers’ Reserve: A joy for wine lovers is to find a totally unexpected gem in some far from usual place. This happened to us recently, as we met a St. Louis couple at a wine tasting, and followed them to a then unknown (to us) winery in the hills of Sebastopol. While all the wines were so memorable that we sought them out again at the Family Winemakers event in San Francisco, it is our tradition to feature one, and so we do.
Rick and Diane DuNah have grown and produced an uncommon Pinot Noir (perhaps it is worth saying here that for the past 4 months we have been sampling every California Pinot Noir we can find, and they are spectacular - Burgundy and Oregon take heed). The 2004 DuNah Sangiacomo Vineyard Sonoma Coast ($45) is an exquisitely earthy wine that can be sipped or enjoyed with food. The dark cherry flavors permeate the mouth until they gradually fade away to a sweet, smoky, long finish. Terrific.
No “Whining” From Samuel Adams
With the present generation of restaurants in even the smallest towns and villages showcasing superb chefs and award winning wine lists, it is hard for those born in the late 1970’s and after to fathom that their parents had little opportunity to purchase fine wines, little opportunity to learn about them, and almost no opportunity to find a quality American bottle. Yes, there were connoisseurs, and yes there were fine restaurants (for the time) in major metropolitan areas, but the preferred wine lists were largely French. Even today, many of the most sophisticated wine people in the world (outside of France) have trouble reading French labels, so can we remember how little we really knew back then? And the quality of American wines of that era? Mike Grgich and Warren Winiarski aside, forget most of them.
Is it any wonder, then, that the American public consumed vast amounts of beer during those years? Bars and restaurants in major and minor cities alike advertised huge inventories of beer from almost every country in the world, and the young urban professionals of the time sought out these non American beers as an alternative to the light concoction we found in most of our domestically produced products.
Times have changed. The well established boom in wine sales and consumption in this country has been a significant factor in the diminishing (by per capita anyway) sales of beer over the past decade or so. It has not helped that despite the excellent nuances and characteristics of beer, it has been largely marketed to the athletes of both the active and arm chair types. Also contributing to the market decline is a lack of extraordinary domestic beers, not that, given the proliferation of boutique breweries, hundreds aren’t trying. But let’s face it. Quality beer exists just as it does in every product. For our money, the there are four world class beers brewed in the U.S. – Anchor Steam, New Amsterdam, Samuel Adams, and Sierra Nevada. Other good ones, yes, but not on a level with the four mentioned.
Today we have the opportunity to share with you a unique tasting we experienced at the Aspen Food and Wine Classic. Sponsored by Samuel Adams, and attended by all of their top people including brewer and founder Jim Koch, the premise of the day was that Samuel Adams pairs well with dishes served at a fine dining meal.
The location of the tasting was the dining room of the famous Little Nell hotel. The chefs for the day were David Burke, executive chef/co-owner of davidburke & Donatella in New York; Mary Dumont, executive chef of New Hampshire’s Dunaway Restaurant at Strawberry Banke; and Ryan Hardy, executive chef at the Little Nell. The plan of action was for each chef to prepare 3 courses (appetizer, entree, and dessert), and the guests to try each course with one of the numerous beers made by Samuel Adams, and designated by them as the best compliment. The immediate goal of the exercise was to choose which dish went best with which beer, while the long term goals were understandably to show off the complexity and versatility of the Samuel Adams line of products, and introduce the “Patriot Collection,” which showcases unique flavors from the colonial era.
In all respects the day was a success. Appetizers prepared included pretzel-crusted crab cakes, torchon of foie gras, and scallops with turnips – all made with the same Ginger Honey Ale that accompanied the courses. The traditional Boston Lager was both the drink and part of the sauce for the entrees, which included Lager duck with cherries, braised rabbit with morels and veggies, and braised ribs with horseradish. Finally, desserts were concoctions of chocolate served with the George Washington Porter.
Each of these beers was as distinctive and as pleasing to the palate as the usual wine we opt for when dining. The newly created Honey Ale can be described as having a subtle maltiness with floral notes and a sweet honey finish. The flagship Lager is, and always has been, rich, robust, and balanced. Finally (for the meal at least), the new Porter is filled with cocoa, walnuts, and toasted malt – all very earthy.
We did not stop with just those three libations, however, as the Company had brought about seven of their incredible 27 creations. On hand were 1790 Root Beer Brew (a hard root beer containing sassafras, molasses, and licorice), the James Madison Dark Wheat Ale (featuring malted barley that has been hand smoked with wood from the land owned by Madison), Sam Adams Light (punctuated by a clean, crisp taste) and the Utopias (an uncarbonated, aged beer reminding one of a fine brandy). Though the light was not really better than others in its class, the Utopias (at over $100 per bottle (it is consumed in short pours like liquors) was one of the most unique, and best, alcohols of any kind we have sampled. None will be made in 2006, and thus we have to wait until the holiday season of 2007 to enjoy it again.
Above we mentioned 27, yes, 27 different beers made by Samuel Adams (or more properly, The Boston Beer Company). Far too many to describe here, they can be found on the Company’s website (www.samueladams.com/) , and just reading about them is enough to make one want to find a tapas bar and try beer after beer with dish after dish.
As for the Aspen tasting, it proved to all of us what founder Jim Koch has been saying for years. “(w)e knew . . . that it was the ideal venue to educate wine enthusiasts about the role that a full flavored craft beer like Samuel Adams can play when combined with high quality ingredients and innovation in dining.”
We won’t give up the wine, but will certainly experiment with more beer in the future. Sipped with fine food, rather than swigged at bars, the calorie content won’t be so great, and the cost is attractive. Buy a few bottles of your favorite beer and experiment, but if you have not tried the many creations of Samuel Adams, we suggest you do.
Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.