MARCO ISLAND — To the great wine producing regions of the world, make a mental note to add one you may not have considered New Zealand. The island nation on the other side of the globe is creating noble vintages in many of the classic varietals, worthy of sitting side by side with the renowned bottles of Bordeaux, Napa, Willamette and Chile’s Colchauga Valley.
In demonstration of this, the Marco Marriott’s Kurrents restaurant hosted a dinner Wednesday evening, pairing wines from New Zealand’s Villa Maria winery with five courses of gourmet dishes. Villa Maria’s winemaker Simon Fell flew in from Auckland as guest of honor, and shared his insights into the wines as the 60 or so diners sampled the fruits of his labor.
Fell shared the spotlight with the Marriott’s culinary staff, from executive chef Juan Martinez, chef de cuisine Tsvetan Vladimirov and senior sous chef Fernando Vasquez. Working with the Marriott’s director of restaurants Youssef Oualidi and restaurant manager Dennis Rowley, they chose the food and wine pairings to complement and bring out the best in both.
The dinner, in particular the wine, brought back wonderful memories for Ken and Jennifer Horner. Ten years ago on their honeymoon, they spent over three months bicycling through the New Zealand countryside, and a highlight of their visit to the country’s South Island was the Villa Maria winery.
“We put our stuff in storage, took leaves of absence, and turned off our mobile phones,” said Jennifer of their journey.
For an entrée to anchor the meal, Oualidi and the team chose rack of venison, reaching for unique, rather than the obvious choice of lamb. The tenderful chops were paired with a Taylors Pass pinot noir, a deep, rich ruby-red. To Lou Bernardi, “the key to successful wine/food pairings is weight. They have to balance.”
The first course was an ahi tuna poke, accompanied by an intensely flavorful sauvignon blanc, followed by an English pea soup and shrimp fritter, paired with a refreshing pinot gris. A pomegranate and lychee granita was served as a palate cleanser, before the fish course of potato-crusted Florida snapper with eggplant caviar, with a private bin unoaked chardonnay. As a finale, chocolate mousse with a praline crunch base paired with a merlot-cabernet sauvignon blend filled any empty corners of the diners’ tummies.
“Stay tuned,” said Oualidi. “Our next tasting dinner is going to feature Scotch.”