A Flurry of Fun - Ashland is Base Camp - Winter '24 Issue

Monday, October 20, 2014

Fine Pairings

Fine Pairings

Dinners with Herb Quady bring great things together

Story by Chris Dennett

No one does wine dinners quite like Herb Quady. Ask anyone who’s been a part of one of these amazing evenings, and they’ll tell you it was one of the best meals they’ve ever had. And while certainly Quady’s quality as a winemaker cannot be questioned, it’s the way he brings the right people together that makes all the difference.

At first glance, Quady has the uncanny ability to pick a good restaurant and chef for his dinners. But his talents for choosing the right pairing are more deliberate and nuanced. His pairings of wine makers, chefs, restaurants and wineries are as artful as the pairings of food and wine that emerge at these memorable events. The chefs and winemakers compliment each other in the same way that the food and wine do. And that’s the key to the success of the Dinner with Herb events.

Let me lay my cards on the table. I am an owner of Elements Tapas Bar, and I have been fortunate enough to do several events with Herb Quady and his label Quady North, both at my restaurant and at his tasting room. I have also been fortunate enough to attend a few of his events at other restaurants, and have been paired with him at wine and food events in the Rogue Valley, and up on the Britt hill. I think this qualifies me to say that, more than a specific meal or pairing, it is the merger of ideas that set these dinners apart from others. Most recently, we invited Quady into Elements for a Cabernet Franc Dinner that included three other winemakers from Oregon. More to the point: he invited us to be the venue and provide the chef for his dinner, to which he invited his friends.

Sharing the stage with Quady that night were winemakers Leah Jorgensen of Leah Jorgensen Wine Cellars, Thomas Monroe of Division Wine Making Company and Corey Schuster of Jackalope Wine Cellars. These names may be familiar to you, but if they’re not, just give it some time. They are some of the standouts in a group of other winemaking standouts, who refer to themselves whimsically as “Loiregon” wine producers.

If you’ve been to a wine dinner before, you are familiar with the general mulling around at the beginning while guests trickle in. Sometimes people order a cocktail, or sometimes they just sit at a table, waiting quietly for the first course. A Dinner with Herb is a completely different kind of affair. You get the sense immediately that this is a group of people who are at once fast old friends meeting for their quarterly cocktail party, and at the same time an inviting and welcoming group who want nothing more than to meet new people to bring into the fold. In short, it is all of the good things about the food and wine community with none of the negative elitist exclusivity. Your first time there, you feel like you’ve always gone.

On this particular evening, each arriving guest was met by Quady with a glass of his Cabernet Franc Rosé, a bone dry offering that rivals the best of the dry French rosés, with melon and strawberry on the nose, and a bright, crisp, mineral acidity with virtually no residual sugar. As guests sipped the rosé and nibbled on baguette with a dipping dish of Spanish olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar, the four winemakers worked the room, taking time to visit with everyone in attendance.

Upon sitting for the first course, diners were met with an example of the very thing that makes the Quady dinners so unique. At each place setting was a CD, a “mix tape” if you will, comprised of five of the favorite songs of each of the four winemakers and Chef Mike Hite. As you can imagine, this was quite the eclectic mix of music. But the brilliance of this particular idea is twofold: not only does it give the people in attendance a take-away that will help them remember the evening, it gives everyone a quick glimpse into the musical (let’s call it creative) influences of each artisan. Maybe you didn’t know that your winemaker likes heavy metal, or the guy making the lamb shoulder roulade en croute listens to country music. It brought the diners closer to the producers in a way that just talking can’t.

The first course was set on the table, a plate of house made charcuterie, accompanied by the 2013 Bretòn by Division Wine Making Company, and presented by the winemaker Thomas Monroe. Leah Jorgensen’s 2012 Tour Rain was the next wine. Chef Mike Hite paired this one with a spring vegetable terrine and herbed goat cheese mousse. Third course was a pan seared salmon on quinoa cake with black currant and cabernet franc reduction, paired with Corey Schuster’s 2012 Jackalope Cellars Cabernet Franc.

Quady’s first wine was the 2011 Cabernet Franc. The food pairing was a lamb shoulder stuffed with wild mushroom duxelle, wrapped in phyllo, and served on a celeriac puree with a stoneground mustard pan sauce and crème fraiche. Normally you would finish a dinner off with a dessert wine, but at Elements we believe that any wine that goes well with dessert is a dessert wine. Chef Mike made a dark chocolate and beet torte with Lillie Belle chocolate ganache and candied cherries that worked perfectly with the 2009 Aresenal Red, one of the top end wines in the Quady library.

Over all it was an amazing evening with fantastic food and wine, all paired perfectly and presented in a congenial and educational atmosphere that would leave the most seasoned enophile a novice satisfied. But again while the Quady dinners include amazing wines and the best chefs in the Rogue Valley, it is the blend that sets these events apart. The people that Herb Quady is able to draw into his fold are interesting and dynamic, and the evening feels more like a mid-twentieth century salon than a wine dinner. These dinners are proof that good pairings of food and wine are more than just that. They are good pairings of personalities and talents. To sum it up as concisely as possible, the pairing of the winemaker and chef is a more fundamental aspect to a great dinner than the pairing of a protein and a grape varietal. And when you add an amazing group of regulars and newcomers, you have something special: you have Dinner with Herb.

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