Alinea wine pairings
We have tickets in a few weeks, so excited! This is a MAJOR splurge for us and wanted to see what the current opinions are about the wine pairings. I have read many negatives about them in the past but haven't seen anything too current. We tend to like red wines rather than whites and thought about just getting a bottle, but don't want to ruin the experience if the wine pairings really make it. Also have heard some couples split one pairing. Thanks for any advice!!
OK, just got back from our dinner at Alinea Nov 1 and I checked out the wine list a bit more carefully with your request here in mind. I'm guessing many of these dishes will still be on the menu in 'a few weeks' when you visit.
If you want to go the full bottle route they do have some reasonably priced red Burgundy and Oregon Pinot Noir type wines (since you mentioned you like reds). Also they had a fair selection of half-bottles, both reds and whites, and for two people you could get a half bottle of a good California chardonnay and a half bottle of a good red and be in great shape for about the cost of one wine pairing.
For us, I had the wine pairing and my wife was going to get two glasses, one white to start (a Riesling) and then a Malbec later. But the sommelier said he could further split those two full glasses into four half-glasses, i.e., tasting sized portions, and this is what she did. And he said he could just give her four tasting portions from the tasting menu to get a better match, which was a good idea.
Compared to other visits to Alinea there were more red wines served this trip. I guess the fall menu has more hearty dishes.
Anyway, here's what I had ...
Champagne with the first two small courses (OK match).
A sweet Riesling from New Zealand with a big scallop dish: Felton Road Bannockburn Riesling, Bannockburn, New Zealand, ~$30 / bottle ... (poor match for me, the wine was too sweet for the scallops and something drier and more acidic be better ... my wife had this one with her first three dishes and liked it OK)
A white wine with dungeness crab ... 2011 I Vigneri I Custodi delle Vigne dell'Etna 'Ante' Etna Bianco, ~$25-30 retail ... (I can't recall this wine so it was probably an OK match with the food)
A sake and a beer with four bites of wagyu, prawn head, toro tuna and pork ... (the sake was a very poor match for this dish for me ... my wife also had it and couldn't finish it, and she usually likes sake)
Next we had an optional white truffles over risotto dish (this is expensive but one of the most incredible 'classic' dishes I've ever tasted, rich and creamy risotto and the truffles were amazing). Wine was a Barolo from the same area as the truffles and this was a great pairing ... Ghemme Monsecco 2006, ~$35/bottle
Next "veal cheeks" with some other earthy tastes mixed in, an excellent dish. The somm said this was a very 'earthy, non-structured unoaked wine to go with the earthy dish' and he was exactly right ... 2010 Domaine Leon Barral Faugeres, Languedoc-Roussillon, France ~ $25 - 30 / bottle ... another excellent pairing
Next a dish with duck prepared five ways plus a tray of 60 garnishes, the biggest plate of the meal ... 2005 Chateau Musar Gaston Hochar, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon ~ $33 o WIne-searcher.com This is the one that tastes like a good left bank Bordeaux (the blends with Cabernet Sauvignon as the dominant grape) and this was our favorite wine of the evening, and an excellent match.
Then there were three dessert wines with the sweet courses, all OK.
We were charged $12-13 for each of the tasting size portions my wife had so for four of those it was around $50.
So to generalize, the three red wine matches were excellent and brought out the food flavors well. I didn't like the sake at and would have preferred something other than the sweet Riesling with the scallops.
If going back next week I'd ask to switch out the two I didn't like but for sure I'd try to get the reds paired with the truffles/risotto, the veal cheeks and the duck dish. I can't think of a single red that would match those dishes as well as the three separate reds did (but you probably won't get the truffles unless you are going to splurge, so it becomes two 'must-have' reds with the standard menu).
One more generality -- the first time we visited in 2010 the pairing wines were cheaper retail, i.e., there were tasting menu wines that retailed for $15/bottle ... this trip most of the wines I checked seemed to retail for around $30, so they seem to have strengthened the offerings.
Hope this helps. Of the four trips we've made to Alinea this was our favorite.
When I was there, the standard pairing was $150 and the reserve pairing was $250 (that's per person, + tax and gratuity of 20%).
The reserve pairing was similar to the standard - either 3 or 4 wines were different - just threw out my menu this week.
Frankly, I was disappointed with both - certainly a couple of wines were excellent, but as a 'set' I didn't think they matched the food particularly well.
When (if) I return I would certainly avoid their selections. The food is complex and I think few wines will match perfectly. I'd choose a Champagne or Alsace (probably pinot gris - but DRY) or a lesser White Burgundy as the standard and supplement with a glass of red and/or dessert as appropriate.
We've had the wine pairings twice and split them between two people (once 3 years ago, most recently last April). Another trip we each just got a glass of white, a glass of red and a dessert wine. Another visit we bought a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir (I think it was $30 retail, $125 at Alinea, so a hefty markup, but less than the cost of a single pairing).
Honestly, all three options worked OK for us. The pairings in April mostly were spot on but there was one (sake with some fish nibbles) that didn't and I think that's pretty common. But there were some gems, like a Lebanese red from Bekka Valley that we'd probably never try elsewhere.
Maybe the bottle was the least best way, since there are just so many different food tastes that even a Pinot was hit or miss on a few courses.
We are actually going to Alinea this Friday for my birthday and will likely get a pairing and split it, if that helps you decide.
Do you both like lots of different wines? I had heard they have lots of obscure wines that some people didn't really like all that well. We love wine, but tend to like reds and some dry whites, so just didn't know if all the different varietals would be wasted on us. Another person had complained that they had really inexpensive wines in their lower level pairing. Did you do the reserve pairing? Have a great time this Friday, Happy Birthday! We are going for my birthday in 3 weeks!
First time in 2010 they only had one pairing (the 'reserve' pairing was added later). I remember some young wines, like a Paul Blanc Pinot Gris from Alsace (with lobster) which is about $15 per bottle at the local shoppe. But the pairings still matched the food OK.
We like a lot of different wines and like trying new ones, but the main thing is if it pairs with the food.
To give you an idea of might be offered, here's a list of the pairings from April 18, 2013 (the standard pairing).
Champagne Jean Lallement 'Verzenay - Grand Cru' Brut NV (with caviar)
Ginga Shizuku 'Divine Droplets' Junmai Daiginjo-shu, Hokkaido-ken (the sake, with 6 small fish courses)
Von Schubert 'Grunhauser Maximiner Herrenberg' Riesling Kabinett, Mosel 2010 (with rabbit)
Lopez de Heredia 'Vina Gravonia' Blanco 2003 (with octopus and artichoke)
Ar Pe Pe Grumelio 'Roca de Piro' 2006 (with veal cheeks, hot potato/cold potato)
Chateau Musar, Bekaa Valley Lebanon 1999 (with an incredible 'duck 5 ways with 60 garnishes' ... my favorite wine of this meal, somewhat like a west bank Bordeaux)
The Rare Wine Co. 'Boston Bual - Special Reserve' Madeira (dessert wine ... don't remember this one :)
Disznoko '5 Puttonyos', Tokaji-Aszu 2005 (dessert wine)
Carpano 'Antica Formula' Vermouth (with the grand finale dessert created on the table)
If those sound too scattered (actually it sounds that way when I typed it, but seemed OK when I drank it :) then maybe get a bottle of red and supplement it with the odd glass of white or dessert wine?
Relax, it will work out in the end!
>>>Chateau Musar, Bekaa Valley Lebanon 1999 (with an incredible 'duck 5 ways with 60 garnishes' ... my favorite wine of this meal, somewhat like a west bank Bordeaux)<<<
Great wine report. I love Chateau Musar and was wondering how the 1999 was coming along before I open one but am confused by your comparison to "west bank Bordeaux". What is that? Is that also a wine from the Middle East but from Israel?
@Fowler: Thanks ...
>> " am confused by your comparison to "west bank Bordeaux". What is that?"
Also known as "left bank Bordeaux" :) I was very tired from traveling so much when I wrote 'west bank', sorry. I knew better and almost went back to edit it but just let it go.
You probably know this and are just messing with me (justifiably), but just in case ... the left bank reds use Cabernet Sauvignon as the dominant grape in the blend, while the right bank reds typically use Merlot, so the left bank wines tend to be a bit more tannic.
As an aside, when we were at Alinea last Friday the somm served a later vintage of this same wine (2005) and mentioned that the grower had spent time in France in Bordeaux learning about wines. I didn't know this, I was just commenting on the similarity of Musar to a good Bordeaux due to taste.
(After typing the above paragraph I checked the Musar site and found this time-line:
1930: Gaston Hochar of Lebanon’s Chateau Musar plants his first vineyards, after returning from Bordeaux.
1941: Major Ronald Barton (of Château Langoa-Barton), stationed in Lebanon during World War II, befriends Gaston Hochar, strengthening links with Bordeaux and influencing the Musar style.
1959: Serge Hochar becomes Chateau Musar winemaker, while completing his winemaking studies at the University of Oenology in Bordeaux, under the tutorage of Jean Riberau and Emile Peynaud.
So I guess there is a good reason why those wines taste like Bordeaux wines )