Planning your wife’s birthday is always a venture fraught with failure.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s doubly precarious.
I found myself in this tricky situation just a couple of weeks ago.
Not knowing one person’s views from the other, I felt some friends might see an invite to a barbeque around the pool as an insult – even attempted murder.
So no party this year…
But what to do instead?
Luckily, I had Bonner Private Wine’s resident wine genius Julien Miquel to help me.
You see, my wife and I have fallen in love with wine.
But we haven’t always been confident in our knowledge.
I imagine that’s something a lot of new wine enthusiasts feel.
We want to try new wines and compare them. We want to know how to properly order the right bottle in a fancy restaurant.
And we want to know how to talk about wine with other enthusiasts.
But sometimes the lingo… the lack of understanding… and the snobs who populate the so-called “fine wine” industry can make you feel like you’re on the outside looking in.
And that’s what attracted us to the Bonner Private Wine Club.
It wasn’t just the idea of getting rare wines from private collections around the world.
It was Julien’s videos and calm, patient explanations. It was Will’s descriptions of their travels – from Argentina to New Zealand and beyond.
From the very start, it felt like Julien and Will wanted to let us in on the “secret club” of wine enthusiasts.
During Covid-19, having wines from all over the world made us feel like we were traveling – even when we couldn’t.
And when I reached out to Julien for advice on my wife’s birthday dinner, that’s what he told me.
“Why not structure each course and each bottle around a different part of the world,” Julien recommended.
Given I had just bought a case of the Les Collines Rosé from Domaine Ollier-Taillefer and the Sunal Ilogico Malbec, Julien thought that was a perfect place to start.
“The rosé would be a great introduction to the meal,” Julien explained. “It’s dry, but it’s also very smooth and mellow in the flavors. It’s sort of got a pomegranate, grapefruit taste.”
“It’s a great way to introduce the French Riviera… a sip of this rosé will take her there. With the lockdown, this is perhaps a way to travel or escape.”
Julien suggested a tapenade as a starter course. For those who don’t know (I didn’t!), tapenade is essentially an olive pâté, very salty.
“That’s the archetypical Provencal dish to go with the rosé,” Julien said.
Interestingly, the Les Collines is made in Languedoc, the next region over from Provence.
“It’s made in the same spirit. Provence is known for making great rosé, it’s their thing,” Julien explained.
“When I tried this bottle, I figured it was just another typical rosé. But the balance in this wine is really outstanding, especially for a rosé.”
I made a base crostini of day-old French bread with butter and garlic… then spread the olive tapenade on top.
Julien was right, of course. The saltiness of the olives and the fresh, ripe fruit smoothness of the rosé were perfect together.
Sat out on our deck on a pleasant early summer night… I could almost feel the Mediterranean breeze blowing over the Riviera.
My wife was pleased. The hors d’oeuvres were a success.
For the main course, we traveled from France to Argentina.
Our favorite wines are Malbecs. And since we’ve joined the Bonner Private Wine Club, we’ve been spoiled.
No longer is a Mendoza Malbec good enough. We want the highest altitude Malbecs possible.
And the Sunal winery is amongst the highest.
We were curious about the fuller, more satisfying body of the high-altitude Ilogico versus a regular, lower altitude wine. We asked Julien for an explanation.
“You need lots of heat and sunshine to ripen the grapes. And you get that high up the mountain still. But because the nights are very cool, the fruit is able to hold its flavor more,” Julien said.
He told me this is what’s called the diurnal-nocturnal balance. All wines need this, which is why Napa and Provence are great wine-making locations.
At a higher altitude and in the Southern Hemisphere, the UV light of the daytime is even more intense.
But the nights up on the mountain are very cool… And the snow melt in the spring helps cool the grapes as well.
So what to eat for the main course with this unique, delicious Malbec?
Julien suggested the traditional Argentinian steak with adobo seasoning.
I found a great rub and a couple fantastic cuts of skirt steak.
I understand why Argentinians like to cook with skirt steak, rather than other cuts. The marbled fat and ability to really hold spicy and salty flavors at the same, makes it ideal for grilling it up with adobo seasoning.
Making homemade Chimichurri sauce to top it off was far easier than I imagined.
The steak came out perfect… the side of sweet potato fries, not so much.
So what makes the high-altitude Malbec taste so good with this steak?
It’s because this Malbec has a solid baseline of acidity, Julien told me.
“Think of it like a razor blade that cuts through everything else. Despite all the tannins and fruit notes bouncing around there is always this steady, consistent level of acidity, a ‘zing’ in your mouth.”
And he was right… the Ilogico held up from the first to last glass, even as it warmed up a little.
Our trip from Provence to the mountains of Argentina was a raging success.
For the final, dessert course we went back to France.
I put out a smoky goat cheese and a mild Brie with the rest of the French bread. And it went perfectly with the rest of the Malbec.
In all, my beautiful wife called it a “wonderful birthday – Covid or not.”
Whew – I wiped the sweat from my brow.
Thanks Julien – and Bonner Private Wines – for helping save my wife’s pandemic birthday.
Has Covid-19 given you the traveling blues?
Would you like to plan a “stay-cation” with some rare and exotic wines from around the world?
The Bonner Private Wine Partnership has wines from five different continents available for sale by the case, right now.
If you can’t travel, why not bring the best wines in the world right to your door.