I love cooking and I love tasting wine. After attending a recent hands-on cooking class on the Joy of Risotto at the A La Carte Culinary School in Lynbrook, New York, I thought, “Why not combine a cooking class with a wine tasting and have the best of both worlds?” And being a big supporter of Long Island wines, of course the wines would have to come from Long Island. So, I approached Polly Talbott, the owner and head chef of the A La Carte about the idea. She was enthusiastic and asked me to look into it.
Polly Talbott is Certified Culinary Professional who has studied cooking in France, Italy, Spain, Morocco and Thailand. She is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance and Les Dames d’Escoffier. Polly also serves on the Board of Directors of the Lynbrook Chamber of Commerce and is an on-camera personality for Lynbrook TV. After working as a food stylist for many years she opened A La Carte in 1999, which offers classes on every imaginable type of cuisine: Christmas in Tuscany, Date Night on the French Riviera, Rockin the Casbah (the cuisine of Morocco), Bourbon and Beef and the Latin inspired menu of Dinner Dance Salsa.
After giving the matter some thought, I decided to reach out to Miguel Martin of Palmer Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island. Miguel is not only a respected winemaker, but is also a man who understands how the enjoyment of food and wine is intertwined. He thought it was a great idea and a unique opportunity to showcase the versatility of Long Island wines. Palmer Vineyards has been making premium wines on the North Fork of Long Island since Robert Palmer purchased a parcel of farmland in the early 1980’s. Miguel worked at wineries in California, Chile, Australia and his native Spain before landing his first job on Long Island in 1989 at Le Reve Winery (now Duck Walk) in the Hamptons AVA on the South Fork. Since 2006, he has been the Winemaker and General Manager at Palmer Vineyards. As for what dishes to prepare, considering Miguel’s Spanish heritage, it was a unanimous opinion that we should do a Tapas cooking class.
While Polly explained to the class the menu of tapas that we were preparing, we sipped on a glass of Palmer’s non vintage Sparkling Brut, made from 100% Chardonnay using the Method Champenoise. The wine was light yellow with medium bubbles and had flavors of apple and lemon. Definitely a wine to savor, which we did as Polly discussed the particulars of each dish. But there was some zip to the wine to get us out of our seats and into the kitchen to start the preparation of our dinner. The tapas would be served as they were ready, with each one paired with a wine from Palmer. Our next wine was an Albarino, a Spanish grape grown in the Galicia region of northwestern Spain that is now grown successfully on Long Island. Palmer is the only Long Island Winery producing an Albarino, which they have done since 2010. With a floral nose, hints of lychee and kiwi and high in acid it is a perfect wine to accompany seafood. So, it was perfectly paired with our first tapas, Sizzling Garlic Shrimp (Gambas al Ajillo). The shrimp were added to sizzling hot ceramic crocks filled with olive oil, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes.
Next on the menu were Dates stuffed with Cabrales and wrapped with Bacon. Cabrales is a Spanish semi-hard blue cheese from the “Picos de Europa” (the peaks of Europe), a region in northern Spain. Because this cheese is not always available in the United States, any strong blue cheese can be substituted. We used gorgonzola, an Italian blue cheese. This was served with the Aromatico, which is a blend of Muscat Canelli and Malvasia. The sweetness of the dates and cheese was a good match with the strong floral components of the wine.
For our next tapas we prepared Pinchos Gilda, which are olives, anchovy fillets and pepperoncini served on a skewer. This was paired with the 2014 Rose of Merlot, a semi-dry rose with flavors of strawberry and cranberry. This wine held up beautifully with the saltiness of the dish. The last two tapas, Asparagus wrapped with Serrano Ham and drizzled with Balsamic Vinegar and Cauliflower with Serrano Ham and Tomato were paired with the 2012 Old Roots Merlot. Which is made, as the name indicates, from some of the oldest vines on Long Island and has a complexity that makes it stand up to the heartiest of dishes, including difficult-to-pair foods like asparagus and cauliflower.
While some came specifically to meet Miguel and taste the wines of Palmer Vineyards, many in the class were unfamiliar with Long Island wines, so it was an eye-opening experience for them. Not just the high quality of the wine but the diversity. Of course, there were Chardonnay and Merlot, two of the most popular grape varieties planted on Long Island. But there were also some lesser known varieties: Albarino, Muscat Canelli and Malvasia. And how did the pairings go? Sensational! Long Island wines are high in acidity and low in alcohol and totally food friendly, so pairing them with Spanish food was an easy assignment for Polly and Miguel. And great fun for the class. Definitely the best of both worlds.