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Our First Sommelier Deathmatch

My dinner party friends and I have been upping our dinner party ideas for years now. We used to go out and enjoy sampling menus with wine pairings and trying new restaurants.

Then five years or so ago, we started cooking for each other. It started simple enough, but over time when you get a couple of foodies together, well, things can start to get out of hand.

We call it going “extra.”

How can we make this dish or meal special in some way? We aren’t just making dinner for each other. We are hosting an experience. I craft a menu most of the time, and my friend Dennis would handle the wine pairings.

Well, the last time we got together, we had an idea –what if we consulted two different sommeliers, gave them our menu to make wine selections to see who found the best pairing?

I believe it was The Husband who cleverly came up with the name “Sommelier Deathmatch” because, of course, he did. We all loved the idea, and I went to work on a menu for our first Sommelier Deathmatch.

This is what I came up with:

  • Cocktail: Blood Orange Amaretto Sour
  • Appetizer: Portobello Mushroom Bruschetta
  • Salad: Spinach and Radicchio Salad
  • Main: Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce
  • Dessert: Fig, Cherry and Walnut Tart

We each consulted our local wine store sommeliers, secured the wine, and gathered last night for “the match.”

Cocktail: Blood Orange Amaretto Sour

Even though we are all about the wine, I like to start each menu with a cocktail. It’s fun to find flavors that pair with my entire menu, and we usually sip on it with an added hordourve the host couple comes up with.

Last night we enjoyed sipping on these Blood Orange Amerretto Sours with some cheese, figs, and chorizo as we prepped for the rest of the meal.

We were off to a great start!

Blood Orange Amerreto Sour Cocktail Recipe

(Makes 4 servings)

8 oz amaretto

  • 4 oz fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 oz Apple Brandy
  • 2 oz fresh-squeezed blood orange juice
  • 2 oz egg white
  • Maraschino cherries with juice (like Luxardo), for garnish

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain. Serve over ice.

Appetizer: Portobello Mushroom Bruschetta

On to the appetizer! My goal with every menu is to load it up with as much in-season veggie goodness as I can. I wanted last night’s appetizer to be fairly light as I knew we were having pasta as the main. This ended up being a perfect addition.

Grilled Portobello Mushroom Bruschetta Recipe

(Adapted from From America’s Test Kitchen)

  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 9 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 large portobello mushrooms (about 1 1/3 pounds), stemmed
  • 4 large slices Italian peasant bread, about 1 inch thick
  • 1 (5-ounce) bag baby arugula (about 8 cups)
  • 4 ounces feta, crumbled

Preheat the broiler.

Combine 1/3 cup oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large zipper-lock storage bag.

Add mushrooms, seal bag, and shake until coated. Let stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, line a cookie sheet with foil. Transfer the mushroom, gill side up, to the cookie sheet. Pour remaining marinade over mushrooms and seal with more foil tightly around the cookie sheet.

Broil until mushrooms are juicy and tender, 7 to 9 minutes. Using tongs, unwrap the foil and remove mushrooms. Pour liquid into a medium bowl.

Put mushrooms back on the cookie sheet, gill side up, broil for about a minute, then transfer to plate.

Brush bread with the juice from the cookie sheet. Remove mushrooms from the oven and transfer to plate. Broil bread until toasted.

Slice mushrooms and toss with arugula and reserved mushroom liquid in a large bowl. Divide mushroom mixture among bread slices. Sprinkle with cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Serve.

Appetizer Wine Pairing

Sommelier #1 selection: Domaine de la Mordorée La Dame Rousse Rosé 2020

Sommelier #2 selection: Scarpetta Frico Bianco 2020

The first matchup was more exciting than we thought it would be. The bruschetta was absolutely delicious, and both wines went fantastically.

Result: 2-2 tie!

We all had a hard time selecting a favorite! At the end of the round, it was a tie straight down the middle. Kim and I chose the Rose, Dennis and Bill went with the white.

This had us even more excited for the next round!

Salad: Spinach and Radicchio Salad

Again, I wanted to keep things pretty light, knowing the main course would be heavy. Well, I don’t think I could have picked a better salad! This dish was simple, flavorful, and fun.

Spinach and Radicchio Salad Recipe

(Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)

  • 2 (6-ounce) bags baby spinach
  • 2 medium heads radicchio, torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red onion, halved and sliced thin
  • 2 fennel bulbs, sliced thin
  • 6 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and black pepper

Toss spinach and radicchio together in a large bowl.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, fennel, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in vinegar and a pinch of pepper, cook until syrupy, about 30 seconds.

Scrape fennel mixture into the bowl with spinach and radicchio. Toss until salad greens wilt slightly, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.

Salad Wine Pairing

Sommelier #1 selection: Dubourdieu Pure Sauvignon Blanc

Sommelier #2 selection: Kellerei Kaltern Schiava

Another great matchup and another excellent course! The salad was a surprise winner in my book. I didn’t think everyone would like it as much as they did. The wine pairings were, again, perfect! We, again, had a hard time picking, but after much discussion, the Kellerei Kaltern Schiava swept the round.

Result: Sommelier #2 selection of Kellerei Kaltern Schiava

Main: Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce

I don’t usually go with pasta as a main course for dinner parties, but it sounded perfect for a cold January night. This is the dish I based the entire menu around, and it did not disappoint!

Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce Recipe

(Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 6 oz pancetta, chopped coarse
  • 1 onion, chopped coarse
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped coarse
  • 1 celery rib, chopped coarse
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup), plus extra for serving
  • 1 pound tagliatelle
  • Parsley for garnish

Toss beef with water, baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

While beef sits, bring broth to boil over high heat in a large pot (this pot will be used to cook pasta in step 6) and cook until reduced to 2 cups, about 15 minutes; set aside.

Pulse pancetta in a food processor until finely chopped, 15 to 20 pulses. Add onion, carrot, and celery and pulse until vegetables are finely chopped and mixture has a paste-like consistency, 12 to 15 pulses, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed.

Heat butter and oil in a large pot oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. When foaming subsides, add pancetta-vegetable mixture and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes. Spread mixture in even layer in the bottom of the pot and continue to cook, stirring every couple of minutes, until very dark browned bits form, 7 to 12 minutes longer.

Stir in tomato paste and cook until paste is rust-colored and bottom of the pot is dark brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium, add beef, and cook, using a wooden spoon to break meat into pieces no larger than 1/4 inch, until beef has just lost its raw pink color, 4 to 7 minutes. Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to simmer. Cook until the wine has evaporated and the sauce has thickened about 5 minutes. Stir in broth and Parmesan. Return sauce to simmer; cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes (sauce will look thin). Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Rinse pot that held broth. While sauce simmers, bring 4 quarts of water to boil in now-empty pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup cooking water, then drain pasta. Add pasta to pot with sauce and toss to combine. Adjust sauce consistency with reserved cooking water as needed. Transfer to individual bowls and serve, topping with extra Parmesan and some parsley.

Main Course Wine Pairing

Sommelier #1 selection: Château Dalmeran 2016 Red

Sommelier #2 selection: Pierinvaletta Nebbiolo Langhe Hills 2018

Our sommeliers did not disappoint either. Again, both wines were terrific and paired very well. It was so hard to pick! After the votes, however, we had another sweep, and there was a clear winner.

Result: Sommelier #1 selection of Château Dalmeran 2016 Red

Dessert: Fig, Cherry and Walnut Tart

Dessert is always fun for me to pick as I have a fruit and/or nut requirement and this dish satisfied both! My friends also surprised us with some homemade amaretto ice cream which was the perfect addition!

Fig, Cherry, and Walnut Tart  Recipe

(From America’s Test Kitchen)

  • 6 ounces dried Calimyrna or Turkish figs, stemmed and quartered
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup brandy
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • 12 ounces frozen sweet cherries, thawed, drained, and chopped
  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1 Classic Tart Crust
  • Whipped Cream (sweeted with maple syrup)

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine figs, water, brandy, and orange zest in a small saucepan and simmer over medium-low heat until figs are softened and beginning to break down, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer mixture to food processor and process until smooth, about 15 seconds. Transfer fig puree to a large bowl and stir in chopped cherries and walnuts.

Spread fig mixture evenly into cooled tart crust. Set tart on a baking sheet and bake until crust is golden brown and filling is set, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.

Transfer tart with baking sheet to wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. To serve, remove the outer ring of the tart pan, slide a thin metal spatula between the tart and tart pan bottom, and carefully slide the tart onto a serving platter or cutting board. Serve with whipped cream.

Dessert Wine Pairing

Sommelier #1 selection: 2016 M. Chapoutier Banyuls

Sommelier #2 selection: Quinta dos Murças 10 Anos Old Tawny Port

Sommelier #1 ended up winning the night with his pick on this one. It wasn’t a sweep. However, he took the round with a 3-1 vote! This, and all the rounds, were closer than I could have predicted.

Result: Sommelier #1 selection of 2016 M. Chapoutier Banyuls

Conclusion

This was way more fun than I thought it would be. I mean, I knew it would be fun, but the addition of a little friendly competition added a level of excitement and we all enjoyed discussing our thoughts on the wine and why we liked one over the other.

We have our next date booked and I’m already working on a fun Valentine’s Day-themed menu for February!

Happy New Year!

Click here to see other Sommelier Deathmatches.

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