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Wine Wednesday Pairings Featured in the Burlington Free Press

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The Burlington Free Press was in a few weeks ago to cover our delicious Wine Wednesday wine and food pairings. The story just ran….and is full of helpful tips for planing holiday parties.

“At Vin Bar and Shop, the menu of elegant small plates is magically conjured by co-owner and chef Kevin Cleary using just a panini press, an induction burner and convection oven tucked behind the bar.

A small ramekin of garlicky shrimp and Vermont Chorizo is presented still sizzling from the hot oven.

Crimson piquillo peppers are stuffed with a savory mixture of goat cheese and roasted eggplant, then sprinkled with walnuts and drizzled with honey.

Warm flatbread comes draped with the perfect salty-creamy-sweet-spicy balance of prosciutto, gorgonzola, fig jam and arugula.

When Cleary and his wife and co-owner, Kathi Cleary, sold their restaurant, L’Amante, this fall to move full-time to their wine bar and retail wine shop, they were determined to keep the food menu simple. This was by necessity — since the space lacks a full kitchen — and because Kevin Cleary didn’t want to continue spending all his time cooking.

Despite the relative simplicity, each dish is full of flavor and the menu offers a good range to pair with their carefully selected list of wines.

We decided to take a hint from the Vin Bar approach at this busy entertaining time of year.

The Clearys as well as Burlington Wine Shop owner Brad Kelley and Niall McMahon, general manager and bar manager of The Gryphon, shared advice on hosting elegant wine and appetizer gatherings that won’t keep the hosts stuck in the kitchen.

Since last summer, Burlington Wine Shop and The Gryphon have partnered to offer Wednesday wine pairing trio menus, during which they offer three small plates matched with three wines.

Here’s what the experts suggest:

1.Follow the food. Or follow the wine. Kelley says it is often easier to pick your food menu first and then pair wines with the food. Even simple food prep, he says, “is the most laborious part.” However, you can also flip that equation, he offers, and start with a great bottle of wine you want to share with special friends, selecting food to match.

2.Either way, KISS. (Yes, Keep It Simple … you know the rest.) This is not the time for 17-ingredient recipes you’ve never tried before. Keep the menu to 3 or 4 items. “I always think of what I’m comfortable making and then think of wines that pair well,” Kelley says. A sample menu he might offer:

  • Dates stuffed with goat cheese and walnut halves drizzled with reduced balsamic vinegar paired with a dry white with good acidity and minerality like a sauvignon blanc from the Loire.
  • Rare beef tenderloin thinly sliced with grainy mustard or horseradish paired with a syrah from the northern Rhône or a Piedmont nebbiolo with firm tannins.
  • For a sweet course, buy a special locally baked pastry, like Kelley’s favorite almond buttercrunch cake from The Bakery at the Farmhouse Kitchen. Pour small glasses of one of Vermont’s ice ciders, which deliver sweetness balanced with acidity.

3. Prioritize topnotch ingredients. When recipes are simple, Kevin Cleary emphasizes, “You have to get good ingredients.” Platters of cheese and meats are among the easiest things to offer but you will want to splurge a little on the good stuff. Although you don’t need to invest in the Ferrari of meat slicers like the cherry red number behind the Vin bar, spring for real Parmigiano and prosciutto, for example, accompanied by Italian-style pickled vegetable giardiniera (easily found in the Italian section of most supermarkets).

4. Allow shortcuts. And, Kevin Cleary adds, topnotch doesn’t always mean from scratch. The very good flatbreads at Vin, he admits without shame, use a quality prepared naan bread as the base. “Everybody likes pizza or flatbread,” he says. “They’re really versatile. You can put anything on those and it tastes good.” Just top, warm in the oven (or warm bread first without toppings if appropriate), slice and serve.

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5.Eat with your hands. Finger foods can be elegant and they allow for easiest coordination of food and wine glass.

“Everything can go on a crostini,” says Kevin Cleary, who suggests slicing a good baguette thinly and then toasting lightly. For a finger food version of Vin’s stuffed piquillo peppers, top rounds of toasted walnut bread with a smear of soft creamy goat cheese mixed with seasoned roasted eggplant and a little grated Parmigiano. Top with a strip of roasted pepper, a walnut half and a drizzle of honey. Pair with a sauvignon blanc, picpoul or muscadet.

Many items, like Cleary’s shrimp and chorizo dish, also work well on a skewer. Marinate tail-on shrimp in garlic and olive oil with salt and pepper. Skewer with chunks of spicy cooked chorizo sausage and broil in a 375-degree oven for a few minutes. This goes well with a versatile wine with high acidity and lighter body like an off-dry riesling kabinett from the Mosel region or the often overlooked chenin blanc.

6.Red, white and bubbly. You’ll want to pour at least one red, one white and a sparkling wine is a good idea for the holidays, says Kelley. Cleary agrees that “a sparkler is always festive” and suggests looking for cava, the Spanish equivalent of champagne as an affordable option for around $10 in either white or rosé.

7.Meet in the middle. For a party, Niall McMahon says, “I wouldn’t splurge on expensive wine but I wouldn’t go with cheap wine either.” He believes the best bang for the buck is in the $13 to $18 range. McMahon suggests going with a crowd-pleasing red and white and then maybe offer a third wine that is something fun and different, possibly a little pricier: maybe a pinot meunier from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a lighter red that he might pair with a creamy salmon spread dolloped into endive or lettuce cups.

Cleary also believes that a flexible, crowd-pleasing pair of red and white wines is a good place to start. In addition to the white pairings he recommends in Tip No. 5, Cleary might recommend for red wine a cabernet franc with enough weight to stand up to a variety of dishes —  like an appetizer version of a salad he served at L’Amante. Marinate baby bella mushrooms in olive oil with minced shallot, thyme and a splash of balsamic. Roast until softened but not collapsed. Bake rounds of polenta, spread with truffle aioli (mayonnaise spiked with truffle oil), top with an arugula leaf, then the mushroom.

He also suggests blends from the southern Rhône or from California. A grenache-syrah-mourvèdre blend, for example, that is fruit-forward and not high in tannins would pair well with thinly sliced pork tenderloin topped with cranberry aioli, he says.

8.Run the numbers. A standard wine bottle contains five glasses of wine, explains Cleary, and assume each guest will drink two to three glasses. It’s never a bad idea to buy a few more bottles than you think you’ll need since you can always drink them another day and “you don’t want to run out,” cautions Cleary. You also need enough wine glasses but don’t worry about their shape, even if you’re serving a sparkling wine. “We’re moving away from flutes,” says Cleary, who recommends a good basic sangiovese/riesling-style glass, even for a bubbly.

9.Have fun! Now that the experts have told you how to keep it simple so you can be a guest as well as a host, “Be playful, have fun with it,” says Kelley as a final word of advice.