Friday, October 10, 2014

Southern Hemisphere Win

When you get invited to an embassy, you go, mate.

That's how I found myself on the way to an event called "Come Wine with Us" at the Australian Embassy in D.C. yesterday.

Walking down the street, someone drove by and hollered, "Hey, RVA!" but we had no idea who and went on about our business.

After being cleared by the guard at the embassy, we made it in. I've been to a few wine tastings in my time, but never one with so many men in suits and sports coats.

On the back wall, a video of the splendors of Australia played while below people milled about from table to table tasting wines from Tasmania, South Australia and New Zealand.

It's hard not to love a tasting than begins with Jansz Premium Cuvee Rose, made in (and here's where their sense of humor comes in) the methode Tamanoise and moves on to 2005 Late Disgorged Cuvee, a pale gold sip of the stars.

Of course, because the wines were from the land down under, there were many stellar Shirazes- Langmeils Winery's 2012 Orphan Bank Shiraz and Jim Barry Wines' 2002 The Armagh Museum Release, to name just two.

After hobnobbing for a bit - I chatted with several wine buyers from Rehobeth Beach and a familiar French wine rep from Williamsburg - it was time for greener pastures.

Luckily for me, that meant Rural Society, a low-lit, sexy new restaurant with a focus on grilling and meat. Touches of light blue kept all the brown from looking too rec-room like and what middle-aged woman doesn't look fabulous when the dimmer is on?

The menu is bigger than a place mat so the wisest thing to do, we did. We ordered the chef's tasting menu with the wine pairings and sat back to let the kitchen seduce us.

Music was playing but rarely heard over the cacophony of suits talking, but there was plenty to look at on the walls in the form of black and white photographs of bullfighters, street scenes and cow ropers in the log-filled dining room.

As  a card-carrying bread lover, I was thrilled when a bread basket chowed up stuffed with four (five?) kinds of bread and rolls and three different spreadables, one chimichurra-based, one red salsa variety and a swoon-worthy Malbec butter as purple as a pansy.

Blame it on my Richmond grandmother, but I am a sucker for good bread, although I have been accused of using it mainly as a vehicle for butter. I just never saw the problem with that.

One song I did manage to hear during a lull was Santana's "Oye Como Va" just as our server showed up with glasses of bubbly and Carpaccio de Pulpo, thin slices of braised octopus and tiny Malbec chips of wine-soaked potatoes. My favorite part of the next offering, baby arugula salad, was the fig emulsion, distinctively sweet and crunchy.

Next came a delightful white blend, Vinedo de los Vientos Estival 2012, a silky blend of Chardonnay, Gewurztrimer and Moscato Bianco, which accompanied empanadas of Swiss chard, Sardo cheese and roasted onions, oozing heat and melting cheese.

As the diners around us came and went, our tasting continued on in their absence. At one point, I was one of three women in the entire place with dozens of men surrounding me. Maybe it was a D.C. thing, maybe a meat thing or maybe a fluke.

I pity the women who miss out on Rural Society.

Meat was soon to arrive, so our genial server first brought glasses of Zuccardi Serie A Bonarda, smooth and tasting of red fruits, to signal a shift in direction and assess our readiness.

Glossy Chorizo Gaucho - a sausage of beef and pork - was followed by housemade ham and cheese ravioli in a Reggianito cream sauce and I began to realize that there was a lot more eating to be done and I was beginning to fill up.

Aside: I did not mention this to my date.

Shut up and eat, my brain told me and I did. It was a lot easier than I'm making it sound because everything about the experience was winning. Without knowing what might be arriving next, it was a constant surprise (in the best possible way), there was so much eye candy to look at and a top-notch  conversationalist was the cherry on top of it all.

Vina Ventisquero "Grey," a single block Carmenere from Chile met its match in Uruguayan New York strip (I find that phrasing somewhat odd), each morsel a testament to happy, grass fed cows. As we were digging into that, stuffed heritage breed pork tenderloin from Iowa showed up, providing a multi-continent meat feast to go with garlic whipped potatoes with Mozzarella curd.

Veggies followed - wood-roasted carrots with cider glaze and fennel goat cheese and ember-roasted beets studded with coriander seeds in an orange-coriander vinaigrette - the kind that would get even the pickiest eater interested.

Regrets, I have a few and one was that I'd finally reached my capacity and couldn't do justice to as many carrots and beets as I would have liked to.

Our server had been terrific, pacing out our courses so we had room to breathe, digest and blather in between eating, but when he came back to talk dessert, he found us bettered.

No way was a sweet possible, so we ordered the cheese plate which arrived with glasses of Tannat but I never got beyond a few sips because, well, I was already dangerously close to exploding.

And this from someone who eats for a living.

By the evening's end, Rural Society had succeeded in seducing this urban duo. The only way to end a meal that fine was with a little dancing in the dark.

It was the only thing they couldn't provide.

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