Old Vine with Beer & Wine

Photos by David Mulvihill - Chef Mark McDonald introduces his staff at the conclusion of the Old Vine Cafe Community Beer & Wine Dinner.

Historically, we’ve seen stand-alone wine dinners as well as beer dinners. We’ve also witnessed an increase in wine vs. beer dinners, patterned after sommelier Marnie Old and Dogfish Head Brewery’s Sam Calagione’s “She Said Wine, He Said Beer” series, where wine goes up against beer in the same meal pairing. They released a book by the same name. 

Chef Mark McDonald and his Old Vine Café crew in Costa Mesa got together for a different approach, creating a special Community Dinner featuring global beer & wine. Held in mid-September, the dinner featured three courses paired with wine intermingled with three others paired with beer. Instead of a battle of the two, it brought them together to complete a six-course feast.

Old Vine Cafe Beer & Wine Dinner.

A 2016 ZOE white wine from Peloponnese, Greece was served with the first course. The wine, a 70/30 blend of Roditis and Moschofilero grapes, was served with a dish that combined orzo, cuttlefish, shrimp, kalamata olive, cucumber, mint yogurt and feta crème fraiche. Its dry and acidic notes served to cleanse the palate while floral/fruit notes heightened the flavors of the sea and region.

Beef tenderloin tartare two ways was paired with a delicate but bold red wine (made from Sangratino grapes) from Umbria, Italy. A crusted tartare with a balsamic aioli was flash-fried, resulting in a light crusting. Its more-traditional plate-mate was prepared with balsamic and green olive and accompanied by a Parmigiano Reggiano crostino and a smattering of petite arugula. The wine, 2007 Paolo Bea Sagratino di Montefalco Secco Pagliaro, had been aging quite a few years in Chef Mark’s cellar. At its peak of perfection, the wine presented aged dried-fruit essences, substantial tannins, and an herbaceousness that complemented without overpowering the tartare. Current tasting notes on many sites are consistently rating this wine in the 90s. 

Next in the progression, the first beer course featured a butternut squash and leek bisque, with an addition of smoked butternut squash, 5-year aged gouda crema and fried leek. BABA Black Lager from Salt Lake City’s Uinta Brewing Co proved an enhancing accessory. With a smokiness and chocolate-coffee aspects derived in-part from organic CARAFA malts, organic chocolate also plays a role in the packed profile (at a very approachable 4% ABV) that played very well with the sweet smoked and savory flavors in the dish. 

The fourth dish was a twice-baked sausage stuffed corn bread with queso fundido, seared mushrooms, charred corn and a sprinkling of toasted corn bread crumbs, sweet Spanish paprika and chives. Its sweet accompaniment was Gulden Draak 9000, a Belgian Quadruple Ale. Each tiny sip of the rich and hearty 10% ABV quad assisted in opening up and heightening the components in the corn bread compilation.

Staying with beer, the espresso melt-in-your-mouth stout-braised beef short ribs with espresso creamed polenta, candied cacao nibs and espresso beans was served with Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout from Japan’s Kiuchi Brewery. Kiuchi, a sake brewery since 1823, began brewing beer after 173 years, in 1996. The stout, brewed with roasted espresso beans, morphed from what initially began as a Russian Imperial Stout recipe. While the traditional alcohol profile was lightened to 7%, the coffee shines through with the flavor punch. Like profiles positively complimented each other in this pairing. 

Wine returned, a Riesling trocken from Nahe, Germany, with the savory dessert course. Key lime curd with goat cheese ice cream, pate brisee and fried goat cheese was paired with the 91+ rated 2009 Emrich-Schonleber Monzinger Halenberg Riesling. Its floral-fruit notes and mineral finish typical to the Nahe river region worked well to contrast with the dessert and cleanse the buds.

At the end of the meal this reporter crashed the party with an uninvited hybrid wine-beer guest. Having enjoyed three beer courses and three wine courses, it felt fitting to finish with something that brought both realms together in one bottle. TURO, from Bruery Terreaux in Anaheim, accomplished just that. Terreaux’s Jeremy Grinkey definitely thought outside of the box with this one-of-a-kind creation. Stomped whole cluster Grenache grapes from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard were combined with sour blonde wort and added to house puncheons to ferment with the microflora from the grapes and Terreux’s house cultures. The fermented grapes were later removed and pressed by hand. That resulting liquid and the remaining puncheon volume were transferred to oak barrels for aging. After an entire process that took well over a year, the beer-wine was bottled still. It was recommended to serve at room temp.

Exuding initial upfront red wine character with fine oak and dried fruit notes, it finished other-dimensional. Hints of farmhouse blonde shone through to round out the experience with tastes that complemented its wine side. TURO saw an extremely limited release earlier this year. 

Old Vine Café is located at The Camp in Costa Mesa. Mark’s daily menu always contains a number of mouthwatering selections along with seven separate 4-course tasting menus, six with wine pairings (two of these vegan) and the newest addition, four courses paired with beer.   

Japan meets OC

Beer Zen meets OC at Unsung Brewing Company in Anaheim.

Mike Crea and his Unsung Brewing Co team, along with the Culinary Underground’s Andrea Machuca-Kirkland, hosted the folks from Beer Zen recently at Unsung Anaheim. Crea provided the beer while Machuca-Kirkland arranged an assortment of amazing cheeses, charcuterie and spent-grain pretzels for this meet-and-greet to welcome Beer Zen founder Maek Post. Beer Zen is an Osaka-based craft beer-focused journal, released quarterly. In addition to articles that discuss the craft beer scene in Japan, it regularly features wide reaching craft-related stories from around the world. Machuca-Kirkland is a contributing writer. Beer Zen’s goal is to introduce folks in Japan to craft beer from Japan and abroad. Maek has lived and worked in Japan since the mid-1990s. https://issuu.com/beerzen

If you haven’t been to Unsung lately, it’s time to return. In addition to selection, the tried and true styles coming out of Unsung’s production brewery in Tustin, its Incubator Series of beers brewed on the pilot system in Anaheim has really taken flight. On this visit nine Incubator beers were available, including four IPAs, a Saison, an Apricot Sour and a Wit.

Wet Hops San Diego-style

While there may still be some San Diego-grown wet hop beers to be had, most of the wet hop brews utilizing Pacific Northwest hops are just beginning to show. For the past three years, O’Brien’s Pub in San Diego has celebrated both. Since San Diego County’s hop harvest matures a month or two earlier than the Pacific NW, owner Tom Nickel and his team at O’Brien’s now celebrate two separate Wet Hop Weekends.

September 15th marked the beginning of San Diego Wet Hop Weekend this year. More than 25 beers brewed with fresh San Diego-grown hops debuted. All the fresh hops used in these beers had been utilized within 24 hours of being picked. Fresh and local were the focus as beers were progressively tapped throughout the weekend. They included beers crafted by Burning Beard, Chuck Alec, South Park, North Park, Monkey Paw, Craft, Thunderhawk, San Diego Brewing, Amplified, Pure Project, Fall, Prodigy, Mikkeller and Nickel. Tom’s own Nickel Beer Company had nine separate wet hop brews.

Check O’Brien’s website and social media to find out when its other wet hop weekend (15th Annual Wet Hop Festival) will be held. It historically takes place on one of the latter weekends in October. These wet-hopped festivities give patrons the opportunity to enjoy these unique short-term beers by the taste, half glass or full.

In San Clemente, also look forward to Pizza Port’s hoppy take on Oktoberfest happening on October 28. Hoptoberfest’s hoppy selection of over 75 beers typically includes a number of fresh hop beers.