We like to pick fun themes—pirates, Vikings, tv shows. But sometimes there’s more to our themes than a fun trend. Sometimes we pick a theme to honor cultures—especially the heritages of our regular wine dinner guests. When we had the Scandinavian dinner, we had guests whose grandparents actually immigrated over from Sweden. This month, for our Black Sails dinner, we honored two very loyal wine dinner guests who lived in the San Martin for two years and another guest from Puerto Rico, so this Caribbean dinner became important to us (not just so Arianne’s could dress up in a pirate costume).

For this wine dinner Dan Morgan, sommelier, promised that all of the wines this would be rated 90 points or above.

Bahamian Style Conch Fritter

When we get the chance to share a food that most of our guests probably haven’t had, we take it! This time it was conch. You know the shells that you put up to your ear? It’s the meat inside. Our amuse bouche featured the conch in a fritter. Conch is a very difficult meat to work with (especially when you can’t get it from a fresh market in the Caribbean). Conch is a very firm meat, so we let it soak in buttermilk for 4 days to tenderize it as much as possible. Then we chopped it up to make the fritters. We served it with a scotch bonnet pepper sauce. Scotch bonnets are peppers that are in the habanero family. They pack some heat, but the peach and pineapple notes of the pepper balance the spice out, making it an interesting addition to the conch.

We paired the wine with Ca del Bosco Franciacorta (Lombardy, Italy). This critically acclaimed wine is Italy’s answer to champagne. Dan only gets 75 six-packs of this wine a year, making it extremely rare. It’s deep golden highlights sparkle. The complex bouquet combines notes of citrus, pear, honey, and green tea. The subtle aromas of the honey and green tea really paired nicely with the spice of the scotch bonnet pepper sauce. The palate is clean and direct with fruit and citrus notes, finishing on a subtle almond note. Because the grapes of this wine sit longer on the leaves, there is a slight yeasty characteristic, which compliments that “fried fish” flavor and the spice from the sauce well.  This is a very fun, yet elegant wine. Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate gives this wine a rating of 91. Wine Spectator rated it at 90.

Seared Calico Scallop on a bed of Pineapple-Mango Slaw

Originally it was going to be a dragon fruit slaw, but we had to use pineapple and mango instead. We tried and tried, but sometimes we just can’t get the ingredients we want. Despite the small setback, this dish was a winner among our guests. We made the slaw by combining the fresh fruits, lots of lime juice, a little apple cider vinegar, and fresh cilantro. We topped each bed of slaw with two beautiful buttery, seared scallops and garnished with a little orange zest. The flavorful meat melted in the mouth.

This was also paired with Ca del Bosco Franciacorta (Lombardy, Italy). The up-front energy in the fruit notes, along with the mineral notes and fresh bubbles, make this wine a perfect pair for this dish.

Authentic Bermuda Fish Chowder with Corn Meal Croquettes

We started with a house-made fish stock (made with cod, shrimp, clams, and mussels), which is not nearly as bold as beef, pork or chicken stock. In order to give it a robust flavor profile, we added 23 ingredients—this isn’t something you just “whip up.” It took some time to perfect. We featured the scotch bonnet pepper again, and as the chowder sat all day on a low simmer, the spice began to resonate more. We made corn meal croquettes to go on the side, adding a little bit of a crunch.

We paired this course with the lovely Valle Dell’Acate Frappato (Sicily, Italy). Sicily is an Italian island in the Mediterranean, a place where seafood and tomatoes are often eaten, so it was appropriate to pair this wine with the chowder. Not very many people in the United States have tried Frappato. In fact, out of all of our wine dinner guests, zero had heard of it! Not only was it a new wine, but it was a highly rated new wine.

“I was actually talking with Bruno Gargiulo (who own Bruno’s Restaurant in Downtown Springfield). He’s actually from Sicily and owns a vineyard in Sicily where he grows Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon . . . He suggested that Frappato is the best pairing for fish stew,” Dan shared with the guests.

This light-bodied, ruby-red wine has a fragrant and fresh aroma consisting of hints of red fruits, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, violet flowers and sage. The flavor is vivid and fresh, due to the red fruit and rosebud notes. Because of the soil structure of the terrain, the plant roots oxygenate freely, giving the wine has decent acidity and is pleasantly dry with a persistent closing. This wine has a rating of 92 points from Antonio Galloni and 91 points from the Wine Enthusiast.

Fresh Caribbean Fruit Salad with Jerk-Seasoned Flank Steak

It’s a little stereotypical to make jerk-seasoned food for a Caribbean-themed dinner, but we wanted to show guests what the seasoning tasted like when it was house-made. It has a lot of tasty flavors, but it packs a punch. We didn’t want the flavor and heat of the steak to overwhelm our guests’ palates, so we added some honey, lime juice and a touch of mint to tone it down. It was still very bold, but that’s how we wanted it. Once our guests took a bite of the jerk-seasoned steak, they followed it with a bite of the fresh tropical fruit (pineapple, tart kiwi, bananas, and grapes) to cool the sensation.

This dish needed a medium to full-bodied, red wine, so we paired it with Vina Cobos “Cocodrillo” Corte (Mendoza, Argentina). This gorgeous high-altitude red displays aromas of dark red and black fruits, cassis, cloves and exotic spices. Complex and intense, this wine shows ripe black fruit on the palate, layering with spices, tobacco, licorice and black currant, making it a perfect pairing for authentic jerk seasoning. This wine has a rating of 90 points from James Suckling.

Marinated Pork Tenderloin with Green Onion & Peanut Relish

Often times people consider pork to be an inexpensive meat or an easy meat to cook, but in reality, it’s not. It’s a very difficult meat to cook! You have to cook pork to the right temperature, making sure it’s safe to eat, while not overcooking it. This is even more important if you’re not smothering the meat in BBQ sauce! We marinated the tenderloin in coconut milk with that scotch bonnet pepper. We roasted the pork to a temperature of 135 degrees, pulled it out of the oven, and let it rest, slowly rising to the safe temperature of 145 degrees (the safe temperature). We sliced it, laying the meat over forbidden rice (which we cooked in Pinot Noir), and topping with a crunchy peanut and green onion relish.

We paired the main course with Rex Hill Pinot Noir (Willamette, Oregon), which is a 100 percent varietal, hand-made Pinot Noir. This dark ruby-red wine has aromas of plum, black cherry, blueberries, tobacco, violets, lilacs, iris and wet stone lead. Over time, complex notes of cassis, thyme, iron, clean earth and wild strawberries deepen the initial bouquet. Echoing the aromas, this wine’s flavors are focused and pure. On the palate, there are notes of cherries, cassis, flowers, and smoke. Structured with ripe tannins and good acidity, this wine is a classic example of Oregon Pinot Noir that pairs density with bright fruit flavors, perfect for pairing with a dish that incorporates rich meat, spices, and nuts. This wine is rated 90 on Wine Spectator.

Passion Fruit & Guava Flan

Wanting to incorporate more tropical fruit, we made a firm custard dessert called flan. This dish is widely eaten throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. We pureed fresh passion fruit and guava, adding it to the custard before baking it. We caramelized sugar, making a thick, hard crystals and placed it on top.

We paired the dessert with Foris Winery Gewurztraminer (Rogue Valley, Oregon). Aromas consist of lychee, rose petal, spice and citrus notes. Lingering flavors of Honeydew melon complement a lush texture of this dry white wine, finishing fresh and pairing nicely with the creamy, caramelized dessert. This wine has a rating of 90 points from Wine Enthusiast.

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