"Stand by your ingredients," said Chef Will Artley. Not quite a country and western lyric, it's his philosophy of cooking.
Artley was addressing diners on 5 September at Planet Wine Shop which adjoins the Evening Star Restaurant, in the Del Ray neighborhood of north Alexandria. The occasion was a five-course dinner pairing Artley's food to the wines of Martin Mittelbach, the 9th generation winemaker of Weingut Tegernseerhof in Austria. The setting was the Farm Table, a private table for fourteen in the wine shop.
His preparation, Artley said, reflects "the purity, provenance, and absolute quality of ingredients, rather than on fanciful technique." And, he buys local.
basil gnocchi, and truffle froth.
Paired with Tegernseerhof Bergdistel Grüner Veltliner 2006.
Located in the Austrian state of Wachau, northwest of Vienna, the Tegernseerhof estate slopes sharply down to the banks of the River Danube. The majority of its wine is Grüner Veltliner (also the grape varietal), a spicy, peppery, white wine with nuances of fruits such as honeydew melon and peach. Mittelbach also produces Riesling and a small volume of Chardonnay, and two red varieties: Blauer Zweigelt and Blauburger.
The estate's main stone house was built in 1166. But in the 1960s, Martin's father, alone among area winemakers at the time, switched to all stainless steel fermentation. This more modern technique ironically allowed the traditional character of the grapes to show their varietal character, unencumbered by oaky flavors.
These days, many craft beer makers are experimenting with oak and other extraneous ingredients.
Could Mittelbach's reliance on the grape itself, the prime ingredient —like many other winemakers— be an object lesson of sorts for these craft brewers?
For centuries, barley malt, hops, pure water, and yeast —that sublime quadrumvirate— served, unencumbered, as the recipe for fine beer. Indeed, there is recent beer scholarship asserting that brewers historically took great lengths to forestall wood flavor in their beers.
Are other flavorings fun? Yes. Are they interesting? Yes. Can they be flavorful? yes.
But make them the exception not the rule. "Stand by your ingredients."
[Menu and more photos here.]