What does Charlie Palmer’s District Tavern in Denver and Sonoma County Vitners in California have in common with the Visa Signature card and Mileage Plus United? Last night, these entities collaborated together and hosted the first Visa Signature wine pairing event in Denver.
Visa Signature cardholders are periodically offered food and wine opportunities. This was the first time Denverites had the chance to partake in one of these festive occasions. My husband and I were lucky. Our children treated us to this unique opportunity.
After walking into Charlie Palmer’s District Tavern, we were immediately greeted by a friendly representative from GMR Marketing and were simultaneously offered a flute of bubbly champagne by a nearby waiter. As we sipped our drink, we enjoyed waves of appetizers that included a fried vegetarian item, a spoon of tuna tartar with avocado in a soy base, and a marinated beef skewer. We also had the opportunity to mingle with the other guests who were standing in the bar area. In between the chatter, compliments about the appetizers could be overheard. Behind and above the elongated bar were three mega screens. While the middle one showed sporting events, the exterior screens flashed archival pictures from the west. This ongoing show of western history provided a pleasant background for the evening.
The several dozen dinner guests were seated at two long tables and a handful of booths. My husband and I sat in the middle of one of the tables. Representatives from Visa and Mileage Plus welcomed the guests and introduced Charlie Palmer and Casidy Ward, a co-owner of Hidden Ridge vineyard. Charlie is a celebrated chef, author of cookbooks and a successful entrepreneur who has opened restaurants in New York City, Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., Reno, Sonoma and Orange Counties in California, and Dallas. Hidden Ridge is one of a small number of Sonoma County Vintners who have partnered with Visa and Mileage Plus.
Charlie Palmer described his vision of wine pairing. He tasted the wines and then created the food. Hidden Ridge winery limits its production to cabernet sauvignon. Casidy talked about how the weather affected the grapes that are grown on steep terraces in the mountainous region that separates Napa and Sonoma.
While the first glass of Cabernet Sauvignon Hidden Ridge 2006 was being poured, a dish that included pan roasted Colorado striped bass was given to each guest. The tender and tasty piece of fish was perched on top of a crisp potato pancake that reminded me of a potato latke. A garnish of three sweet and sour cherries were an added bonus. Even though Cabernet Sauvignon is traditionally paired with meat, this combination was delightful. The sea bass was my favorite. I preferred drinking the wine with the entree over drinking it alone.
There was ample time to speak with our fellow guests and to enjoy personal conversations with Casidy and Charlie. When we conversed with Casidy, we learned that the wine business was not on her original list of occupations. When Casidy and her husband bought their California property, they planned on renovating the existing home and reselling it for a profit. A change in the housing market prevented them from following through on their plan. After exploring other options, a decision to start their own winery became the beginning of their American success story.
Another glass of wine was poured. This one was Hidden Ridge’s 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. The menu called for a smoked tender belly pork loin. After advising the marketing representative that we do not eat pork, we were courteously offered an item from their regular menu- a wood fired Long Shadow Farms chicken breast with a crisp thigh. Instead of the usual garnishes of tabouleh and artichokes, we enjoyed the sides for the original pork dish, charred plums and sweet corn.
Before the next round of food, Charlie came by to personally greet us. We learned that approximately 80% of his ingredients are produced locally. The seasonal fruits and vegetables were a treat. As he talked, our hefty portions of Herb crusted rack of lamb were placed in front of us. The entree included a stuffed baby artichoke and heirloom eggplant caponata. I rarely order lamb. However, I never recall ever seeing such a thick chunk of lamb. Charlie prefers the taste of Colorado lamb over the much sought after Australian lamb. This entree was paired with Hidden Ridge’s 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
The leisurely pace of the courses added to the festive nature and allowed the opportunity to indulge in a wonderfully prepared dessert. The peach tarte tatin included a scoop of honey almond ice cream with a smattering of salted carmel. I usually order anything with the word “chocolate” in the description. This was a knockout dessert even though it lacked a spec of chocolate.
Serving 50+ dinner patrons simultaneously is not an easy feat. Our hats go off to Charlie’s staff for doing an extraordinary job.
Before exiting, we were handed a bag that included a bottle of wine, a cookbook authored by Charlie Palmer, a couple of gift cards redeemable at the restaurant, and miscellaneous items. The goody bag was unexpected and an added bonus.
We enjoyed a spectacular evening that combined the culinary talents of Charlie Palmer, the outstanding service provided by Charlie’s staff, the delicious wine from Hidden Ridge, the gregarious nature of our fellow guests, and the business acumen of Visa and Mileage Plus.