Memory fails me on how we ended up at Solo-Vino one particular evening about four years ago. Was it happenstance or an email blast that brought us to a tasting of wines from Domaine Rouge-Bleu and to meet the wine maker M. Jean-Marc Espinasse? Regardless, of how we ended up there, we have been blessed knowing Jean-Marc and enjoying the wines that his family produces about 25 minutes north of Avignon.
Every March Jean-Marc returns to Minnesota to introduce us to his new vintages and for the third year 128 Café has hosted a Wine Maker’s Dinner featuring the wines of Rouge-Bleu. The moment the email came from Jean-Marc announcing his arrival and another dinner, I was on the phone to the 128 to make reservations. The evening did not disappoint.
We arrived at our table to find a platter of the Cafe’s famous apple chutney, goat cheese croquettes and grilled crostini. Glasses of Dentelle Rosé 2011 were set before each of us to enjoy with our amuse bouche. This rosé is smooth and light being pressed from the grapes of Grenache and Carignan. The name in English means lace, which is a perfect name for this beautiful wine. The same wine remained flowing as we enjoyed our next course which was a lemon-caper risotto with spicy grilled calamari, basil oil and pickled carrot. As they say, what grows together goes together and this pairing could not have been more perfect with citrus, capers and the fruits of the sea.
A panzanella salad with spinach, arugula, radish, fennel, cucumber and white beans was enjoyed for Act 3 along with a cream of artichoke and asparagus soup. Thank goodness the chef did not add tomatoes which are traditional for such a salad. We’ll wait until summer for that addition. What we did enjoy were some of the abundance that is now in season both in the salad and soup. A Chateau de l’Aiguillette Muscadet 2011 was poured and enjoyed.
Our plat choices were either an artichoke and spinach stuffed chicken breast with polenta and vegetable salicon; a beef tenderloin stroganoff with crimini mushrooms, fresh herbs, spaetzle and grilled asparagus or a mahi mahi on saffron-caper basmati rice with grilled zucchini and a tomato-leek purée. The majority of the table went with the stroganoff, which seemed perfect on a chilly (okay cold) early spring evening.
I guess Jean-Marc couldn’t decide as both his Dentelle Rouge 2010 and his Mistral Rouge 2010 (a blend of grenache, syrah, mourvedre, and rousssan) were poured. On the nose the Dentelle Rouge was full of red fruits like currants with a hint of smokiness. The Mistral, named after the strong winds that blow through the Rhone valley, had the intensity of dark red fruit with spice. The intensity however was not heavy and it had an enjoyable long finish.
Brock and Natalie Obee would be proud that the Café continues to thrive in the basement of an apartment complex across from the campus of the University of Saint Thomas. We took a peek at their regular menu and the famous 128 Café ribs are still on the menu. They are the best! Luckily, the Obee’s shared the recipe once at a cooking class and I was fortunate to be in attendance. They are magic on your tongue. 128 Café , Cleveland Avenue North, Saint Paul MN. 651.645.4128. For more information on the wines that Jean-Marc produces and where they can be purchased, check out his check out his website at Domaine Rouge Bleu .