Heirloom's 2nd Tuesday Wine Tasting

Two glasses of white wine are pictured at Heirloom Cafe's 2nd Tuesday Wine Tasting event in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday, Mar. 9, 2021. (Photo/Lora Yordanova, @lorayphoto)

Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market announced the return of its “2nd Tuesday Tasting” at the end of February, just in time to celebrate the coming of spring. From its welcoming hosts to the sommelier’s humorous and knowledgeable commentary, there is more to be enjoyed in this experience than just thoughtful wine pairings.

Appropriately, celebrating spring became the theme for Heirloom’s first wine tasting since last March. Traditionally a communal event that offered five wines to taste and three paired snacks, 2nd Tuesday Tasting has been adjusted to account for COVID-19 precautions.

This wine tasting was held in partnership with Winebow Fine Wines and Spirits and one of its certified sommeliers, Kate White. For $40, generous tastes of five different wines, paired with three small meals and a dessert prepared by chef Jessica Rothacker, were on the menu for the evening.

A sparkling start

To kick off the night, the staff served the first wine on the menu: Raventós i Blanc Blanc de Blancs 2017. A sparkling white wine more akin to champagne, Blanc de Blancs was a wonderful way to wake up the taste buds with its small, delicate bubbles that delight the senses. The fruity and white floral notes play perfectly with the bubbles in this wine, which is described as “structured, fresh and complex.”

Blanc de Blancs comes from the Raventós i Blanc estate in Northeastern Spain, founded in 1497. It’s made in what is considered the traditional method, fermenting first in stainless steel tanks and then going through a second fermentation process, after blending, in the bottle for at least 18 months.

Smoked trout salad and French Muscadet

The next two wines were brought out together in order to compare and contrast. Both light, white Muscadet wines from the Loire Valley in France, the taste differences are subtle.

La Fruitière Muscadet was the fruitier of the two, as the name suggests. The taste is bright, with mineral undertones. These come from the rock which the vines are planted on in an area that used to be populated with massive granite fortresses in medieval times.

In contrast with La Fruitière, Harmonie from Michel Delhommeau has a more earthy and almost briny taste. Instead of growing over rock, the vines that produce Harmonie grow on a foundation of what is called ‘gabbro.’ Gabbro is one of the purest forms of molten magma that is formed underground, and instead of becoming granite, turns crystalline.

Smoked trout salad and French Muscadet at Heirloom's Wine Tasting

A smoked speckled trout salad and a glass of Muscadet wine are pictured at Heirloom Cafe's 2nd Tuesday Wine Tasting event in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday, Mar. 9, 2021. (Photo/Lora Yordanova, @lorayphoto)

These wines came with Chef Rothacker’s first dish of the evening: a fresh salad of gem lettuces, smoked speckled trout, soft boiled egg, pea tendrils, radishes, cucumbers, chives, capers and creamy lemon dill dressing.

The mineral taste of the wines was an excellent pairing with the speckled trout, and its light, crisp flavor complemented the fresh vegetables as well. The real star of this salad was the lemon dill dressing that brought all of the other flavors to life, especially the trout.

Strawberry toast and Rose

The second course — ricotta toast with roasted strawberries, fennel, arugula and a balsamic reduction — was paired with Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali Le Rose.

The vines that produce the Nerello Mascalese grapes for this pink wine are grown at the foot of Mount Etna, an active volcano on the east coast of Sicily. Le Rose has flavors of cherry, raspberry, blackberry and rose petals that made it a wonderful and natural pairing for the roasted strawberries.

Strawberry toast and Rose at Heirloom's Wine Tasting

Two glasses of Italian rose are pictured with roasted strawberries on ricotta toast at Heirloom Cafe's 2nd Tuesday Wine Tasting in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday, Mar. 9, 2021. (Photo/Lora Yordanova, @lorayphoto).

By far the best part of this toast was the strawberries themselves, roasted to bring out a sweet, jammy flavor. The fresh arugula and the balsamic drizzle offered a nice contrast. The toast itself, from Independent Baking Co., had a thick crust that was almost too toasted for my taste but was an excellent contrast to the creamy ricotta, which offered a good textural base for the dish.

Rabbit paella and a Spanish red

As the final wine of the night was brought out, a red from Toledo, Spain, White told the story of the wine Los Conejos Malditos and the choice of pairing it with a rabbit paella.

“What grows together, goes together,” White said.

She explained that the biggest threat to these vines is not the extreme conditions of the area, such as blistering heat, bitter cold, drought and wind — it’s rabbits. In the Bodegas Más Que Vinos vineyards, hectares of product are taken out each year by hungry rabbits. The producers of this wine have embraced this difficulty, naming the wine “the pesky rabbits” and decorating its label with drawings of naughty rabbits getting up to mischief.

“This is the Monty Python of red wines,” White said.

For a place like Heirloom, whose mission is to “tell a story with food,” this cheeky play on circumstance was right up its alley. While the playful pairing was much appreciated, this was the least remarkable of all the dishes. The texture was just right for paella, but the dish could have used more seasoning. The flavors of the spring onions, artichokes and fava beans were not particularly powerful and neither was the rabbit itself.

While the evening drew to a close, the end was made sweeter by individual carrot cake sandwich cookies that were served for dessert. The cream filling packed a rich flavor and the crumb of the carrot cake holding it together was perfectly moist and tender, while still ever-so-slightly crispy on the outside.

“The best way to make a new friend is through a bottle of wine,” co-owner Travis Burch said in his closing remarks.

Heirloom’s next wine tasting will be Italian-themed, featuring all Italian wines and cuisine. Call 706-354-7901 to reserve tickets.