Black Magic

So…I’ve been MIA from the blogging world lately. Between job hunting and working two part-time jobs in the interim, I haven’t had much energy to be super-creative…at least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself. It kind of looks like a lame excuse here on the page. In fact, my two last wedding posts are about ready to go; just looking for some good photos of the food!

In the meantime, I wanted to write about a really different kind of wine tasting event that I attended with my friends Jess and Diane (SO excited that Diane is what the Trifecta would have called a “wineaux” and is willing to pay to go to this stuff with me!)

Right before Halloween, Jess forwarded an email from Vinology, a wine bar here in Ann Arbor (also the site of mine and Noe’s post-wedding toast). It was an advertisement for their “Black Wine Night.” Black Wine Night was to be held in Vinology’s “bubble room” (an extremely cool little basement event space); completely lit by candle and jack-o-lanterns; also, all the food would have a “black” theme. In addition, the wine bottle would be covered and the wine poured into and served in pitch-black Reidel stemless glasses – you would not be able to see what you were tasting. You’d have to be completely reliant on your senses.

Oh, and black attire was required.

Well, that was all just too intriguing to pass up. Without seeing a menu (we only knew it was five courses) or a wine list (after all, that would ruin the surprise!), the three of us plunked down $50 apiece, raided our closets for classy black clothing, and headed out for a Tuesday night on the town.

Continuing my tradition of buying "nice" clothes at Target

The email was true to its word – the exposed brick and glass bubbles suspended from the Bubble Room ceiling glinted in the spooky candlelight. We sat at tables clothes in black, with black linen napkins and the aforementioned black wineglasses. Only the plates were white.

We couldn’t see a thing as the waitresses poured the wine. We were encouraged to take notes, make guesses, and discuss with others at our table. A guide to the basic flavor profiles of common varietals was printed on the menu.

While it sounded intimidating at first (and probably could have been, had you been seated at a table with a bunch of wine snobs), it was actually really interesting. Most people have better palates than they think they do – even if you can’t put a name to a flavor, a lot of times you can still pick the separate flavors out. You also could not form an immediate prejudice based on the label/varietal/color – you couldn’t see anything.

You’d think that this would be the main draw of the night and that dinner would almost be an afterthought. You would be sadly mistaken. Vinology’s chef, Jim Leonardo, put together an incredibly creative menu that touched on all kinds of food sensations. He played with pairing textures, incorporated many different flavor influences, and also managed to make it compliment the selected wines without going for such obvious pairings that it gave away the mystery. A quick rundown of the menu:

Forbidden Night: black forbidden rice, black trumpet mushrooms, crispy rice noodles

Forbidden Night

Deadly Catch: porcini-dusted black grouper, squid ink linguini, black sambuca butter nage

Deadly Catch

Black Cat’s Delight: black peppercorn-crusted ahi tuna with black mission fig agrodolce

Black Cat's Delight

Death’s Touch: espresso-rubbed filet of beef, crispy black bean burrito, with black mole sauce

Death's Touch

Dark Chocolate Seduction: warm lava cake, coffee ice cream, chocolate soil, Turkish coffee syrup

Dark Chocolate Seduction

It was all amazing, but table favorites were definitely the tuna (although we wondered if it might be too peppery in a larger portion; however, the pepper was offset nicely by the sweetness of the figs) and the beef (oh my god, I could go on and on about that beef).

At the end of the night our six wines were revealed. Some of the results were surprising, some were not so much. However, aside from a really wonderful Chinon Cab Franc at the beginning (Domaine de la Noblaie “Les Chiens-Chien”) and an earthy, vegetal Cab/Syrah blend from Chile (Casillero del Diablo Reserva Privada), there were no real standouts. In fact, we were not impressed with any of the whites selected, finding a Washington Reisling to be a non-pleasant mix of sweet and sulfuric and a California Voigner to just be sort of so-so.

Despite the fact that we didn’t fall in love with any new wines, we did fall in love with the food, and with the concept. Also, please don’t take the fact that we weren’t crazy about some of the wines for this event as a detractor – not everyone is going to like everything! – Vinology has a fantastic wine list, with many great things available by the glass. In fact, we went upstairs after dinner concluded and each ordered a glass that fit what we were craving (in my case, an earthy French red – I needed to taste some dirt).

Serious reds to end the night

Overall, this was a really creative and well-executed event and a truly interesting way to taste new wines. Don’t be intimidated – trust your tastebuds and see what you come up with!


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