Monday, June 1, 2015

Mixed Plate: Vino Morghulis - Wine Tasting in Westeros

SPOILER ALERT: a whole lotta folks die on the HBO series Game of Thrones. Glad we got that out of the way. But let us raise a glass, like the great Lannister Queen Cersei does (frequently), and honor those who have departed in typical Westeros style: bloody, violent, with a look of mortal terror on what's left of one's visage. What better way to honor the Old Gods and the New than a blind tasting of bold, vibrant red wines, made in Washington by the good folks at House EFESTĒ in the land of Woodinville? They were kind enough to not only provide me with a sample of these hearty Rhône-inspired reds, but a handy list of tasting notes to inspire a party that can only be called Game of  Rhônes (cue booming GoT theme). The Many-Faced God of Braavos would advise us in the ancient Valyrian tongue, Valar Morghulis (All Men Must Die), but to that I say, VINO MORGHULIS -- all men (and fair ladies) must drink! 

The Royal Family of EFESTĒ wines - Drinking is Coming! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I know we're getting more into the summery days of the Northwest, where we're not swathed in our native garb of fleece sweaters and North Face jackets, but I do feel our hearts are like the swarthy Men of the North (maybe not the Crows of Castle Black, that's more like Edmonton, Canada -- brr... have you been up there? True North Pride, yo.). We always know Winter is Coming, and we feel a stronger affinity to bold red wines, even when the sun is high and the skies are blue. EFESTĒ (pronounced "F-S-T," if you're wondering) selected four Rhône-style wines to represent a few of the popular Game of Thrones houses, which makes for an awesome wine tasting party theme. Whether you watch the series or not, you'll enjoy the wines, as my little gathering of friends did -- we had a half/half group, half watch/love Game of Thrones, the other half love wine. Win/Win.

Game of Thrones, the only other TV series as krunked as Mad Men - Images from HBO's Game of Thrones
While you don't have to be as obsessive about this addictive TV series as I am, it definitely makes for an added bit of fun when you're doing a blind wine tasting. I took to the Interwebs and created some custom labels to help distinguish the velvet-bagged wines, complete with wine-themed riffs on the family sayings -- feel free to download the PDF for your own party you know you want to have. You don't have to be this nerdy, but identifying the bottles by royal houses is more fun than saying, did you like Mystery Wine 1 or  Mystery Wine 3? That's boring. Let's shout with a booming, swarthy voice: I choose Vintage Stark, for its adherence to Northern Rhône style, great intensity and persistence, built to age! Right before you stab someone across the table with your greatsword. And yes, there's tasting notes, thanks to EFESTĒ for providing those, which I made into a handy sheet to keep out as a reference, without spoiling which wine is which. See, who says I don't bring the party?

Ingredients for a GoT wine-tasting party - mini dire wolf not required but recommended - Photos by Wasabi Prime
So you've got the labels printed and hung 'round the wine bottles with care, a copy of the tasting notes for quick reference -- come on, you know you need a crown. My absolutely majestic crown was made from cardboard and glued-on sequins. Just the right size to bestow upon neck of the winning wine bottle, based on the party's votes. As for the appearance of a Northern Dire Wolf, that's your call, but I can say that Beeks added a certain air of authenticity. Because you know... she's so huge. All 31 pounds of her.

Which wine will be given the great Cardboard Sequin Crown?? - Photo by Wasabi Prime
If you're wondering, the Rhône Valley region of France is in the southern part of the country, which experiences warm summers but harsh winters -- perfect for Westeros, and perfect for many varietals we know and love, like Viognier, Roussanne, and of course, Syrah. The EFESTĒ wines we tasted included Emmy, Eleni, Jolie Bouche, and Ceidleigh, all Syrah and Rhône-style blends that have the juicy berry-fruit ranging from bright/acid to deep rich notes, light and balanced tannins, and they all go marvelously with a hearty feast, as one should have when pouring four different bottles of wine.

A feast even a Lannister would approve of (snobby jerks that they are) - Photo by Wasabi Prime
So, the food -- what to serve? You could be a real overachiever and roast a whole pig on a spit over a roaring fire. Or you can make platters of deviled eggs, prosciutto-wrapped melon, bread of some kind, meatballs of both veggie and beef variety, and roasted veggies with romesco. It's totally up to you how overachiever you want to get with this, but I'm here to say that Option B was perfectly delicious.

Food and non-alcoholic drinks to keep the palates refreshed - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The Rhône reds are delicious with well-seasoned, flavorful food -- grilled meats would be great, since we're heading into sunnier days. I went with meatballs because I could make them all at once in a single batch, plus it was easy to vegetarian-ize half of them, using my standby chickpea/quinoa base, which can be made into patties or ball shapes, and they bake off nicely in an oven if you don't want to fry over a pan. Here's the recipe for that vegetarian chickpea/quinoa fritter from a previous post. I also roasted a variety of vegetables and served that with a big bowl of romesco sauce, a roasted red pepper-based dipping sauce popular in Spain. If that sounds tasty, believe me, it is -- I posted my recipe for romesco on the blog a while back, and I love it so much, I always make more than I need and keep some in the freezer for parties like these. And while you're feasting and tasting, keep plenty of water and an optional non-alcoholic drink available to sip on -- I had one guest who wasn't a drinker, but it was still fun to put something festive in her wine glass, even if it was seltzer and juice.

Feast on, people of Westeros - Photo by Wasabi Prime
We ate, we drank, we ate some more, and we eventually came to a decision over which of the House wines would wear the epic Crown of Cardboard and Sequins... but I'm not spoiling anything by telling. That's the best thing about having a blind tasting, people really hone in on what they're sipping, they pay attention to what's in the glass, and they really have to consider what they like about a wine, whether they're familiar with wines or not. It just comes down to personal taste, and interestingly enough, it was a near-landslide for our group. Head over to EFESTĒ's tasting room in Woodinville to get the specific set of wines -- they've included ones that aren't available on their website, kept secret and safe, just for you, like a precious gold ring of power from a totally different set of books/movies.

Bow down, biyotches, this queen RULES - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Let's be honest, we can see who the real winner of this party was. And she didn't even need to drink the wine to feel like a queen. Huge thanks to EFESTĒ for providing the wine samples, and to sweet friends for bringing desserts and fresh flowers to make this party even more epic. 

To sweet friends and pups - thanks for the party, y'all - Photos by Wasabi Prime

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