At a basic meal, the entrée dictates the type of wine. Whether white or red, red or white, one or the other will usually do. It’s often a matter of asking, “What’s for dinner?” and reacting appropriately (always open to interpretation, of course). Whether sharing a bottle at home or ordering a glass in a restaurant, the main factor is what’s on the plate in front of you. Most meals go just fine with a single wine, consumed as a complement to the experience.
High dining, however, adds both complexities and opportunities. Throw in a few courses – not just a fried appetizer or a salad, but a series of well-crafted culinary delights – and suddenly each special segment of the meal begs for a different wine. At Suzanne Fine Regional Cuisine, located on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake near Lodi, co-owner and wine director Bob Stack recognizes the challenge. Not only does the restaurant offer a thoughtful wine-by-the-glass menu of many different varieties of Finger Lakes wine to pair with their meals, but there is also a seasonal opportunity to order, on-the-spot, a multi-course meal prepared with several different wine pairings. “I like promoting the different varietals that the Finger Lakes has to offer,” comments Stack, who thinks that the region’s excellent Riesling overshadows many good wines that consumers simply overlook.
Not every wine region can produce wines to fill out an entire dining experience. In the Finger Lakes, the fertile soil and cool climate produce good acidic sparkling wines, aromatic whites, promising reds and critically-acclaimed dessert wines (ice and late harvest). Finer restaurants in the Finger Lakes can turn to local wines to complete a multi-course offering, and, in theory, power through each course with a wonderful and unique food-wine pairing. “It just makes sense to work with local products,” says Suzanne Stack, chef and co-owner of Suzanne Fine Regional Cuisine, referring to food ingredients and wine in tandem. “I really believe in this region.”
To illustrate their dedication to the promotion of Finger Lakes wine, Bob and Suzanne Stack prepared a four-course meal that highlights four different types of wines from four different Finger Lakes wineries, each providing a broader sense of taste and enjoyment to the culinary creations with which they are paired.
Maine Dayboat Scallops with Braised Ramps, Smoked Salmon and Champagne Sauce paired with a 2006 Hermann Wiemer Cuvee Brut
As is customary, Bob Stack selected a sparkling wine to begin the meal. “The brightness of this Wiemer Brut complements the creaminess of the sauce; the acidity and texture of the wine work with the nuanced flavors of the scallops.” Suzanne emphasizes the local cream featured in the dish and reveals that the sauce itself is made with the same wine as the pairing. “I only use Finger Lakes wine in my cooking,” she says.
Bob believes that sparkling wines are underappreciated in the United States and should be featured with more meals. To make his point, he offers at least one local sparking line on the restaurant’s wines-by-the-glass list so that patrons can try pairing a sparkling wine with their meals. “Sparkling wines really pair well with a variety of foods,” he says, noting the fine texture of sparkling wines and their ability to elevate certain dishes.
Peekytoe Crab Tower with Fingerling Potatoes, Asparagus, and Tomato Concasse paired with a 2008 Red Tail Ridge Dry Riesling
Peekytoe crabs were referred to as sand crabs (i.e. throwaways) in Maine until about 10 years ago, when an aspiring entrepreneur began to market them with a unique name, recognizing that these little guys do not pack much heft but are big on flavor. Suzanne Stack loves the Peekytoe, describing the crab meat “as sweet and very delicate.” Bob selected the Red Tail Ridge Riesling for its long finish. “This wine just stays with you,” he says, describing its pear and apple notes underpinned with minerality.
Suzanne mentions that Riesling is great for cooking, pointing to the Riesling-tarragon vinaigrette that binds the crab, potatoes, asparagus and tomatoes together. “It’s the acidity in Riesling that’s great for cooking,” she says. “It provides balance to the natural sweetness in foods.”
Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Oxtail Ravioli, Red Wine Braised Onions, and Bordelaise Sauce paired with a 2005 Chateau Lafayette Reneau Cabernet Sauvignon
“This is a hearty dish,” comments Suzanne, who describes the three days it takes her to make the homemade beef stock as well as the 8 to 12 hours it takes to create the sauce (made with the wine pairing). Such a flavorful cut of meat demands a red wine with some body, and Bob believes that the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Chateau Lafayette Reneau meets expectations. “This wine does a really good job,” he says. “It’s nicely structured with great depth of character, showing tobacco and deep cherry with an excellent mouth feel.”
Bob laments that Cabernet Sauvignon is often overlooked in the Finger Lakes. While he acknowledges that only a handful of wineries push the envelope with this varietal, he believes that winemakers that do maintain such a focus create some red wines that stand up to scrutiny. “It’s not an easy wine to make economically,” Bob says, referring to the challenge of making some red varietals profitable in the Finger Lakes, “but the potential is there.”
Panna Cotta with Rhubarb Soup, Candied Pistachios, Strawberry Sorbet, and Fresh Berries paired a with 2008 Lamoreaux Landing Vidal Ice
For dessert, Suzanne created a complex dish that features local buttermilk to create a panna cotta coupled with rhubarb soup, playing on a subtle conflict between the smooth sweet cream and the tart rhubarb. “The wine fuses the two together,” Suzanne explains. “Sometimes you can include honey in this recipe to bring the components together, so this wine, with its honey flavors, is a good accompaniment.”
Bob echoes Suzanne’s comments about the flavor profile of the 2008 Lamoreaux Landing Vidal Ice. “It’s thick, with honey-maple flavors that really bring the dish together. Vidal can make for really great flavors in a dessert wine – too often discounted for what it can do.”
Now in their 10th year, Suzanne and Bob Stack remain excited about their opportunity to create a dining experience in the Finger Lakes. Transplants from New Jersey, Bob and Suzanne decided to open a restaurant on a whim after finding the current location of the restaurant for sale as a residence, not a business. “We were not looking to open a restaurant,” Suzanne recalls emotionally. “We came up here to take a week off to rest and relax, but when I walked into the main room of the house … that’s where our dining room is located now.”
While Suzanne had been employed as a culinary instructor and caterer for many years, Bob retired from a career in sales to pursue with his wife the dream of owning and running their own establishment. He jokes about many of the early trials, but feels confident that they enhance their offerings each and every year. “We love to make people happy, to share and talk about their meal with them,” Bob explains. Suzanne adds that “food, wine, and service” are the three passions behind their pursuit of creating a fine dining experience.
Bob Stack is adamant that Finger Lakes wines, as well as local fresh ingredients, will always be the main focus at Suzanne Fine Regional Cuisine. “It’s important to me to share these wines with our customers,” he stresses. “They’re here, available every night. They’re great ambassadors of our region.”
by Jason Feulner