Perfectly Matched Pairings at the Aurora Inn

Heirloom Beet Terrine with 2010 Herman J. Weimar Dry Riesling.

In previous installments, we asked Finger Lakes wineries that serve food to pair their wines with their own fare, highlighting the qualities of the wines that are best expressed at meal time. In most cases, the menu found at a winery’s eatery is designed to complement the wine created at that establishment, which by no means limits the food but certainly pushes the offerings in some specific directions.

To reverse this equation, we have shifted our pairing focus in 2012 to restaurants in the Finger Lakes region that are not bound to serve any particular brand or type of wine with their food – much less a Finger Lakes wine. Many of these establishments create a diverse wine list due to their need to pair all kinds of wine with all kinds of food to suit the varied tastes of a changing clientele. Food and wine are not independent, but interdependent.

Due to their regional affiliation and a healthy respect for local wines, most Finger Lakes restaurants carry wines from the Finger Lakes (although many wineries argue that these offerings should expand). For this year’s feature, we asked each restaurant to select a white and a red for pairing with a culinary creation that has been offered or can potentially be offered to its customers. The wineries have not been consulted. Instead, we are focusing on the qualities of the wines as evaluated by the chef and the beverage staff at each restaurant. The result, we hope, will reflect an objective appreciation for the pairing strength of Finger Lakes wine amongst professional restaurant staff.

Our first stop in this series is the Aurora Inn. Located on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake in the heart of the Village of Aurora, the inn’s dining room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to guests of the inn as well as food and wine lovers who come from afar to sample the rotating menu and wine list.

White Pairing
Heirloom Beet Terrine with 2010 Herman J. Wiemer Dry Riesling

Aurora Inn Executive Chef Patrick Higgins likes working with Riesling, which he describes as having a “nice acidity that brings out natural sweetness in food.” He paired an heirloom beet terrine with goat cheese, sharp harvest greens and herb oil with a 2010 Herman J. Wiemer Dry Riesling. The beets are seasoned with sea salt and black pepper, slow roasted, cut thin and layered into terrine pans with the goat cheese. Final cooking and the greens add peppery flavor to the dish. Higgins describes the creation as a flavorful balance between “earthiness, sweetness and acid,” which he says contributes to the complexity and depth of this particular Riesling.

Meryl Davis, director of training and service, who is responsible for Aurora’s wine menu, agrees with Higgins’s evaluation of Riesling and its versatility. “Riesling is acidic, which makes it appealing to pair with a lot of dishes.” Meryl added that the beet terrine was paired with the same Wiemer Riesling at a recent winemaker’s dinner at Aurora and “was a great success.”

Red Pairing
Braised Veal Cheeks with 2008 Heart and Hands Sawmill Creek Single Vineyard Pinot Noir and 2008 Heart and Hands Hobbit Hollow Single Vineyard Pinot Noir

When Higgins and Davis sat down to discuss which wine to pair with braised veal cheeks, they knew that the 2008 Heart and Hands Pinot Noir would be a good match. They were surprised, however, to find that two versions of the same wine could coordinate with the dish – albeit in radically different ways. Although the Pinot Noirs are from the same vintage and the same winery, the variation in vineyard sourcing provides divergent profiles.

“These are both Burgundy-style Pinots,” explained Davis, “but you can tell the difference between vineyards that are 40 miles apart.” Sawmill Creek is a vineyard operated by the Hazlitt family near Hector on the southeastern shore of Seneca Lake, while Hobbit Hollow is a vineyard located on the northwestern shore of Skaneateles Lake. Heart and Hands Winery, which is still in the process of growing its own Pinot Noir vineyard, sources grapes from these vineyards and creates single-vineyard bottlings to demonstrate quality and sourcing profiles.

Single-vineyard designation is a practice that has gained some popularity among boutique wineries in the Finger Lakes and the wine enthusiasts who follow their efforts. The practice demonstrates the concept of terroir, a French term that expresses the qualities imparted to a wine by the soil, air, sunshine, irrigation (and other factors) of a growing site. Single-vineyard bottlings serve to highlight the impact of terroir by demonstrating that the same winery and winemaker can make radically different wines by sourcing grapes from different locations.

In preparing the braised veal cheeks, Higgins found that altering the accompanying squash helped to marry the different wines to the same entrée. “The Sawmill Creek matches well with a sweeter kobacha squash,” he explained, adding, “But the Pinot from Hobbit Hollow pairs better with a more savory delicata squash.” The veal cheeks are seared and then braised in veal stock and served with a chanterelle mushroom broth. With the variation in squash considered, both wines provide different taste balances to what is essentially the same dish.

Thoughts on Finger Lakes Pairing

Higgins, who learned his craft in Florida, is impressed with the dedication to local products found in the Finger Lakes. “There is an unbelievable local bounty of Finger Lakes products,” he said, noting the availability of seasonal and organic items from local farmers. Meryl Davis echoes this sentiment: “Guests want local. We can get wines all year long, and local wineries are making better and better wine.” The pairing of local food and wine seems to Higgins and Davis a reflection of the region’s identity.

The Aurora Inn does its part to educate consumers about local food and wine, holding periodic winemaker dinners that feature Aurora’s food paired with wine from a Finger Lakes winery. Davis, who worked for many years in Napa Valley and Los Angeles, notes that demand for Finger Lakes wines has grown dramatically among all customers, especially the year-round demand. “There are many good values representing the region,” she concluded.


by Jason Feulner