Master Sommelier Kevin Vogt
By Marilyn LaRocque | Photography by Britt Pierson
“I generally gravitate to warmer climate wines during cooler weather,” he revealed, “because warm climates produce riper grapes, which have more flavor, more color, more intensity and thus, more alcohol. I also like wines with a slightly earthy or rustic edge that reflects my mental image of Fall. The warm glow I get from a warmer climate wine on a cool, crisp Fall evening puts me in a very, very happy place.”
Kevin Vogt knows wine. He’s worked with Chef Emeril Lagasse for 17 years and is Sommelier/Wine Director for the celebrity chef’s four restaurants in Las Vegas (Delmonico, Fish House, Table 10, and Lagasse Stadium). He headquarters at Delmonico Steakhouse at The Venetian. He praises the wine teams at each restaurant and cites their talent as enabling him to travel to wine regions in 24 countries—so far—and to do events with Chef Emeril…or even on his behalf. Tough job, etc., etc. And to top it off, he’s also a winemaker, producing a top-scoring Napa Cabernet Sauvignon blend, Mastery. How good can it get!
Consequently, with autumn and the holidays approaching, he was my go-to guy for advice. I also tapped Ronnie Rainwater, Chef de Cuisine at Delmonico Steakhouse. He’s been with Emeril since 1999. He and Vogt came up with food and wine pairings that will fire up your tastes for Fall.
There’s always been the proverbial argument…which comes first, the wine or the food? These two experts believe in collaboration. Consequently, their choices happily intertwine.
Delmonico’s menu lists the Stuffed Pork Trotter as an Appetizer. It could easily be a main dish it is so savory, hearty, and filling. “Trotters is a fun dish,” Rainwater said. “It also fits in with current culinary thinking of ‘nose to tail’ utilization of an animal. I had pigs’ feet that I’d been using in stocks. I wanted to change it into something different. We have butchers and a band saw at the restaurant; so we split the whole foot, boned it out, stuffed it with pork sausage, and cooked it long and slow using the confit technique (cooked in its own fat) to develop lots of flavor. We used bell pepper, celery, and onions…the holy trinity of seasonings in New Orleans…and Creole seasoning, plus some aromatics, garlic, and a splash of brandy. In the braising mixture we used lard, mirepoix (a combination of chopped carrots, celery and onions), and aromatic veggies.”
Trotters…Pig’s feet with another name transformed into Creole sausage.
With so much intense flavor and aroma on the plate, Vogt had a challenge choosing the wine. “I paired the Crozes-Hermitage 2008 from Alain Graillot from the Northern Rhone Valley in France,” he said, “because it’s a rustically styled Syrah-based wine, essentially a baby Hermitage with a little less intensity than most Hermitage wines. The densely packed flavors of pie cherries, raspberry, smoked game, and spice are a beautiful contrast to the rich flavors of the pork trotter, yet they balance out the course with elegance and style. The trotter really gives the wine’s firm tannins something to hold onto.”
He was right. It was a marriage of equal, but different, partners.
The pasta dish was tender, luscious, decadently rich butternut squash ravioli. “To me, butternut squash says ‘Fall’,” Rainwater stated. “It’s rich and sweet with brown butter and toasted nuts and is also a great share item.” (His idea…definitely not mine. I’d hoard it!)
Italian white wine made from Fiano grapes was its companion. “The 2010 Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino from Campania has ripe, rich flavors of citrus and minerals and a lightly smoky, nutty characteristic,” Vogt explained. “The wine’s balanced richness pairs well with the creamy butternut squash and brown butter sauce yet retains a freshness to clean things up a bit on the finish.”
Butternut squash turns ravioli into an autumn delight.
The ubiquitous pig reappeared on the table as the main course…but this time as a thick, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth hamloin chop! “I wanted to be creative with a pork chop,” Rainwater commented. “It’s really Boston butt, bone-in ham, like a pork loin, in chop form. Because ham is cured or smoked pork, it’s pink. I had local apples and fresh pressed cider, got some applewood for the grill, and added a Southern touch with grits. To me, ham says the holidays are here!”
Many memories influenced Vogt’s wine choice of 2009 Gramercy Cellars “Lagniappe” Syrah from the Columbia Valley in Washington. “Fellow Master Sommelier Greg Harrington used to be Chef Emeril’s Wine Director in New Orleans about 16 years ago,” he remarked. “Fast forward to today, and Greg is making wines in Washington under his own label, Gramercy Cellars. The word Lagniappe, pronounced LAN-yap, is a New Orleans term meaning ‘a little something extra’ thrown in for good measure. Greg certainly threw in some extra flavor and balance in this marvelous wine. It boasts beautiful blue and black fruits, smoked bacon, game, purple flowers and spice that perfectly complement the powerful flavors of the ham chop.”
Holiday ham assumes a new identity as a thick, juicy chop.
Big question….What dessert could complete such a bounteous meal? Answer: Banana Cream Pie, one of Emeril’s signature confections, prepared by pastry chef Diane Wong, who’s been with the Emeril group for 10 years and at Delmonico for one. It’s a deceptively simple recipe…big slices of bananas layered in pastry cream and drizzled with caramel sauce. Total nirvana!
As its alter ego, Vogt chose one of my ultimate favorite sweet wines, Dolce by Far Niente in Napa Valley. It’s actually dessert in a glass…but I didn’t mind doubling up. Vogt extolled its virtues. “This wine is California’s most consistent, true-to-form dessert wine with pungently ripe slab apricot, sweet pear, honeyed vanilla, all framed in a penetratingly rich, viscous nectar that explodes on your palate with every drop. Our banana cream pie is so dense with intense, mouth-coating richness, that I need every bit of help that Dolce can give me to pair a wine with it.”
Banana slices bask in waves of cream laced with caramel sauce.
If you can’t make it to Delmonico during the holidays, both Rainwater and Vogt have some helpful hints for celebrating at home.
“To me autumn means squash—butternut squash, pumpkin squash, and apples, pears, nutmeg, allspice, cloves,” Rainwater said. “I’m a pretty simple person, so my cooking philosophy is ‘simplicity’. The secret is good ingredients and simple preparation. I’m a big fan of salt and pepper so seasonings don’t mask the ingredients. It’s important to use good, fresh ingredients, fresh local products, if you can, or go to other sources you can count on. It’s important to treat the ingredients right and not get too cute.
“If you want to celebrate with steak, all you have to do is cook it properly…char broil at a high temperature, and of course we use Creole seasoning. If you cook turkey, it should be fresh turkey with fresh cranberry sauce. You can make nice homemade gravy using the drippings. Add homemade cornbread, and you’re on you way to a great meal.”
When choosing wine for Thanksgiving with a classically cooked turkey, dressing, and traditional accompaniments, Vogt loves a riper styled California or Oregon Pinot Noir. “To me, Pinot Noir is the chameleon of grapes and can pair with the diversity of different dishes better than any other red grape. The softer, more supple tannins just kind of stay out of the way and allow you to enjoy the meal. German Riesling is the chameleon of white wines, and I love a Spatlese level Riesling from the Mosel as a can’t-miss white wine with nearly ANYTHING. Anther red choice would be a supple-styled Australian Shiraz.
“For Christmas dinner, my wife, Lynda, always does an amazing roasted Prime Rib basted with a Balsamic citrus glaze. It is absolutely stunning with our own wine, Mastery, a very high quality Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Napa, which is now part of our Christmas dinner tradition.” (www.masterywines.com)
Happy holidays… and bon appétit!