The Beaufort Wine and Food Festival is underway, continuing through this weekend (April 27-May 1). See beaufortwineandfood.org for the full schedule. Several winery dinners have been scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
I participated in the winery dinner at Clawson's, on Front Street, featuring wines from Shelton Vineyards in Dobson, NC (sheltonvineyards.com). I have considered Shelton one of NC's best wineries, and this experience reinforced that impression. Chef Jon McGregor's food was elegant and creative, yet accessible.
We started with Yadkin Valley Savignon Blanc. I was fortunate to be seated next to Shelton's winemaker Gill Giese His treatment of this varietal is fairly light and crisp. It matched very well with hor d'oeuvers- crisp fried pimiento cheese fritters on one pass, candied bacon with pickled watermelon rind on another. The wine especially complemented the sharpness of the watermelon rind.
Seated, we moved to the first course, vanilla bean smoked scallops, pan-seared. Chef accented the mellow flavor of the scallop, along with the subtle smoky effect, by combining mango and habanero pepper in a vinaigrette, dressing pearled barley decorated with micro greens. Sophisticated, intense, but not overpowering. Bin 17 chardonnay paired tequite well with the scallop flavor. This is a steel tank chardonnay, crisp, no oakiness.
On to red wines and heftier foods.
Caramelized shallots flanked a mound of tender, moist duck confit, accented with stripes of strawberry coulis. The fruit and mild sweetness of the sauce served the duck well. Ciabatta crostini with shaved Parmesan cheese created a mellifluous interplay of flavors. Merlot is a classic match for duck. Shelton's interpretation is more austere than the big, fruity merlot preparations from California. It marries well with food.
The kitchen crusted beef tenderloin medallions with cracked black peppercorns and cinnamon- a striking creation and a complex combination of flavors. Field onions, carrots braised with ginger, and mixed greens were the vegetables, noteworthy for freshness. Cabernet franc is usually used in blends, but Shelton makes it as a standalone, with success in my estimation. It stood up to the heavier flavor of the beef and rounded out the range of flavors.
Dessert consisted of homemade coffee ice cream with chipotle and chocolate candied bacon, with creme anglaise. With this, Shelton served their port wine. The other wines were good, but I think the port is special. It is aged in barrels they buy from distilleries in Kentucky, where they hosted bourbon in their previous life. That imparts an undertone to the sweet effect of the port that is very interesting.
Shelton's current release wines are prepared in a style that is somewhat similar to the French- usually a bit more acidic and tannic, on the austere side, designed to blend with food, as opposed to bigger, more assertive wines that stand alone but can overwhelm the taste of food. It's a good niche to follow.
I had never been to Clawson's private dining room before. It's located on the third floor, directly overlooking the waterfront. A great venue! Clawson's regular menu does a great job of providing familiar, casual food, using local, fresh ingredients sourced from nearby farms and their own gardens. About 25 years ago, I wrote a review giving Clawson's 2 stars. It has progressed quite a ways since then. This meal was a solid 4, and what I have had on the regular menu has consistently ranked 3 ("very good" on my scale). Their shrimp and grits recipe in my book, Chefs of the Coast, is a personal favorite. Definitely recommended!