Fall Harvest With a French Flair

Charlottesville’s famed French restaurant Fleurie celebrated the fall harvest with a seven course wine dinner.

The problem with a being a Food Network junkie is that one can see the food and hear about it but never taste it. It really is just a tease for foodies, like me, who ironically delight in also smelling and tasting fantastic culinary concoctions. But last night I got my complete sensory food fix as one of the lucky attendees of the Fall Harvest Dinner at Charlottesville’s famed French restaurant, Fleurie.

Chef Brian Helleberg, partnered with Margaux & Company Imports and local wine seller, Wine Made Simple to create seven Iron Chef-worthy courses featuring seasonal fare, a tasty Virginia Cuvee and a magical mix of French wines.

Fall Harvest is the first in a series of wine dinners planned by Helleburg since he became sole owner of Fleurie in October. “I plan to do six wine dinners a year,” says Helleberg, “which will allow us to explore different themes.”

The planning of this event was a mutual effort between Helleberg and Rob Gardener, Wine Consultant for Margaux & Company. “I chose wines appropriate for the season and Chef Helleberg talked about foods that are available this time of the year. He then came up with the menu following a private tasting,” says Gardener.

And what an experience it was! I am so excited to use my “Food Network vocabulary” that I must describe each delectable dish…

First Course: Poached Leeks and Rappahannock Oysters with Thibaut Janisson Cuvee D’Etat 2008

A combination of perfectly cooked oysters floating on a delicate sauce of oyster liquor, butter and leeks with delicate carrot strands served in a futuristic white bowl. This was expertly paired with Thibaut Janisson Cuvee D’Etat 2008, a Virginia sparkling wine created by master Champagne maker, Claude Thibaut from Verzenay, France using grapes from Ivy Creek Vineyard in Afton. The Cuvee D’Etat had a fantastic flavor, the best Virginian bubbly this writer has ever tasted—light and clean with a slightly fruity snap, quite lovely.

The other courses proved equally elegant and delectable:

Second Course: Rockfish Bonne Femme with Chateau Petit Moulin 2009

The lemon lime notes of the Moulin Blanc offset the earthiness of the butter, shallots, thyme and wine pan roasted white mushrooms topping a perfectly seared slice of juicy yet flakey rockfish, expertly seared on top to add a nice crunch. (My mouth waters just thinking about it).

Third Course: Pumpkin Gnocchi with Peas and Pea Shoots paired with Domaine Desperrier Moulin a Vents Beaujolais 2007

This dish translated as a tasting of light potato gnocchi and peas presented in a creamy pumpkin, carrot puree that hinted at a fine cheese sauce, sprinkled with home grown pea shoots for a pleasant textural mix. The slight cheesiness of the sauce allowed the flavor of the peas to pop, giving them surprising power in the dish. This Beaujolais is charmingly smooth and full but light enough to match rather than overpower the delicate flavors of the dish.

Fourth Course: Squab Baked in Puff Pastry with Foie Gras and Cabbage with Louis Max Mercurey Clos la Marche 2009.

Squab usually scares me but perhaps only because I had yet to eat it properly cooked. Chef Helleberg presented a melt-in-your-mouth pastry encircled (California Roll-style) chunk of squab wrapped around a taste of foie gras, gently resting on a bed of shaved inner Savoy cabbage with crumbles of crispy squab fat bits sprinkled around a circle of drizzled dark squab juis that added eye-catching burgundy color and a zap of of flavor resembling the velocity of pop rocks in the mouth. The Clos La Marche added an autumnal blackberry dash to the overall flavors of the dish and wine combination.

Fifth Course: Roast Loin of Venison with Braised Red Cabbage, Spaetzle and Red Wine Sauce with Domaine Mucyn Crozes Hermitage Rouge 2008.

The wine paired with this course was earthy and at first sniff emitted an aroma of vanilla that defused into black pepper complimenting the faint gaminess of the venison medallion. The meat (again, cooked just right), danced in the sweetness of the braised red cabbage and pear and grounded by the buttery flavor of what my Austrian table mate claimed to be “perfect” spaetzle.

Sixth Course: Green Salad from Chef’s Garden with a Mustard Vinaigrette with Roland Tissier Sancerre 2010.

A flavorful mix of spicy seasonal greens to cleanse the palate before dessert, charmingly presented with paper-thin sliced baby carrot and radishes as garnish paired with a wine of bold grapiness.

And for dessert: Chestnut Mille Feuille with Rum Chantilly with J. Fritsch Gewurztraminer Vendages Tardives 2007.

Flakey filo infused with chestnut and rum flavored creams. A gooey salted toffee swirl on the side for contrast in visual and taste. The wine is made once every four years as conditions must be just right for fungal elements to create a “noble rot” which gives the grapes a unique flavor.

When asked which dishes were her favorites, guest Nina Jackson exclaimed, “I loved the squab and the venison dishes. Both had such interesting flavor combinations and hints of Alsatian elements.”

We all agreed that our yen for culinary sensory pleasure had been met and look forward to the next wine dinner at Fleurie. I think “the Chairman” would have even been rightfully pleased.

June 11, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
July 9, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
August 13, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum