As Birmingham Weekly is a local paper, I feel it’s important to focus on local people and places that make a special effort to highlight truly interesting wines. But I remind you that I am neither a Reporter nor a Restaurant Critic, merely an Observer of people, places and wines; and of the philosophies held and the practices wrought by those who involve themselves in the daily goal of making and selling wine. I endeavor to capture the Essence of a wine experience, which I pass along to you for your education and enjoyment.
With this in mind, I headed to Hot and Hot Fish Club where Matthew Couch is the new Wine Director. Matthew is a serious, dedicated, and quietly passionate young man, whom I met when he was still a boy. His father, Allen, and I worked together in the wine industry in the good ole’ early days when the Birmingham Market was building its portfolio and its reputation for serious wine drinking.
Matthew gives credit to his father for training his palate, and for passing along the gift of expressing himself well . But he gives complete credit to John Rusiecki (who is now with dg restaurant), for teaching him about wine and food pairing.
His philosophy about wine follows in the path carved out by Chef/Owner Chris Hastings: to celebrate PLACE by working with SMALL PRODUCTION FARMERS AND LOCAL PRODUCERS. Matthew says that Low production = better taste and more personality. Finding wines of PLACE that represent the terroir (soil/ climate) of their birthplace result in wines of typicity … typical of the local soil.
One of Chris’ favorite small production protein dishes is the Lamb that he buys from Border Springs, Virginia. The Shepard who tends the flock of 1200 sheep actually came to tell his story to the servers recently, explaining the whole process to them……….a story they pass along to their customers. And what to drink when ordering such a rich and succulent dish, which is enhanced with glazed persimmon, root vegetables and pomegranate gastrigue? A hearty Red Rhone wine of course, which blends the earthiness of the vegetables and the roasted meatiness of the lamb, with the rustic sauvage character of the wine. Choose the Cercius Cotes-du-Rhone- Villages (Cercius is local name for the Mistral wind that cools the grapes) or the Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape for rich, distinctive wines of personality.
The other Mantra found around all things Hot and Hot is: EAT AND DRINK SEASONALLY. Thinking and Drinking Seasonally certainly applies to Roses, which are not just for Summer sipping. Matthew explains that the Seasonal choice is a weightier Rose such as the Domaine Lafond Tavel Rose, from Southern Rhone, a perfect match to the Hot and Hot Southern Bouillabaise made from Scallop, Stone Crap, and Monkfish. And what about Seasonal White Wines? Matthew was excited to tell me that he’d just added TREANA WHITE MERITAGE, a blend of Marsanne and Viognier, which exhibits a round, unctuous yet balanced, nutty character. It pairs seamlessly with their appetizer of roasted chestnuts, cauliflower and persimmons, topped with Red Mountain honey.
Folks also flock there to find the region’s Seasonal Vegetables, another favorite category for Matthew’s wine pairings. His favorite is their Fall Vegetable Salad, which includes two kinds of radishes done al dente, several kinds of roasted beets, and pea tendrils or micro greens, finished with a vinaigrette. And what wine pairs well with veggies? Matthew’s two favorite picks are the Prieler Pinot Blanc and the Gobelsberger Gruner Veltliner, both from Austria, and both small production wines of distinction. The pairings work because the bright liveliness of the wines matches the acidity of the vinaigrette which lowers the overall acidity, bringing them together harmoniously.
So the last piece of the Wine Puzzle is Wait Staff Training. Because the most important part is making sure the message makes it all the way to the Customer…..and the Waiters are the Messengers. Every time Matthew adds a new wine BTG (by the glass) he requests ingredients from the kitchen so that he can taste the staff on the pairing. And whenever a new menu item is added, he picks a BTG selection so they are ready to make that suggestion to their patrons.
So did anybody say “I’ll have a glass of your house red?” What you’d expect from such a request is a solidly decent glass of wine, but not much more. Not at Hot and Hot, where anything house-style is something of which they are immensely proud. Their 2009 House Red is called OLD DODGE (there’s one on the property), which is a special cuvee of two vineyard sites at Hirsch Vineyards on California’s West Sonoma Coast, which were blended by Chef Chris Hastings. Described as having direct fruit of raspberries with a hint of terroir, its a wine of subtlety and elegance. And fairly priced at $75 per bottle, but a real deal at $15 a glass, a price Matthew won’t go above.
So during your next visit, raise a glass to Matthew and his Wines of Distinction!
Hot and Hot Fish Club is located at 2180 11th Court South Birmingham, AL 35205-2810 (205) 933-5474