Epicure

A Perfect Pairing

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Warm woods and subdued lighting seduce you the moment you’re seated. But the presentation of the succulent steak you select — the Petite Filet Oscar-Style, New York Strip au Poivre, or Prosciutto-Wrapped Filet Mignon with Green Pepper Sauce — is so sensuous and the first bite so satisfying that you know you’re in for a fine dining experience.

Indeed, after asking your preference, a knowledgeable server recommends a wine to complement your entrée. Do you like a velvety merlot, a ripe cabernet, a pinot noir, or bold Chateauneuf-du-Pape? Fleming’s wine list — amassed through exhaustive research and careful evaluation — features more than 100 choices by the glass. There is a perfect pairing for each course, appetizer to dessert.

It comes as little surprise that Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar has become known for its quarterly Nights of Discovery Wine Dinners, each with a theme such as Mardi Gras, Golfers and Vintners, or a particular vintner. The most recent, on Nov. 8, featured the same menu and wine selections at all 34 Fleming’s restaurants.

The restaurant’s collection of 100 wines by the glass changes each year. Corporate Director of Wine Marian Jansen op de Haar — raised in Holland and an expert in wines from around the world — begins tastings this month, selecting from vast international, regional, and boutique wines, for the restaurant’s next progressive 100-wines roster.

Jansen op de Haar likes wines that are a good value at any price, with a “sense of place.” That is, she wants to discern where it comes from as soon as she tastes it. She and her team taste many frogs before selecting a prince. Her personal favorite “depends on the food, the company, and the time of year; but I still love a good cabernet with a steak.”

Wayne Hanseth is the sommelier at the Rancho Mirage Fleming’s and an important member of the staff. Managing Partner Mark Stagner touts that Fleming’s trains its staff internally, and Hanseth has learned well. The in-house, three-phase sommelier course, World of Wine, is intensive, with 25 hours of reading and a two-hour written test in the first phase alone.

Hanseth came to Fleming’s from another steakhouse and soon showed a desire to learn as much as he could about the food, wine, and expertise of pairing the right wine with the right menu item. He was sent to open three other locations as a bartender, enrolled in management training, visited wineries in Napa, and attended an outside sommelier course. He proved his talents and was named sommelier, says Stagner, himself a wine connoisseur. Hanseth loves his job and carefully considers wine-taste profiles and how tannins in the wine cut through rich foods when making his selections.

This season, Fleming’s introduces Discovery Pairing Dinners, offering three four-course, prix fixe menus from appetizer to dessert, each course paired with an excellent wine. Prices range from $75 to $150 per person. Guests choose an entrée — a tender steak or selected fish — and then sit back and enjoy the adventure. Reservations must be made 24 hours in advance.

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, The River at Rancho Mirage,
71-800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 776-6685; www.flemingssteakhouse.com

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