Mon 3 Dec 2007
With what do you follow a tasting of 20 dessert wines, when your whole body feels as if it has been steeped in crystallized ginger, baked peaches ‘n’ cream and faintly rotten apricots? When sugar overload threatens to sent you into Sweet Tooth Shock Syndrome?
Something very clean and crisp and rigorous, a little nun-like in its purity and power. Wild sockeye salmon and the Silverado Vineyards Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2006, from Napa Valley’s Yountville appellation.
I organized this dessert wine event for eight people, including me and LL, and we all sat down at the table at home yesterday, on a blustery, rainy afternoon, when “the thermometer,” as Yeats says, “sank in the mouth of the dying day.” The dessert wines were all white, all non-fortified, representing many countries, regions, grapes, styles and strategies and ranging in year from 2006 back to 1986, lending the affair a tidy sense of symmetry. We tasted the wines blind, but since they were so different, I didn’t arrange them in competitive flights but offered each one individually. Quality varied, of course, but as LL said, “There wasn’t a clunker in sight.” And as Benito (wine-by-benito) averred, it was a great way to spend a chilly, rainy Sunday afternoon. I’ll post the results of the tasting in a couple of days.
Meanwhile, after clean-up, it’s eight o’clock or so and we needed that simple dinner, the salmon prepared with nothing more than salt, pepper, thyme and lemon juice and briefed seared, then briefly roasted (I mean, all this takes about four minutes); a handful of roasted potatoes; and some unadorned broccoli.
Made in stainless steel, the Silverado was perfect, fresh, clean, crisp and appropriately steelly, vibrant with acid, resonant with taut grapefruit, lime peel, lemon flavors and a touch of green apple; there’s a subtle weaving of dried thyme and tarragon, a hint of smoke, a bell-tone of leafy currant at the core. Classic and elegant and a bit austere from a flash of limestone in the finish. I rate it Excellent. About $18. Bottled with a screw-cap for easy opening.
Actually, we were supposed to eat that salmon Thursday night, but after what one always calls “a long day” — days aren’t really longer than each other; they just feel that way sometimes — before getting out the salmon for dinner we opened a couple of plastic-foam boxes (for a pre-dinner snack) we had brought from a restaurant the night before. Somehow this snack turned into dinner itself, which we ate standing in the kitchen, right out of the boxes, with a bottle of the Gainey Vineyard Merlot 2005, Santa Ynez Valley.
The restaurant was Umai, a small place in Memphis where an open kitchen the size of a modest walk-in closet turns out brilliant efforts at Franco-Japanese cuisine. We brought home 48-hour marinated duck in a “drunken duck” sauce and sirloin steak, crusted with chilies and chicory coffee and served with the best “fried” rice I have ever eaten.
The Gainey Merlot 2005 is aged 21 months in oak, 33 percent new barrels, and it wears that wood like a silk scarf around its shoulders. This is such a beautifully layered and structured merlot that it’s irresistible, but it doesn’t neglect the more stalwart elements of dusty, earthy tannins and touches of briers and brambles on the finish. Mainly, the wine is rich and intense, bursting with bright and vivid black currant and black cherry flavors framed by spicy oak and a supple chewy texture, bringing up, after a few minutes, waftings of dried flowers and bittersweet chocolate. Serious and delightful simultaneously. I rate this one Excellent, too. About $24. Drink now through 2010 or ’11.