Thu 28 Aug 2008
Sometimes LL cooks dinner, sometimes I cook dinner, sometimes we cook dinner together. And then I get a bottle of wine from the fridge or the rack and we see how it works out. What you must remember is that food and wine pairings don’t have to be sublime; sometimes the food and the wine simply have to taste good together. Rarely do we say, “Well, that wine’s a mistake.” More often, we say, “That’s nice” or “That’s good.” And sometimes we chime on the Bingo Effect, as in “Whoa, that’s fabulous
Here, then, are some food and wine pairings from our dinner table, mainly from July and August. This post is dominated by pinot noirs from different areas of California, a circumstance I didn’t foresee when I began writing, but that’s just fine, because they’re all excellent, as well as instructive.
*Cucumber/radish soup with dill and mint AND Schloss Vollrads Kabinett Riesling 2006, Rheingau. The chilled soup was bright, refreshing and earthy, and so was the wine, which delivered lovely peach, pear and melon scents and flavors supported by lively acid and a fairly spare but supple texture. The minerality blossomed as the minutes went by. A great match. I call the wine Excellent. About $24.
*Chilled pea soup with mint and fresh ricotta AND Lustau “Jarana” Light Fino Sherry. Ah well, what’s classic if not a delicate, nutty, vibrant, fine-boned fino with a full-flavored pea soup that felt like the essence of a spring vegetable patch. Another great match. A Christopher Cannon selection, imported by Europvin USA, Oakland, Cal. Excellent. About $20. Well-made sherry remains one of the bargains of the wine world.
*After the pea soup — we were having some friends over for Sunday dinner — we served a chicken dish that while nicely photogenic, didn’t impress us, though it was a lot of work. The recipe called for a selection of exotic spices, toasted and then ground, and a separate process of chopping onions and garlic and some other vegetable substances. One was required to coat the chicken pieces with the spice mixture and then lave it with the moist marinade, and we kept thinking, “Why couldn’t you just do all of this together.” In any case, the wine was better than the dish. This is a wine I wrote about a few weeks ago, the Clos Poggiale 2004, Vin de Corse, a dark, spicy, smoky, floral-infused blend of sangiovese (55 percent) and syrah (45 percent. Very good+. About $28. That’s sauteed kale with roasted red pepper on the plate with the chicken.
*A better chicken dish came a couple of weeks later, just chicken thighs dusted with salt and pepper, rosemary and oregano and grilled, by me, over the trusty old hardwood coals. Not just finger-lickin’ good, but hand- and elbow- and shoulder-lickin’ too. Now, we’re suckers for pinot noir and grilled (or roasted) chicken, so I pulled out a bottle of the Donum Estate Pinot Noir 2005, Carneros. No, the wine does not display the finesse of which many Burgundian models are capable, but even in its bold aromas and bold flavors, this was authentically pinot noir. Black cherry, cranberry and plum flavors are permeated by spice and minerals, with a touch of tobacco; the texture is dense and chewy and platonically satiny, yet not the slightest bit heavy or obvious. A superb feat of winemaking and a wonderful match. Excellent. About $65.
*Grilled swordfish AND J Pinot Noir 2006, Russian River Valley. The swordfish was marinated in the usual fashion (for us), in lime juice and soy sauce, minced garlic and ginger, salt and pepper. These were pretty thick pieces of swordfish, so I grilled them for maybe five minutes on the first side and two or three minutes on the other side, so they were still rare in the middle. My first note on the pinot noir was: “a beautiful wine.” This is an especially balanced and harmonious pinot noir, rich and warm, with plenty of depth and structure but also exhibiting ineffable nuance and fleetness. Black currant and plum flavors become spicy, even a bit meaty, as the wine spends a few minutes in the glass, while elements of earthy brambles and underbrush provide serious underpinning. Excellent. About $38.
*All right, another pinot. Pork loin tonnato AND Sanford Pinot Noir 2006, Santa Rita Hills. The classic Italian dish is veal tonnato, that is with a smooth, mild tuna sauce, a unique surf ‘n’ turf concept. We’ve done turkey tonnato for a couple of years, a fine substitute, especially if you’d rather not partake of veal; this pork loin tonnato was also a big hit. It’s interesting that these three pinot noirs, reflecting their origins in different appellations in California and in varying winemaking philosophies, were are true and (to our palates) irresistible examples of the grape. Imagine that dried red currents, orange rind, cloves and rose petals were ground in a mortar, with a touch of allspice, for its brooding, slightly acrid earthiness, and that this mixture composed the essence of a seductive, entrancing wine whose lovely, satiny texture made it almost impossible not to drink, all of this accomplished with delicacy and breeding. That’s this pinot noir. Excellent. About $34.
*It has not been as killingly hot this summer in Memphis as it was last summer, particularly in August, when the days over 100 degrees seemed infinitely extended. Still, it’s been hot enough, so one day LL said, “Let’s just have a bread salad tonight.” As you can see from the image, the salad contained many ingredients: Chunks of bread, of course, which I dabbed with olive oil and grilled before tearing into shards; red and yellow tomatoes, celery and cucumber; looks like some green pepper and red onion; and certainly fresh basil. All this went into a bowl, took a sprinkling of olive oil and lemon juice and a brief soak to soften the bread slightly. The wine was El Coto de Rioja Rosado 2007, a half-and-half blend of tempranillo and garnacha (grenache) made completely in stainless steel. With its weaving of red currents, raspberries and orange zest, its dry, lively, stony nature, its edge of dried Mediterranean herbs and its lovely silky texture, this was a refreshing match with the bread salad. The wine rates Very good. About $11. Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York.
*When LL travels to distant cities and I fend for myself, I always take one night to prepare an omelet. On the night in question, I chopped a tomato, some green onion, some radicchio, a little green pepper, a chopped roasted potato left over from a previous dinner and a little speck, let them cook briefly in some olive oil while I whisked three eggs with crumbled feta cheese, salt and pepper, and then poured in the egg mixture. I don’t care for a runny omelet, and I probably cook the thing longer than a true devotee of omelets would tolerate; in fact, anyone can chime in now and say, “FK, what you’re making is a stove-top frittata,” and I suppose you would be right. The wine happens to be another pinot noir made in yet another style. The Handley Cellars Pinot Noir 2006, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County, is the sort of pinot that cuts a swathe across the palate with its complete clarity and sinewy spareness and vibrant acidity. It’s quite dry, though a full complement of dried black fruit — currents, cherries, plum — expands and fattens a bit, becoming fresher and riper and earthier. The oak slowly emerges in a tide of foresty, brambly elements, leading to, paradoxically, an austere yet almost delicately floral, spicy finish. I think this is a pinot noir that a Burgundian could love. Excellent. About $25. Oh, it was delicious with the omelet.