Tue 3 Mar 2009
The last meal I prepared in LL’s absence wasn’t Saturday. That night — wonderfully snowing in Memphis — I met my daughter at Bari, a favorite restaurant of ours in town, to celebrate (belatedly) her birthday. We sat at the bar and ate grilled octopus with grapefruit, a platter of grilled red bell peppers and zucchini with speck and braseola (with stacks of good crusty bread), and finished with three cheeses. You know, sometimes you just have to think that the most simple, freshest, perfectly prepared food is what great eating is all about. I had an excellent Tanqueray martini (up, with one olive) and a satisfying glass of the Prunotto Fiulot 2007.
Sunday, though, I was feeling a bit peckish at lunch-time and decided to do something with the steak and pasta left over from Friday’s dinner. Remember, the penne pasta had chopped preserved lemons, oil-cured olives, roasted garlic, capers and rosemary. So I put the pasta in a bowl, sliced some of the steak in thin strips, diced a couple of little tomatoes — the dish needed some red — and chopped a few springs of cilantro. Voila! Beef salad.
I also decided to pull out six wines, for the diversity and for one of those food-and-wine matching games that are not of a huge amount of significance but are fun anyway. We mustn’t obsess about these matters.
Requiring geographical Seven-Leagues Boots, these were the wines, three whites and three reds:
Penfolds Thomas Hyland Riesling 2008, Adelaide, Australia.
La Tunella Rjgialla Selenze 2007, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Italy.
Renaissance Roussanne 2006, North Yuba, Sierra Foothills, California.
Northwest Cellars Merlot 2005, Yakima Valley, Washington.
Colores del Sol Reserva Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina.
Guardian Peak Frontier 2006, Western Cape, South Africa.
The Penfolds Thomas Hyland label is a trove of well-made, authentic wines available for not much money, generally $14 or $15. So, the Penfolds Thomas Hyland Riesling 2008, Adelaide, offers lime, lime leaf, green apple and almond blossom in the nose, calling up hints of spice and crystallized ginger. There’s lovely purity and intensity of riesling fruit — lime, green plum, grapefruit — and a sense of lightness and delicacy about the texture, highlighted by bright acidity and a final sweep of earthy minerality. No full-throttle quality here, but an attractive, crisp, tasty riesling. The alcohol level is a mild 12 percent. Very Good+. About $14.
FWE Imports, Napa, Ca. (Foster Wine Estates). Convenienty closed with a screw-cap.
This was not a perfect match with my beef salad, but it was pleasant and did act as a foil to some elements, like the preserved lemon, capers and cilantro.
American consumers should get used to the ribolla gialla grape, one of the treasures of Italy’s northeastern wine regions. One of the best renditions of the grape is La Tunella Rjgialla Selenze 2007, Colli Orientali del Friuli — “eastern hills of Friuli.”
Made in stainless steel and all the better for it, La Tunella Rjgialla Selenze ’07 — you see now that “Rjgialla” is not a typo — is a medium straw color; aromas of spicy roasted lemon and lemon curd with a touch of apple and pear and a hint of white blossom are enticing. The wine is suave and supple in the mouth, a model of balance and integration, with a moderately lush texture bolstered by vivid acid and a slightly dusty shale-like character. Great presence and tone, for drinking through the end of 2010. Excellent. About $27.
Imported by Quinessential, Napa Ca.
This wine actually worked fairly well with the beef salad, creating a sort of yin and yang effect with the salad’s sprightly herbal and earthy notes.
Those of you — and may your names be legion and your tribes increase! — who have been reading me for years will remember that I’m a fan of Renaissance Vineyard and Winery in the North Yuba area of California’s Sierra Foothills. Snug in those rolling hills, the winery, under the guidance of winemaker Gideon Beinstock, produces ridiculously small quantities of superb wines. The Renaissance Roussanne 2006 is the radiant straw-gold color of Rapunzel’s hair; the entrancing bouquet unfolds a sequence of candle wax, bacon fat, camellia and peach with an infusion of lime tea. Roasted lemon, lemon curd and lemon balm dominate the palate, with a touch of pear in the background, an aspect of roasted honey — though the wine is bone-dry — and a touch of dried meadows and potpourri. The flare of keen acidity sings the wine’s honesty and integrity. The alcohol level is a gratifying and old-fashioned 12.8 percent. A seriously beautiful wine for drinking through 2014 or ’15 (well-stored). Exceptional. About $35. The Rub? Beinstock only made 76 cases of this wine.
Of this trio of diverse white wines, the Renaissance Roussanne 2006 performed the best at bringing itself and the flavors and herbal-spicy notes of the beef salad together, though let’s face it, we’re talking basically about a red wine dish.
So, the first red I opened was the Northwest Cellars Merlot 2005, made from three vineyards in Washington’s Yakima Valley: Olsen Estates, Roza Ridge and 3 Rocks. The blend barely qualifies the wine as merlot; it’s 75 percent merlot (the minimum for a varietal wine), 13 percent syrah and 12 percent cabernet sauvignon. In an era in which winemakers strive for intense extraction and deep colors, this wine’s moderate dark ruby shading to a brick-red rim is a lovely reminder of sensible restraint. Aromas of black and red currents, black cherry, cedar and lead pencil twine with a touch of smoke; in the mouth, fairly concentrated black fruit flavors are ripe and meaty and slightly stewed, as in macerated plums and cherries. There’s nothing plush or over-ripe here; the balance between the rigor of the wine’s acid and tannic structure and the vibrant nature of its sensuous appeal is deftly handled. Very Good+, the revelation being that the suggested price is $15, making this wine a Great Bargain.
This Northwest Cellars Merlot 2005 made the best match with the beef salad, nicely bringing together the ripe fleshiness of the wine and the meaty flavors of the steak and allowing the other spicy-herbal nuances plenty of play.
Colores del Sol “Reserva” Malbec 2008, Mendoza, is a new label from the humongous Foster Wine Estates; visit here to see the astonishing list of the company’s wineries and labels, remembering that within many of the wineries, Beringer, for example, are other products. I enclose “Reserve” thus because there’s no evidence that the winery turns out a non-reserve wine; 25,000 cases were imported, so, reserve, one asks, in relation to what? Having been snarky so far, I’ll say that this Colores del Sol 2008 is quite an enjoyable wine; it’s 100 percent malbec from the high elevation Lujan de Cuyo area of Mendoza. The color is medium ruby purple. The bouquet is deeply spicy and warm, earthy and minerally, with black currant and blueberry scents and a slight floral aspect. While not compelling, the wine is attractive and tasty (a little more blunt in mouth than in nose), layering mulberry and blueberry over black currant flavors bolstered by rustic tannins and spicy oak.
Very Good, and not a bad price at about $12.
This wine and the beef salad basically existed in parallel universes.
The Guardian Peak wines represent a collaboration between South African winemaker Jean Engelbrecht and professional golfer Ernie Els. All red wines, the trend is toward a South African interpretation of Australian Rhone-style wines; there’s a shiraz and a “SMG” blend (syrah, mourvedre, grenache). However, I opened the Guardian Peak Frontier 2006, Western Cape, a blend of 58 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent syrah (shiraz) and 17 percent merlot. Boy, this is just a big, dark, rollicking exuberant expression of powerful grip and stuffing. Aromas of dusty leather, smoke and tar, black currant and black cherry seethe in the glass, while in the mouth, the wine expands with almost possessive personality; I mean, it fills all the spaces. At the same time, it’s not obtrusive or flamboyant, tempering itself with a well-knit texture and polished oak from 10 months in French and American barrels. No, this is no great tower of complexity, but it does draw one in by its sheer confidence. Very Good+ and a Bargain at about $15.
Imported by Terlato Wines International, Lake Bluff, Il.
It should be obvious that what this wine needs is not a beef salad but beef itself, steak or prime rib or barbecue brisket, or lamb shank or pork chops with a spicy Southwestern glaze.