If I say the words “veal chop,” then you know that LL was out of town; we don’t eat lamb or veal when she’s around. Let her go off to a conference or something, though, and I am at the Store of Forbidden Meat, salivating at the counter. So, in the image you see a veal loin chop, first marinated with red wine and rosemary for a couple of hours and then cooked in the cast-iron skillet over almost high heat for four or five minutes per side. Once it was cooked, I turned the burner down, poured some red wine in the pan, scraped the bottom of the skillet to get up all the little bits, and let it reduce. I boiled some fingerling potatoes for a few minutes, drained them in a colander and then smashed them a bit on the cutting board with the broad side of a knife. I scattered olive oil, salt and pepper on the potatoes and slid them under the broiler until they were nice and crusty. And, in case you’re wondering, not seen in the picture is a small plate of steamed green beans with lemon zest; yes, when LL is away on a trip, I still eat my vegetables. (Sometimes.)

I sat down to this scrumptious dinner with three bottles of Black Kite Pinot Noir from designated vineyards, “Redwoods Edge,” “Stony Terrace” and “River Turn,” all from 2007. Winemaker for the Anderson Valley estate is Jeff Gaffner; in this trio, he has crafted superb wines.
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My first note for the Black Kite “Stony Terrace” Pinot Noir 2007 is “exquisite.” This is real pinot, ethereal yet shapely, elegant, yet displaying some tannic and earthy grip on the finish. Notes of black cherry, smoke, cloves and allspice, rose petals and lilacs waft from the glass. In the mouth, a lovely satiny texture is enlivened by clean acidity; hints of cranberry and cola, sandalwood and potpourri emerge after a few minutes in the glass. The wine just feels great in the mouth, with impeccable balance between substance and delicacy. Terrific winemaking. 194 cases. Excellent. About $52.
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Do different vineyards make a difference? Gaffner makes these wines in exactly the same manner, so whatever happens in the winery won’t interfere with the expression of the grape and the vineyard site. In the case of the Black Kite “River Turn” Pinot Noir 2007, that philosophy translates to a pinot that opens with a frank display of openness, warmth and generosity that quickly takes on a high-toned, slightly austere attitude anchored in dried moss and autumn leaves. The wine is dark and spicy, lithe and supple, almost dynamic in its mineral-like muscularity; intense and concentrated flavors of black cherry, black current and plum are permeated by touches of leather and violets, while the finish brings in a high wild note of sour cherry and rhubarb. All of this is knit by essential acidity that can only be called glorious. 195 cases. Exceptional. About $52.
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So, now we come to the Black Kite “Redwoods Edge” Pinot Noir 2007, a pinot of classic elegance, purity and intensity. Here are rollicking spice and zinging acidity that nip at your palate, infused with a strain of briary austerity and red and black currant flavors nudged by rhubarb and spiced apple. Serious tannic underpinnings provide unusually solid foundation for a pinot noir, yet the wine manages to maintain a sense of poised equilibrium. 219 cases. Excellent. About $52.
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Jamie Oliver’s book Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life (Hyperion, 2007) has great simple recipes and advice about growing vegetables and being generally a good, concerned person. We just started cooking from it, having acquired it on sale at Williams Sonoma a few weeks ago. A typical recipe is the “Beautiful zucchini carbonara” — there’s a certain fey aspect to the book — which we made and enjoyed a lot. Basically it’s a carbonara sauce — eggs, cream, pancetta and Parmesan — with lots of thyme and sliced green and yellow zucchini. Actually, you could make it without the zucchini, but that’s not the point, is it? Anyway, the dish was delicious.

With the “beautiful zucchini carbonara,” we drank the Domaine Gerbeaux “Le Clos” Macon-Solutre 2008, made by Jean-Michel Drouhin. Solutre is one of 43 villages in the Maconnais, south of Burgundy proper, allowed to have its name on wine labels. This is essentially a single-vineyard wine, the grapes derived from “Le Clos” vineyard. Made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes, the wine is utterly charming. It’s clean and fresh and finely knit, sporting lemon curd and roasted lemon flavors permeated by delicate spice, a hint of the floral and burgeoning aspects of chalk and limestone. The finish brings in a touch of grapefruit astringency. The wine was a great foil for the richness of the carbonara sauce. Very Good+. About $18.

Imported by Bourgeois Family Selections, Swannanoa, N.C.
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The “Salmon with Crisp(y) Skin” — sorry, but I hate that word “crispy”; it sounds like baby talk — came from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything (Wiley, 1998). Simple as pie: Score the skin of the salmon, douse it with olive oil and cook it over the grill, skin-side-down, or under the broiler, skin-side-up. Wow, this came out super moist and tender and flavorful, and the crisp(y) skin practically crackled, and boy did it taste good! One is supposed to serve this with “gingered greens,” but we made do with green beans.

We tried the Mahoney “Las Brisas Vineyard” Riesling 2007, Carneros, a first riesling for this winery. Made completely in stainless steel, the wine is clean and fresh and spare, with roasted lemon, pear and lime zest scents and flavors buoyed by scintillating slate and limestone. An authentic whiff of petrol (or rubber eraser) paves the way for camellia and smoke and a deep note of earthiness. So far so good, but the wine falls a little short through the finish and loses character, though other wise this is enjoyable and elightful. 200 cases. Very Good+. About $18.
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LL brought home a handful of precious chanterelle mushrooms a few days ago. “Time for chanterelle risotto,” she said. And I said, “Oh, yay,” because LL is a supreme concoctress of risottos. You see in the image how it turned out. Besides the chanterelles, it contains a few shiitake and dried porcini mushrooms, some basil and of course the chicken broth that provides the “stuffing” of the risotto. Chives are laid across the top. It was, in a word, divine, consisting of profoundly earthy bass notes from the mushrooms leavened by the lemony/minty-like lightness of the basil and the slightly creamy yet toothsome arborio rice.

We drank the Sanford Pinot Noir 2007, Santa Rita Hills, a blend from the winery’s estate vineyard La Rinconada and the neighboring Sanford and Benedict Vineyard, a close to legendary supplier of pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. (Sanford and Benedict Vineyard, in Santa Barbara County, was purchased in November 2007 by Terlato Wine Group, which also markets the wines of Sanford Winery.) This is an incredibly attractive, ever seductive pinot noir. The bouquet revolves around smoky, spicy black cherry, cranberry and cola scents in an elegant wreathing of effects. The mouth-feel is stunning, as the wine flows across the tongue like cool satin drapery. Black cherry and plum flavors are highlighted by rhubarb, sandalwood and orange rind. Oak, tannin and acid, those building blocks of wine, achieve perfect balance through a smooth but slightly austere, foresty finish. Beguiling. Excellent. About $40.
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This Salmon with Orzo Salad — from Frank Stitt’s Bottega Favorita (Artisan, 2008) — is simple to prepare and colorful to gaze upon. On the other hand, while enjoyable, it was not our favorite dish of all time or even from Stitt’s cookbook. The salad has fresh corn, right off the cob, cherry tomatoes, red onion, olives and basil and of course plenty of orzo; it can be prepared ahead, with a vinaigrette added at the last minute. The salmon is seared in a pan and then transferred to the oven for finishing, which is usually the way we prepare salmon anyway. Again, this is an enjoyable but not great dish. We found it a little bland and kept trying to pep it up.

The wine, though, was a triumph. This was the Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2007, St. Helena, Napa Valley. The 2008 version should be released within a month or so, but if you have the wine around or can find it, certainly try it. It’s beautifully mature, pure and intense, scintillating with concentrated minerality. Flavors of pear, melon and roasted lemon are permeated by dried herbs, lemongrass and crystallized ginger, all couched in a seductive texture that combines litheness and suppleness with snappy acidity and layers of almost talc-like softness. The oak regimen is interesting. The wine is barrel-fermented and then aged for 10 months in this set-up: 33 percent in new French oak barrels and puncheons; 55 percent in 1- to 3-year-old French oak; and 12 percent in stainless steel. The result is a sauvignon blanc of impressive sleekness, sophistication and allure. Drink through the summer of 2010. Excellent. About $32.
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