Tue 3 Nov 2009
This weekend, Whole Foods and Fresh Market had beautiful chanterelle mushrooms, but at Whole Foods they were $30 a pound and at Fresh Market they were $20 a pound. Guess where we bought a few ounces of the precious Cantharellus cibarius? Thank goodness it takes only a few ounces, mixed with a handful of crimini mushrooms, to make a fine risotto. Chanterelles, by the way, are high in vitamin C and carotene.
A fine risotto is what LL prepared last night. She sauteed the mushrooms and onions in a tablespoon of olive oil, as well as — vegans stop reading here — a tablespoon each of butter and bacon fat, proving the adage, in our house, that everything goes better with bacon. The chicken broth was homemade, the arborio rice slowly simmered and stirred as it absorbed the broth to a state of slightly chewy doneness. The result was a delicious, rich, earthy concoction that we agreed was probably the best risotto LL has made, and believe me, she is a Queen of Risotto.
I didn’t want a sprightly vivacious wine to drink with the risotto; instead, I wanted a wine with some dignity, a sense of gravitas, as well as the sheen of fruit. I elected to open the Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2007, Napa Valley, a wine now made from biodynamically-grown grapes. My history of drinking the Grgich Hills Chardonnay goes back many years, and the experience has convinced me that this is consistently one of the best chardonnay wines made in California and indeed in the world.
The winemaking process is very careful. The grapes are fermented and then aged 10 months in French oak, 60 percent in neutral (that is, used) barrels, 30 percent in new barrels and 10 percent in 900 gallon casks; the classic size of oak barrels for aging wine is 59 gallons. The point is that there’s no detectable trace of toasty, vanilla-laced new oak in the Grgich Hills Chardonnay 2007. Rather, the oak influence is gently persuasive, a subtle, supple foundation that encourages balance and integration. The wine does not go through so-called malolactic fermentation — I say “so-called” because the process has nothing to do with fermentation — that transforms, in the barrel, malic acid (“apple-like”) to lactic acid (“milk-like”). ML produces, or helps to produce, the creamy, lush, dessert-inflected chardonnays that earn high scores in the Wine Spectator. Grgich Hills wisely avoids that course.
What we have, then, is a wonderfully authentic and intense rendition of the chardonnay grape, a wine of pristine presence and tone, truly elegant but with washes of earthy-gravelly power and the compelling fuel of bold, zesty acidity. Flavors of roasted lemon, spiced pear and a hint of candied grapefruit feel crystalline in purity; a few minutes in the glass develop notes of honeysuckle, pineapple and limestone, honeysuckle in the nose, that is, with pineapple and limestone in the mouth. The finish is long, spicy, stony, generous. Drink through 2012 to ’14 (well-stored). This was absolutely perfect with the chanterelle risotto; the wine and the dish resonated beautifully. Exceptional. About $42.
Such perfection doesn’t have to be quite so spectacular or expensive. Last week LL came home for lunch and I whipped up an egg thing, not as formal as a regulation omelet, not as free-form as scrambled eggs, but with a filling (or topping really) of chopped tomatoes, peppers, fresh basil and onions. For accompaniment, I turned to the Swanson Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2007, Napa Valley. It’s gratifying, and not a little surprising, that pinot grigio/pinot gris is a recent success story in California and Oregon; you won’t find many pinot grigio wines from Northeastern Italy (or increasingly from Tuscany, for some reason) as good as some now being made on the West Coast, though Alsace remains the pinot gris grape’s spiritual home. Anyway, The Swanson Pinot Grigio 2007 is made completely in stainless steel and sees no malolactic fermentation. This is incredibly lively and engaging. The wine offers a beguiling bouquet of roasted lemon, lemon curd, almond and almond blossom with hints of quince and ginger and a winsome wafting of wood smoke. Then come notes of fig and dried thyme, celery seed, caraway and honeydew melon. Much of this array is present in the mouth as well, buoyed by tremendously vibrant acidity and a burgeoning limestone element. Wow, what a seductive and utterly pleasurable wine! Drink through 2010 or ’11. Excellent. About $21.
And yesterday at lunch, with bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches, I thought, “Oh, what the hell,” and opened the Silverado Merlot 2005, Napa Valley, and was really glad that I did. (I didn’t realize that Napa Valley was a theme of this post, but there it is.) At four years old, this suave, sleek merlot is drinking beautifully. A blend of 93 percent merlot, 6 percent cabernet sauvignon and 1 percent petit verdot, the wine is lovely, smooth and mellow, bursting with scents and flavors of ripe and slightly roasted black currants and black raspberries enlivened by touches of cedar, black olive and dried thyme. Such appealing character, such appropriate substance and shape are only found in wines made with thoughtfulness and confidence; there’s nothing flamboyant here or over-done. A joy to drink, now through 2012 to ’15. Excellent. About $32.