June 2010

Readers, today, June 11, 2010, BiggerThanYourHead is the Featured Wine Blog on Foodista.com, “The Cooking Encyclopedia Anyone Can Edit.” You’ve already read the post — it’s Monday’s “Wine of the Week” — but follow the link to see what’s up on their website. Thanks, Foodista!

“That’s perfect,” said LL, sipping from a glass of Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Napa Valley. She was referring not just to the wine but to its quietly impeccable match with our dinner last night, an improvised dish of Fava Bean Risotto with Mint and Green Peas.

It’s always exciting to see fava beans in the markets in May and June, because I know that LL will buy a pound or so and turn them into risotto, an annual treat made more precious by its rare appearance. The younger and more tender the beans are, the easier they are to work with; they come double-clothed, first in the large pod and then in a tight, inner sheath. What LL made was really a combination of recipes from Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver; the Waters recipe called for asparagus, which we did not have, while Oliver included green peas and mint, which we did. The easiest way to deal with fava beans is to strip off the rather ugly pod, drop the favas in a pot of boiling water, turn down the flame and simmer them for one minute; then run them under cold water and either using your fingers or a small knife strip away the skin. Waters recommends cooking the fava beans for 15 or 20 more minutes, but these were so tender without cooking (except for that one minute) that LL just pureed them as they were, with olive oil and a handful of mint from the Memphis Farmers Market. She wasn’t going to use green peas, but relented at the last moment to give the texture of the risotto “some bumps,” to use her technical culinary term. The peas also came from the Farmers Market.

This made an absolutely wonderful dish, filled with the redolent and flavorful freshness of early summer made sprightly with the hint of mint.

Fresh and sprightly, too, was the Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2009, made all in stainless steel and seeing no malolactic process, so the acidity flashes like a bright, keen blade. The color is pale straw, the next cousin to the color of water, yet conveying its own subtle radiance. An utterly entrancing bouquet of lilac segueing to camellia, of talc and pears, of pine resin and sea-salt and some lemony-herbal tisane draws you in irresistibly; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of hay, grass and lime peel. The wine is very dry, brisk and lively, deftly balanced between the spare-crisp-chalky median and moderately lush suavity. Flavors of roasted lemon and just a bit of some tropical element — pineapple and mango — are subdued in the finish by a tang of pithy grapefruit bitterness. The alcohol content is 13.9 percent. Winemakers for Girard are Marco DiGiulio and Zach Long. Excellent. About $16, a Raving Bargain.

A sample for review.

If you’re grilling salmon or trout this week or preparing a vegetarian pasta dish or a Southeast Asian stir-fry, twist open a bottle of the Kilikanoon “Mort’s Block” Riesling 2009, from the Watervale area of South Australia’s lovely Clare Valley. The Clare Valley is one of the world’s great regions for producing wines made from the riesling grape, and that includes the whole range, from the driest and most delicate to sumptuous dessert wines. Kilikanoon was founded in 1997 by Kevin Mitchell, who continues as winemaker today.

The Kilikanoon “Mort’s Block” ’09 falls into the dry and delicate category, but by “delicate” I don’t mean fragile or wimpy. Instead, this is a riesling of shattering purity and intensity that offers scintillating aromas of roasted lemon, lime peel and grapefruit with a hint of the grape’s requisite petrol accent. It’s an incredibly crisp and lively riesling, with attractive lift and elevation, exhibiting a sort of (I mean) acid, sea-salt and limestone-borne surge of cleansing and quenching freshness, all of this underscored by gravelly earthiness. To flavors of green apple and lemon, the wine adds hints of pear and mango and whiffs, in the bouquet, of apple blossom. Pretty damned irresistible. Excellent. About $20.

Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal. A sample for review.

Lo, my children, such a thing has never happened in my many years of extracting corks from wine bottles, thousands of wine bottles.

Look at the picture. Yes, that’s my treasured Laguiole corkscrew, a gift, broken by the cork in this bottle of Bastianich Tocai Plus 2006, Friuli, which, as it happens, is a terrifically suave, layered and delicious wine. Now the bizarre accident didn’t occur as I was trying to lever the cork from the bottle. No, this happened when I was trying to insert the screw into the cork, which felt like iron. It took a mighty effort just to get the screw to scratch the surface of the cork. It was like trying to dig a hole with a shovel in dry, rocky soil. As I attempted to cope with this anomalous situation, I looked at LL, who raised her eyebrows and said, “Having a problem?” I replied, “Lord have mercy, this is the hardest cork I have ever seen,” meanwhile grunting with the effort and, naturally, swearing a bit. And then the screw part of the corkscrew snapped.

How do I know what the wine tasted like?

Later, I put the bottle in the sink and cracked the neck with repeated blows of a rubber mallet. I mean, what else?

Last night we made the Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Anchovies and Fried Croutons from the May 2010 issue of Bon Appetit. The recipe is included in an article about the cuisine and wine of Puglia, the Achilles heel and actual heel of the Italian boot. Simplicity is the byword in that rugged region, and not much could be simpler than this dish. The most complicated part is dicing bread to make croutons and cutting a few zucchini into 1/3-inch cubes. The cauliflower is trimmed, cut into 1-inch florets and roasted in a 425-degree oven. There are garlic, anchovies, Italian parsley, Parmesan and Romano cheeses, and basically the whole thing comes together at the last minute before you add the cute, al dente orecchiette, “little ears.” This is a terrific pasta that needs no side dishes because your vegetables are already there! You could have a salad, of course.

I wanted something crisp and beguiling for the wine, and not anything overbearing or flamboyant — not the triteness of the brash New Zealand style — so I opened a bottle of the Gainey Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, from California’s Santa Ynez Valley, and got exactly what I wanted. Made from grapes derived from Gainey’s Home Vineyard, the wine is a blend of 75 percent sauvignon blanc and 25 percent semillon. It’s made completely in stainless steel, so its vivid freshness and vibrancy make themselves known immediately, yet beyond that aspect, the wine is a model of restraint, a tissue of nods and nuances. Aromas of pears, watermelon and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of thyme and tarragon and a bit of grass; the semillon makes itself known by hints of leafy fig and lemongrass. The wine is crisp and lithe, but not angular, and it layers flavors of roasted lemon and pear with spice, lavender and a resonant limestone quality that sweeps a tinge of grapefruit sass into the finish. The complete effect is of balance and integration, of each element permeating and permeated by the other elements, plus, the whole thing is damned delightful. The winemaker is Jon Engelskirger. Production was 1,450 cases. Excellent. About $15, a Raving Great Value.

A sample for review.

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