Sun 18 Sep 2011
Both of these damned good wines are from Sonoma County, and both involve pizza, for good or ill, as you will see.
Made a pretty darned great pizza last night, definitely a candidate for the apparently infinitely-expandable Top 25 category. The toppings included a generous handful of fresh basil; an also generous amount of oven-dried tomatoes, previously marinated in olive oil, oregano and crushed Aleppo pepper; smoked and pepper-cured hog jowl, diced and fried; chopped green onion; a little thyme scattered over the top after the mozzarella, Parmesan and pecorino cheeses. The crust, as usual, was a blend of white bread flour and wholewheat flour with a couple tablespoons of rye flour. Everything worked together beautifully in this pizza, especially the crust, which was thin without being crackery, yet still slightly chewy, and puffy around the edges.
With the pizza, we drank the Quivira Zinfandel 2009, from Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley. Winemaker is Hugh Chappelle; the estate is run on biodynamic principles. The wine is a blend of 83 percent zinfandel, 9 percent cabernet sauvignon, three percent each petite sirah and syrah and two percent grenache; you could say, without too much of a stretch, that this is a zinfandel operating a bit under a southern Rhone or Languedoc influence, in its warm, open-knit expansiveness, even as it projects a California-style personality. Aromas of black and red currants and macerated plums are woven with notes of cloves and hints of blackberry preserves and fruitcake, with that confection’s primary character of dried fruit and baking spices. Quivira Zinfandel 2009 is full-bodied, fairly dense and chewy, yet neither rustic nor heavy; in fact, vibrant acidity keep the wine light on its feet and appealingly palatable. Flavors fall into the blackberry-blueberry range –the currant aspect more subdued — while well-handled oak, from 14 months in French, American and Hungarian barrels, fewer than 20 percent new, lend the wine pleasing shape and suppleness. The finish brings in some graphite-like minerality and more of the savory fruitcake element. 14.8 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $20.
A sample for review.
Ah, but every pizza FK makes is not a success. Here’s a tale of pizza failure and a great wine.
I have never cared for pizzas that come bearing seafood. Pizzas with shrimp, for example, seem to me an abomination. I watched a video of Wolfgang Puck making a shrimp pizza on YouTube and the huge amount of Fontina, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses he heaped on seemed sickening. Shrimp with gloppy cheese? Spare me. However, as a long-time maker of pizza, I felt it was incumbent upon me at least to try to produce a pizza with shrimp that I could actually eat. I waited until LL was out of town to indulge in this experiment. We have in the freezer a bag of deep-ocean shrimp that we buy from Paradise Seafood at the Memphis Farmers Market; these have to be the best shrimp I have ever eaten. I cleaned three of these shrimp, split them in half lengthwise, doused them with olive oil, salt and pepper and ran them under the broiler until they got slightly crusty. I made the pizza dough in the usual manner but about half the amount; perhaps cutting everything down threw off the balance. Anyway, once I pressed and rolled out the dough about nine inches across, I spooned dollops of pesto around it, a few sliced oven-dried tomatoes, a little scattering of diced onion, some thyme and the shrimp; finally just a touch of grated Parmesan. Actually, I think it would have been a fine effort if the crust had not turned out to be such a disaster; it was dense, heavy, chewy and very bready. Que pasa!?!? Well, the dogs liked it, and I assuaged my sorrow with a bowlful of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra.
Anyway, the wine that I sipped while trying to eat this miserable excuse for a shrimp pizza was the splendid Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Russian River Valley. Merry Edwards is one of a few winemakers in Sonoma County that qualify for legendary status. She began her career at Mount Eden Vineyards in Santa Cruz in 1974 and moved on to be the founding winemaker at Matanzas Creek from 1977 to 1984. She spent more than a decade consulting for a number of wineries and working with the Merry Vintners label before finally launching her own winery, dedicated primarily to pinot noir, in 1997.
Not quite half of the grapes in the Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 2010 derive from 35-year-old vines. Oak treatment is gentle; the grapes are barrel-fermented, and then the wine stays in French oak, 18 percent new barrels, for six months. This regimen gives the wine lovely suppleness and a subdued spicy quality in a sort of transparent haze of slightly smoky oak, an element that suavely supports a bouquet of mildly grassy and herbal notes that revolve around lemongrass and celery seed, tarragon and thyme; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints (in aroma and flavors) of roasted lemon, quince and ginger. This is a sauvignon blanc of true class, presence and tone, beautifully balanced by resonant acidity that doesn’t slap your palate with blatant snap and sass (think: New Zealand); no, this is a sophisticated and elegant sauvignon blanc that flows through the mouth with aplomb and finishes with well-integrated touches of apple skin, lime peel and limestone-like minerality. 14.1 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. Suggested retail price is $30, but I paid $40 in Memphis; I mean, what the fuck … ?