Best Wines


About as much white wine is made in Chinon, in France’s Loire Valley, as red wine is made in Burgundy’s Puligny-Montrachet. Really damned little! Chinon, part of the Touraine region smack in the middle of the Loire, is largely cabernet franc country. No bistro in Paris would be without Chinon on its wine list; I wish we saw more examples of this quintessential restaurant wine in America. A little rose is made in Chinon and a smaller proportion, about two percent of the production, is white wine made from chenin blanc grapes.

Thus, the shimmering pale Les Chanteaux 2008, from Couly-Dutheil, was a revelation. LL had seared a fine filet of swordfish, just enough to give it slight char on the exterior and leave the interior moist, flavorful and almost rare at the center. She paired that with a piece of salmon that she had cooked a few days before, that fish having marinated in a black pepper-jalapeno sauce brought home from a Vietnamese restaurant. The combination, a sort of surf ‘n’ surf deal, was striking; the salmon, served cold, was dense, packed with spicy heat; the swordfish was lush and succulent. Also on the plate were rice and buttery, garlicky kale.

Les Chanteaux 2008 opened with a burst of camillia and honeysuckle, pear and quince, tangerine and exotic spice. As if this panoply of delights were not enough, the wine is bright and lively, with a tone of some piquancy wrapped around notes of white pepper and lychee, baked apple and in the limestone-laced finish, a hint of some shy, astringent meadow flower. Les Chateaux sees no oak, but rests on the lees in tank to pick up some nuance. Immensely appealing, and it tied together the elements of our meal very nicely. Very Good+ and definitely Worth a Search. I paid $25 for this bottle, which is the median price around the country.
Imported by Frank-Lin International, San Jose, Cal.

Yesterday was the first meteorological day of winter, but that season debuted officially at our house two nights ago with the first ritual preparation of the cod and chorizo stew, with leeks and potatoes, that LL and I dote on. I have written about this delicious, body-filling and soul-satisfying dish before, so I won’t go into detail about it, but I do want to mention, of course, the superb wine we drank with it so successfully (and the wine’s cousins).

This was the Frankland Estate Poison Hill Vineyard Riesling 2008, from the Frankland River region of Western Australia. The estate produces three single-vineyard rieslings, as well as a sort of cadet version under the Rocky Gully label, all finished with screw-caps.
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The Frankland Poison Hill Riesling 2008 delivers incredible purity and intensity; this is a purposeful and confident riesling, shimmering, vibrant and concentrated in dimension and detail. Piercing limestone and damp shale qualities support classic notes of diesel fuel (call it rubber eraser if that makes you feel better), pear and peach with spiced apple and ginger. Hints of jasmine and honeysuckle seem to draw from the Platonic essence of those blossoms, so the effect is more earthy than overtly floral. This is a case when the accumulation of different sorts of delicacy meld into the balance between power and elegance; while there’s a sense that what you’re drinking is transparent and ethereal, you never forget this riesling’s strong connection to the soil. Rattling in its dryness, startling in its crystalline acidity, the Frankland Poison Hill 2008 finishes with marked austerity, high-toned and a little glacial, yet packed with citrus and spice. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Exceptional. About $28.
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The Frankland Estate Cooladerra Vineyard Riesling 2008, Frankland River region, feels even more serious than the Poison Hill ’08 rendition. This riesling is substantial, generous and expansive, while still tiptoeing an edgy line of blade-like acidity; there’s a risk in seeking this kind of precise balance between tension and resolution in a riesling, but the scheme works here. And for all its grand airs, the Cooladerra ’08 offers delightful elements of peach and lychee, lime and gravel, wrapped in an elixir of petrol and lilac. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Excellent. About $28.
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Last of this trio is the Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Riesling 2008, Frankland River Region. You’re greeted by an extraordinary bouquet of petrol and taffy, lychee, candied grapefruit, smoke and bergamot; riesling lovers may dab it behind their ears. After that beguilement, you’re surprised when the wine explodes with unassailable dryness, irrepressible acidity and irreproachable minerality in the crushed gravel, damp shale mode. I mean this wine is so crisp that it feels as if you could break it over your knee and pass out the shards to the poor in spirit, yet if ever a wine carried elegance to the point of severity, this is it. And still — and still — how winsomely it brings up a note of orange rind and another note of cloves, and a hint of quince, and an element so earthy and macerated that the wine is almost savory. What a performance! Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Exceptional. About $28.

Imported by USA Wine West, Sausalito, Cal., for The Australian Premium Wine Collection. These were sample bottles sent to me for review.
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One of the traditions maintained by “Big John” Grisanti was that the first time a guest visited his wine cellar at home, he or she could pick a bottle of wine to take with them. The task could be overwhelming, so on the occasion of my first visit, struck dumb by the choices, I allowed Grisanti to choose for me, at which prompting he handed me a bottle of Chateau Haut Brion 1975, a First Growth red wine from the Bordeaux region of Graves. I, in turn, gave the bottle to my (former) father-in-law as a housewarming present; he and my mother-in-law had just moved into a new house in East Memphis. (Now a widower, he still lives there, in his mid-90s every bit the gentleman he was raised to be.) He opened the wine for us to enjoy at the Thanksgiving dinner in November 1984.

Records of vines being cultivated at the estate of Haut Brion go back to 1423. The Pontac family built the chateau depicted on the label in 1550. In his diary entry for April 10, 1663, Samuel Pepys mentions a visit to the Royal Oak Tavern in London where “I drank a sort of French wine called Ho-Bryan which hath a good and most particular taste which I never before encountered…..” The estate went through several changes of ownership in the 18th and 19th centuries, and after a period of decline was purchased by the Dillon family in 1935.

Haut Brion was listed as a First Growth in the 1855 Classification of the wines of the Medoc. Whatever variations of quality and fortune it endured through the 20th Century, the estate has performed at the highest level of quality and consistency since 1975. The vineyards at Haut Brion are planted with 45 percent cabernet sauvignon, 37 percent merlot and 18 percent cabernet franc; the proportion of grapes in each wine differs according to vintage conditions. The “second” wine of Haut Brion is Bahans Haut Brion. The estate also produces one of the region’s greatest white wines. Production of Chateau Haut Brion is about 11,000 cases annually; Bahans Haut Brion is about 7,300 cases and the blanc is 650 cases.

In Michael Broadbent’s Vintage Wine (Harcourt, 2002), the British auctioneer and writer gives 1975 a four star rating (out of five stars), though he calls the year “irregular” and “certainly interesting, not to say challenging.” His notes on Haut Brion 1975 are ambivalent, though he rather grudgingly comes around to liking the wine by 1995. Robert M. Parker Jr. calls the year “tricky,” with “the overall quality level … distressingly uneven and the number of failures … too numerous to ignore.” Yikes! Haut Brion 1975, however, Parker rates as “a great wine and one of the top dozen or so wines of the vintage.”

My impression of Haut Brion ’75, on Thanksgiving 1984? Here are my original notes: “A great wine. Surprising color, deep brown, like mahogany. Cedar nose, lead pencil, fruity, quite tannic, emerging fruit, exotic, dry but with an underlying core of succulent sweetness. Years to go.”

At the time, in Memphis, the Haut Brion ’75 sold for $100 to $110.

Well, today we don’t have a Bordeaux First Growth to grace the Thanksgiving board. Instead, there are three bottles of my standard Thanksgiving wine, the Ridge Three Valleys, Sonoma County, this from 2007. For this vintage, the blend is zinfandel (75%), petite sirah (8%), syrah (7%), grenache (6%) and carignane (3%). I also have a bottle of Trefethen Riesling 2007, Napa Valley, because I do like a riesling with the Thanksgiving feast. Some bottles of pinot noir — Morgan, Terlato, Sokol Blosser — await in case our guests’ tastes incline that way. All American wines, yes, because this is, after all, a great American celebration.

On the menu: Clementine-Salted Turkey with Redeye Gravy (a Matt and Ted Lee recipe); Sweet Potato Stuffing with Bacon and Thyme; Wild Mushroom-Collard Green Bundles; green beans, roasted carrots and bacon-topped cornbread. There’s a pumpkin pie for dessert, and a pear crisp with candied ginger. If anyone wants a dessert wine, I have a couple of vintages of Dolce and Beringer Nightingale on hand.

All of that should get the job done.

I hope that all of my readers partake of excellent food and excellent wine today, blessed with family and friends, and remember, while you’re at it, all of those who have neither food nor wine, family nor friends, and let us help them at all times of the year.

The account in The New York Times this morning of Barach and Michelle Obama’s first state dinner makes it sound glorious. Hey, we voted for the guy! Where was our invitation? My intent here, however, is to praise the wine choices for the meatless menu — in honor of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India — prepared by guest chef Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit. I don’t know who manages the White House wine cellar and oversees the wine served there, whether for the First Family or their guests, but in this case he or she did a great job.

Here is the menu with the wines:

>Potato and Eggplant Salad, White House Arugula with Onion Seed Vinaigrette. The wine: Modus Operandi Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Napa Valley.

>Red Lentil Soup with Fresh Cheese. The wine: Brooks “Ara” Riesling 2006, Willamette Valley.

>Roasted Potato Dumplings with Tomato Chutney, Chick Peas and Okra or Green Curry Prawns, Caramelized Salsify with Smoked Collard Greens and Coconut Aged Basmati. The wine: Beckmen Vineyards Grenache 2007, Santa Ynez.

>Pumpkin Pie Tart, Pear Tatin, Whipper Cream and Caramel Sauce. The wine: Thibaut Janisson Brut, Sparkling Chardonnay, Monticello.

Notice that the dinner is a weaving of culinary threads from Indian, African and the American South. Samuelsson took a bold step in including Indian ingredients and techniques; generally, it is considered undiplomatic and competitive to serve Indian cuisine to Indian statesman outside of their country.

Notice, too, the eclectic nature of the wines served at the dinner. Two are from different growing regions of California, one is from Oregon, and one is from Virginia, not far from the White House. The wineries are all small and family-owned; there’s nothing corporate or global here, just a reliance on artisan standards of production and quality. And perhaps the choice of a riesling for the lentil soup — how interesting is that? — will spur sales of that versatile but neglected variety. Certainly the wineries will benefit from the publicity.

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.
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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.
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The demise of Gourmet after 68 years as America’s high-toned food and cooking magazine — the November issue will be the last — is sad, though some would say, I among them, that while Ruth Reichl brought a new, contemporary sensitivity and sensibility to the venerable publication, under her editorship the line between editorial and advertising blurred shamelessly. And despite Reichl’s important concerns for sustainability and local products, such articles as the one in the October issue in which restaurant critics were asked how they would spend $1,000 going out to eat in their home cities, when many Americans would love to have $100 to eat out, reveals a tone-deafness inspired, perhaps, by the free-spending attitude at Condé Nast.

Still, one is sorry to see it go. LL and I cooked from the recipes in Gourmet fairly frequently, and when we recently purchased the new Gourmet Today cookbook edited by Reichl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40, but with a deep discount at Costco), we were disconcerted to see a sticker on the cover that said “A subscription to Gourmet magazine is included with the purchase of this book.” Um, Big Oops there.

We cooked, in elegiac mood, from Gourmet Today, which offers more than 900 pages of recipes, two nights in a row.

First comes what the book calls “Garlic Shrimp,” but is much more complicated than that brief description. The dish involved, well, yes, shrimp and lots of garlic, but also dried guajillo chilies, onions and tomatoes. As is typical with dried chilies, you heat them in a skillet, pressing them down, until they darken a bit and turn a little smoky. Then you add the garlic and onions and after a few minutes the tomatoes; it’s important to let the sauce stand for 30 minuts or so, so that the cut up chilies soften, otherwise they’ll be pretty darned chewy. After that, you heat the sauce again, add the shrimp and let them cook briefly. This is incredibly smoky, intense, heady stuff, spicy but not hot-spicy, to be eaten wrapped in warm tortillas or with rice, which is what we did, along with sauteed kale.

For wine, I opened something rather unusual, a vermentino from Corsica. This was the Clos Teddi Patrimonio 2008, a really lovely vermentino that incrementally built character in the glass as moments passed. Sporting a radiant straw-gold color, the wine offers scents of roasted lemon, yellow plum and ginger, with touches of almond and verbena. It’s quite spicy in the mouth, brisk with acidity and a hint of limestone, yet with a beguiling texture of talc-like smoothness, softness and density. To roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors, it adds glimpses of grapefruit and spiced pear and dried thyme. Not wishing to romanticize the wine too much, but it struck me as the essence of a Mediterranean white wine. Very Good+. I paid $26 for this wine, but prices around the country start at about $20.
Imported by Bourgeois Family Selections, Swannanoa, N.C.

The knock-out of this duo of dishes was the Wine-Braised Chuck Roast with Onions. For a four-pound boneless chuck roast, you use two pounds of sliced onions, and as the meat slowly braises in the oven for three hours or so in wine and water, the onions almost melt into the sauce, creating a texture and flavor of incomparable richness. We altered the recipe, which curiously calls for no vegetables, by adding chopped carrots, potatoes and turnips. Boy, oh boy, after emerging from the oven after that long cooking, the meat was supernaturally tender and succulent! By the way, everything on the plate, except for the carrots, came from the Memphis Farmers Market, including the chuck roast and the green and yellow beans.

Clearly something big, rich and succulent was called for to march hand-in-hand with this dish, so I opened a bottle of the Benovia Zinfandel 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Now some commentators assert that no table wine displaying an alcohol level over say 14.5 or 15 percent can be balanced, that the presence of that much alcohol overwhelms all other aspects and automatically precludes an integrated and palatable wine. Certainly I have railed against the upward creep of alcohol levels in California and have criticized wines that flaunt their gonzo alcohol for sake of sheer size and power. So, I hope you will believe me when I say that despite sporting an alcohol content of 15.8 percent, the Benovia Zinfandel 2007, while, granted, a powerful and intense expression of the grape, is completely balanced and integrated, a sort of marvel of risky engineering. Black as the night that covers us from pole to pole (with a violet-purple rim), the wine bursts with notes of blackberry, blueberry and cranberry (with cranberry’s pert edge) infused with baking spice, licorice and a scent of damp shale. Terrific presence and substance without being weighty or obvious; lush and ripe, yes, but tempered by the rigor of brushy, briery tannins and slightly smoky oak, all this wrapped around an intense core of lavender, licorice and gravel-like minerals. Tremendous with the braised chuck roast. 197 cases made, so mark this wine Worth a Search. Excellent. About $38.

I don’t mean that the Two Angels Divinity 2006, High Valley, is an “anti-Wine of the Week” — those do occur — but that because its production was limited to 500 cases, I couldn’t, in good conscience, make it an official Wine of the Week. I try to be nice that way and not, you know, piss off My Readers.

The Two Angels Divinity 06 is a Rhone-style blend of 52 percent syrah, 22 percent grenache, 20 percent mourvedre, all traditional grapes in France’s southern Rhone Valley, with the additional fillip of 6 percent petite sirah. I wanted to feature this wine today not only for its delectable qualities but for the part that texture plays in its compelling character.

First come aromas of lavender and licorice and leather, with hints of some beefy element, and then spiced and macerated black currants, blackberries and plums. Then — we’re still at the nose — dusty potpourri, damp slate, dried porcini, something rooty and brambly. There’s plenty here to entice and beguile. In the mouth: Black and blue fruit flavors — there’s a hint of blueberry — cushioned by moderately chewy tannins and suave oak in a package that’s more drinkable than austere. The oak regimen was a reasonable 10 months in French (70%) and American (30%) barrels, only 35 percent of which were new, so the oak component is balanced and does not deliver the toastiness and overt spiciness that can come when new wood dominates.

What I really want to mention, though, is this wine’s texture, that is, how it feels in the mouth, on the tongue and palate. It’s easy for reviewers to toss off “dense and chewy texture” — and I am guilty too — rather than explain, or try to explain, how the wine actually feels. In this case, therefore, in terms of weight, the wine is neither heavy nor obvious; its size and substance do not demand attention — it helps that the alcohol content is “only” 14.1 percent — and there’s even something fleet or deft about the texture. This quality is aided, no doubt, by the brisk acidity that lends the wine liveliness and elan. To further note, however, there’s a quality to the texture that you feel as if you could roll on your tongue, an amalgam of powdery elements as if ground in a mortar, an alchemical transubstantiation of crushed gravel, exotic barks and dried flowers into form, dimension and body. Zowie!

It will be no surprise that I thought that the Two Angels Divinity 2006 was a terrific wine. It would be great with grilled red meat, game birds — think quail or pheasant — or pork chops. We drank it with cold leftover pizza and chocolate cake, but that’s another story. Excellent. About $25 and Worth a Search.

High Valley, by the way — you expect Barbara Stanwyck to come riding down the valley to stirring music — was approved as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 2005. It’s in the eastern part of Lake County, just north of Napa County, and encompasses about 15,000 acres, of which some 700 are planted to vines. These are high-elevation vineyards, extending up the hillsides to 3,000 feet. Probably the most familiar producer in High Valley is Shannon Ridge, and indeed, the grapes for Divinity 06 come from the Shannon Ridge Vineyards.

With a roasted chicken, I want a classic pinot noir — lithe, sinewy, elegant, discreet — and I got what I wanted with the Rossi Wallace Pinot Noir 2007, Napa Valley. As I mentioned in my review of the Rossi Wallace Chardonnay at the beginning of this month, the owners and winemakers here are Napa Valley veterans (and married couple) Ric Forman and Cheryl Emmolo.

The color of the Rossi Wallace Pinot Noir 07 is a limpid medium ruby with a touch of magenta; the bouquet abounds with black cherry and dried cranberry woven with cola and sassafras and baking spice (but no yucky brown sugar). The wine is beautifully balanced and finely knit, a seamless melding of pert acidity, mellow fruit, moderate tannins and supple, subtle oak. After half an hour, notes of melon ball and rhubarb creep in, and after a few more minutes, the tannins exude a sort of old papery dryness and briery earthiness, rounding the package out with a bit of graphite-like minerality while never losing a grip on a lovely, macerated red fruit character. The grapes for this beautiful pinor noir come from Antinori’s Atlas Peak Vineyard. The gentle oak treatment consisted of 11 months aging in Burgundy barrels, only 30 percent new. Production was 399 cases. Excellent. About $35.

LL is out of town, and last night I wanted to sit right here at the keyboard and work through what would have been the dinner-hour, so I thought — or perhaps even said aloud to the unavoidable audience of dogs that inhabits our domicile — “Oh, what the hell, cheese toast will be fine.” I have discovered over the last six months that great pinot noir and simple cheese toast share a remarkable and unexpected affinity, and on that premise I opened the Eddy Family Wines Elodian Pinot Noir 2007, from the Yamhill-Carlton District of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Here is a wonderful example of classic, old-fashioned pinot noir, one in which lightness of color and delicacy of structure do not imply blandness or lack of power. Indeed, the wine is powered by electrifying acidity that cuts a swath on the palate and brings into sharp focus flavors of sour cherry, melon ball, cranberry and cloves. These aspects are borne on layers of brambles and some mossy, root-like tea, all wrapped in a texture that combines satin with sinew. The wine grows increasingly austere as the moments pass, and its spicy nature turns from baking spice to woody spice. Balance and integration here, dimension and detail are perfect in poise and nuance. Completely lovely. 580 cases. Excellent. About $45.

We got two great meals from one hefty Berkshire pork shoulder, with plenty of leftovers.

Pictured here is a Guajillo-Spiked Pork and Potato Taco, concocted from a recipe in Mexico One Plate at a Time, by Rick Bayless (Scribner, 2000), creator and chef of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago.

This dish requires that you toast the dried guajillo chilies, which we had on hand — yes, we are the kind of household that just happens to have dried guajillo chilies on hand, as well as cheesecloth and parchment paper and a Chinese hat, what am I supposed to do, apologize? — rehydrate them and them puree with garlic and chopped tomatoes. Brown the cubed pork in oil or lard (well, what are you going to do when you have this lovely, white pork fat, huh?), and then you simmer the meat in the tomato-chili puree until there’s almost nothing left of the sauce, and then you add water and cook it down again, this time with the potatoes. That’s about it. What remains is exceedingly tender and flavorful and intense. LL went to a local taqueria and bought fresh tortillas, which were still warm when she got home. These are not tacos loaded down with extraneous ingredients; cilantro is all that’s called for, though I made a simple salad — chopped romaine, tomatoes and red onion — to go on the side. We didn’t even use any salsa; the slow-cooked meat and potatoes in the rich sauce needed no embellishment.

The first night we had the tacos, I opened a bottle of the Mettler Family Vineyards “Epicenter” Old Vine Zinfandel 2007, from Lodi County, which I thought was more balanced than the version from 2006 that I reviewed on September 20. With 8 percent petite sirah grapes in the blend and seeing 19 months aging in oak (85 percent French, 15 percent American), the wine is undeniably large-framed, dense and muscular. Aromas of ripe, fleshy, dusty blackberries and black currants are highlighted by whiffs of black pepper and packed with lavender and violets that smell as if they had been crushed in a mortar with bitter chocolate, potpourri and pulverized gravel. Yikes, as if that weren’t enough, in the mouth, the wine is rich and succulent, but it doesn’t flaunt that over-ripe boysenberry jamminess that makes many “old vine” zinfandels cloying, nor does its alcohol level — 15.6 percent — come off as hot and sweet. Instead, this wine maintained poise dictated by vibrant acidity and buttressed by a rather stark edge of foresty briers and brambles. Drink through 2011 or ’12. Excellent. About $25.

The Mettler Epicenter 2007 was a terrific match with the intensity and banked spicy heat of the tacos. It was as if a glass of this wine and one of the tacos went out into the alley behind the cantina for a wrestling match and each round was fought to a draw, until they just said, “Aw, fuck it, amigo, let’s go back inside and eat and drink together.” Ole!

A few nights later, we ate the rest of the tacos, and this time I ventured the Clayhouse Adode Red 2007, Central Coast. This is an interesting sort of New World/Old World blend of 44 percent zinfandel, 32 percent petite sirah, 16 percent syrah, 5 percent malbec, 4 percent grenache and 2 percent mourvedre. It’s tasty and moderately complex, but it’s not the same kind of wine as the Mettler Epicenter ’07, so while we enjoyed the Clayhouse Adobe ’07, it didn’t make the same kind of impression paired with the tacos. It offers scents and flavors of ripe red and black currants and plums, an array of dried spices, an intriguing earthy hint of leather and loam and fairly supple, chewy tannins. Try it with burgers, meatloaf and pork chops. Very Good. About $15, Good Value.

With the rest of the pork shoulder, we made the Sun-Dried Tomato and Fennel Sausage Patties with Creamy Polenta from the May 2009 issue of Bon Appetit. My, oh my, what a spectacular dish this was! The sausage contains the chopped pork shoulder, pork fat, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, basil, fennel seeds and so on, The Italinate sauce that accompanies the sausage patties consists of canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots and more basil. Serve this with polenta topped with chopped basil and grated Parmesan cheese, with a salad on the side, and it all makes for fine, hearty, flavorful eating. (My pictures of this dish didn’t work out, sorry.)

Here was a chance to open a bottle of the charming Gilli Vigna del Forno Freisa d’Asti 2006, from Piedmont. Charming, yes, but with plenty of stuffing. (The grape is the freisa.) Black raspberry and black cherry scents and flavors are permeated by baking spice, bitter orange and a hint of tar. The grape’s typical acidity makes the wine unabashedly lively and appealing, while a texture that’s slightly taut and sinewy reminds us that charm can have a serious side. Hints of wild berry and a seductive floral element emerge after a few minutes in the glass. Loads of personality and terrific with the dish. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Domenico Selections, New York.

LL came home for lunch yesterday — remember, our new regime is two moderate meals a day — and fried one small soft-shell crab. Now the curious point is that neither LL nor I are particularly fond of soft-shell crab, but Saturday morning we were at the Memphis Farmers Market standing at the table of a guy who drives down to New Orleans to pick up fish and seafood from his family’s boats and LL said, “Well, let’s try a soft-shell crab.” I was making objecting hums and haws in the background, but she went ahead; we also bought a pound of shrimp and two beautiful fillets of tuna. (The tuna became the ceviche for the tacos we ate Monday.)

Anyway, LL came home for lunch, cleaned the crab, breaded it with flour and panko crumbs and fried it in a skillet. She also sliced some green tomatoes, coated them and fried them. I sliced one ciabatta roll and spread remoulade sauce on the interior. LL slid two slices of fried green tomato onto the bottom half of the roll, set the fried crab on top of the tomatoes, and I sprinkled some shredded romaine lettuce on top of the crabs, then capped it with the other half of the roll. Voila! A fried green tomato and soft-shell crab sandwich, which I cut in half, so we each had a little sandwich, about six bites each. We served these with a salad of baby arugula, chopped romaine, tomatoes and sliced red and yellow peppers. A great lunch!

We were eating on the screened porch in back — the rain stopped after two weeks, and we’re having gorgeous mild weather — and LL said, “We need about this much wine,” holding thumb and forefinger about two inches apart. So I looked in the wine fridge and thought, “Oh, what the hell!” and plucked forth a bottle of the Rossi-Wallace Chardonnay 2007, Napa Valley. The wine is made by husband-and-wife team Ric Forman and Cheryl Emmolo, each of whom has a long history with wine and vineyards in the Napa Valley. Rossi-Wallace, named for their mothers, is a new project; this chardonnay and a Pinot Noir 2007 are the initial releases.

The Rossi-Wallace Chardonnay 2007 sees no oak and no malolactic “fermentation.” Made all in stainless steel, the wine rests seven months on the lees of spent yeast cells. The grapes derive from the same vineyard that supplies Forman’s chardonnay under his eponymous label but for this wine the grapes are harvested a bit earlier. The result of this fairly hands-off approach is a beautiful chardonnay of shimmering purity and intensity. Classic pineapple and grapefruit scents are permeated by quince and ginger and hints of limestone and wet gravel. After a few moments, a wafting of jasmine lifts from the glass. In the mouth, the wine is lithe and supple, almost crystalline in its vibrant acidity; the pineapple-grapefruit flavors take on a touch of roasted lemon and pear, with hints of smoke and mushroom-like earthiness. Such emphasis on the lively and delicious character of the grape is rare in California. If I were managing a restaurant wine list, I would want a couple of cases of this chardonnay in the cellar. Unfortunately — there’s always a rub! — only 150 cases were produced, so mark this one Worth a Search. About $25.

LL and I drank about one-third of this bottle at lunch — it managed the spiciness and assertiveness of the soft-shell crab quite handily — and finished it last night with shrimp risotto.

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