Cooking at Home

Porcini risotto isn’t very photogenic, but I’ll include an image of LL’s triumph anyway, because what it may lack in picture-power it more than made up for in the intensity of flavor. Most recipes assume that the home chef in the United States of America is not working with fresh porcini mushrooms, but LL had ordered a pound of porcinis from Mikuni through, and they were delivered by UPS overnight. For broth, she used veal stock, though veal is usually verboten in her food philosophy, and she apologized profusely to the Gods of Baby Animals, but, prego, did it ever give the risotto deep richness and flavors to bolster the deeply earthy mushrooms. I think this was the best version of porcini risotto that LL has made, at least in my experience.

To drink with the porcini risotto, I went to a nearby wine and liquor store and bought a bottle of Moccagatta Nebbiolo 2007. I first wrote about this wine, also a purchase, in December 2009. (Marc de Grazia Imports, Winston-Salem, N.C.) Here’s that review:

The Moccagatta Nebbiolo 2007, from Piedmont’s Langhe region, represents the entry level wine for the Minuto family’s Moccagatta estate, founded in 1952. Made from 100 percent nebbiolo grapes (from young vineyards) and aged a scant six months in old barriques, the wine offers the typical nebbiolo aromas of tar, smoke, violets, spiced plums, damp leaves and moss and gravel. Flavors of macerated black currants and blueberries are draped on a spare, taut structure whose bright acidity cuts a swath on the palate. Nothing opulent or easy here; the wine is an eloquent expression of a grape at a level of purity and intensity that’s especially gratifying from vines that are less than a decade old. Dried heather and thyme seep through the bouquet after a few minutes in the glass, as the wine gets increasingly spicy, dry and austere, with touches of old paper and dust. While the Moccagatta Nebbiolo ’07 doesn’t display the dimension or detail of Moccagatta’s more expensive single-vineyard Barbarescos, it’s an admirable statement of a grape variety and winemaking philosophy. Best from 2010 or ’11 through 2015 to ’17. Bring on the pappardelle con coniglio. Excellent. About $25.

The first difference between the bottle we tried at the end of 2009 and the bottle we tried a few days ago is the price; initially $25, now it’s $23. The second difference is a subtle shifting in balance toward gracefulness, clarity and balance. Make no mistake, this is a nebbiolo wine deeply imbued with the grape’s signature smoky, tarry, dusty graphite-laden tannins and earthy-herbal-rooty character, yet give it a few minutes in the glass — I should have opened it 45 minutes before we sat down to sanctify ourselves at the altar of porcini risotto — and it delivers a bouquet so alluring that it’s practically deliriously seductive. As far as aromas go, one feels almost a sense of physical size to these packed-in elements of lavender and licorice, violets and sandalwood, cloves and fruitcake that generously expand to include macerated plums and blueberries. This sensuous panoply seems to seep inevitably into the wine’s dense, chewy structure, modulating somewhat the rigor of its mineral-flecked tannins and elevating acidity. One might even call it elegant, while not neglecting its fairly severe, leathery finish. The Moccagatta Nebbiolo 2007 was perfect with the porcini risotto; it was as if two earthy and elemental modes of being were speaking to each other in their disparate ways. This is what good eating and drinking are all about. Still Excellent. About $23.

Label image (modified) from

First, the terrifically tasty Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2009, produced by the Cantina di Soave, a cooperative founded in 1898 that now boasts 2,200 farmers as members. The Soave region lies east of the beautiful city of Verona, site of the annual giant VinItaly trade fair — coming right up, April 7-11 — with the Soave Classico zone rising in hills in the farther eastern reaches of Soave. The region was granted D.O.C. status in 1968; the theoretically higher or better D.O.C.G. ranking was bestowed in 2002 but only for Soave Classico and Soave Classico Superiore. This latter move was an attempt to separate the Classico and Classico Superiore vineyards in the hills from the inferior vineyards in the flatlands, the source of most of the bland, innocuous Soave wines with which the world is too boringly familiar. As is typically the case with the Italian wine laws, the situation is actually more complicated, but the simplification I offer here will be sufficient to our purpose.

Also complicated is the make-up of the grapes that comprise Soave. Principle among these is garganega, a grape that, given the appropriate climate, soil and elevation, is capable of making interesting and even complex, if not great, wines. For the DOCG wines of the hillsides, the characterless trebbiabo Toscana is now forbidden, though is it found ubiquitously in the Soaves of the plains. Other authorized grapes include trebbiano de Soave, chardonnay (which seems an odd choice) and pinot bianco. Garganega must be at least 70 percent of the blend.

The Rocca Sveva Soave Classico 2009, as a matter of fact, is 100 percent garganega. The color is pale straw; the bouquet delivers seductive aromas of roasted lemon and lemon balm, almond and almond blossom with hints of green plums, melons and dried thyme. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is notably clean, fresh and crisp, very lemony in flavor with touches of pear and grapefruit and a tremendous spicy element laid over a burgeoning layer of limestone-like minerality. The texture nicely balances scintillating acidity with moderate soft lushness. Thoroughly enjoyable with the bacon and leek risotto with poached egg that I cooked last week. 12.5 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Filippo Pedron. Very Good+. About $15, representing Real Value.

MW Imports, Brooklyn, N.Y.

The recipe for the bacon and leek risotto with poached egg — wonderful dish! — is in the April 2011 issue of Bon Appetit. Here’s a link to the recipe at the magazine’s website.
Next, for a red wine, we try the Paul Durdilly “Les Grandes Coasses” Vieilles Vignes Beaujolais 2009, from a splendid year in Beaujolais. Notice that this is a “regular” Beaujolais, not a Beaujolais-Villages or a Cru Beaujolais from one of the 10 named communes, yet you would be hard pressed to find a wine that expressed the true nature of the gamay grape more eloquently than this one. The vines average 40 years old, with some going back 70 years. The wine matures in stainless steel tanks and large old barrels, so any wood influence is a subtle, supple sense of shaping and nuances of underlying spice. The wine is lovely in every aspect, from its radiant ruby-purple color with a faint blue cast to its pure and intense bouquet of black and red currants and red raspberries imbued with cloves, mulberries and a touch of graphite-like minerality. In the mouth, this is silken fruit draped over the stones and bones of clean, vibrant acidity and deftly etched limestone and shale, all stated with varietal intensity and concentration that do not cloud the wine’s utter delight. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. Suggested retail price is $17; I paid $20 in Memphis.
North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal. The label in this image is slightly different from the label on the bottle I had.

I was looking for something to drink with the fettuccine with preserved lemon, black olives, thyme and Parmesan I concocted for lunch a couple of days ago, and came upon a second bottle of the Renaissance Vin de Terroir Roussanne 2006, from North Yuba in the Sierra Foothills. Yikes, this was one of my “Best Wines of 2010,” which I tasted back in April or May and wrote about originally in this post in June. Renaissance specializes in small quantities of wines fashioned from Rhone Valley grape varieties, as well as chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. The wine was fermented in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts; it aged nine months in a combination of new and one- and two-year old barrels. Bottled on May 15, 2007, the Vin de Terroir Roussanne 2006 was not released until Jan. 15, 2010; the winery typically holds its products longer than just about any producer in California.

Talk about golden! The color is radiant gold with a tinge of green, and not meaning to be speciously vague or precious, it just feels golden, like a boon of munificence. Notes of peaches and pears and quince spiced with ginger and cloves are ripe and honeyed, though the wine is bone dry; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of baked pineapple, fig and dried thyme, as well as a touch of bees’-wax and limestone. Despite this panoply of delights, the wine is spare and elegant, a bit coolly detached, even, though supple and shapely in texture. Roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors tilt a nod toward spiced pineapple and fig compote, and there’s a scant bit of grapefruit bitterness on the long, clean, stylish finish. What I want to emphasize is the wine’s exquisite balance among gorgeous fruit and spice elements, its scintillating acidity, bedrock mineral nature and tactful structural reticence; nothing out of place, nothing obtrusive or flamboyant. Winemaker is Gideon Beinstock, a name one does not hear bruited about with the brilliant winemakers of the Golden State, though he certainly deserves inclusion in that company. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 63 cases; I said “small quantities,” didn’t I? Excellent. About $45.

A sample for review.

The pasta was one of those throw-together things. In fact, I was just going to whip up a salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese pasta when I remembered a jar of preserved lemon slices in the fridge, and of course once I had diced one of those, black olives and thyme seemed inevitable, so the dish took on a Mediterranean cast. It was simple and tasty, and the wine, with its elegant old-gold, lemon-dried herb quality, was close to perfect with it.

You might think that by naming Chile and Germany in the same breath, as it were, with the riesling grape that I’m ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime, but such is not the case. The Meli Riesling 2010, from Chile’s Central Valley, was actually quite charming, while Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 — who said that German wine labels are complicated? — from the Mosel region, was, not just charming but pretty freakin’ sublime, but in a quiet, understated manner.

I was finishing, for lunch, the leftover Cumin-Spiced Shrimp and Chorizo Gumbo that I mentioned on March 4 as being an unexpected great but risky match with the Nickel & Nickel Truchard Chardonnay 2008, Carneros. A more reasonable or typical pairing would have been riesling, so I took these two bottles from the wine fridge to see how they stood up. Both were samples for review.
In 2005, winemaker Adriana Cerda and her three sons bought a vineyard in Chile’s Maule Valley region of the country’s vast Central Valley. The vineyard was unusual for being so old — 60 years — and for being planted to grapes rare to Chile, carignane and riesling. We see some excellent riesling coming from the Leyda region, farther north and on the Pacific coast, but not from the Central Valley, so I was surprised and gratified by the quality of the Meli Riesling 2010 that Cerda made. The wine is a pale straw color; delicate, almost crystalline aromas of peach, pear and melon with a touch of cloves and hints of thyme and tarragon are well-knit and completely attractive. The texture is silken and blithely enlivened by vibrant acidity that lends verve to roasted lemon and ripe peach and pear flavors. The spicy element burgeons from mid-palate back, as does a rising tide of limestone minerality. Totally charming and tasty and appropriate for spring and summer sipping. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012. Very Good+. About $12, representing Great Value.
Global Vineyard Importers, Berkeley, Cal. Label image from
Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler is a small estate — about 9,000 cases a year — centered at Bernkastel. Across from that ancient town, along a bend in the river Mosel, lies the highly regarded Badstrube vineyard, and a 4.6-acre portion of it owned by Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler is called “alte Badstrube am Doctorberg,” which is to say that it lies just above the “Doctor” vineyard, one of the greatest in Mosel, if not Germany. The year 2008 is regarded as a classic and well-balanced but not exceptional vintage.

That said, the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 is utterly entrancing. The color is pale straw-gold; at first, one thinks “apple, apple, apple,” somehow both glowing green and burnished red, but this apple-aspect dims a shade to be replaced by the utmost ineffable, even evanescent delicacy of peach and pear with hints of lychee, almond and almond blossom, though allow the bouquet to blossom a few more moments as hints of ripe apricot shyly trail in. Matters are a bit more assertive in the mouth; there’s a touch of ripe, slightly honeyed sweetness on the entry, but swingeing acidity and scintillating minerality in the form of limestone and damp, dusty slate combine to ease a transition to a dry, refined finish in which spice and stone-fruit flavors are elegantly enshrined. All of these aspects are managed with essential decorum, though there is something, also, rather wild and piercing about the wine’s appeal. Alcohol content is 7 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020 (and if you open a bottle in one of those years, let me know so I can try it too, please). Excellent. About $25 to $30.
Imported by Winesellers Ltd, Niles, Ill.
How did these disparate rieslings pair with the Cumin-Spiced Shrimp and Chorizo Gumbo?
The first, the Meli Riesling 2010, from Chile, stood in relationship to the gumbo as two polite doctors might who shake hands and one says to the other “Do no harm,” and the second replies, “O.K., you do no harm too.” I mean, the gumbo is terrific and the Meli Riesling 2010 is very charming and basically no harm was done.
On the other hand, and quite unexpectedly, the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler alte Badstrube am Doctorberg Riesling Spatlese 2008 made for another of those totally off-the-wall risky and spectacular food-and-wine-matches that make your toes curl and your taste-buds smoke. I wish I had a case of this stuff so I could always drink it with spicy food.

I needed to taste the Nickel and Nickel Truchard Vineyard Chardonnay 2008, Carneros, and it happened that I was about to serve dinner, the cumin-spiced shrimp and chorizo gumbo, and while it didn’t occur to me beforehand that the wine and the gumbo would make a great (or even appropriate) match, together they actually formed one of those slightly edgy BINGO! moments. The zingy cumin- and chili powder-inflected gumbo, for which I concocted a moderately-dark roux, did not make a dent in the wine’s immense elan. This chardonnay is barrel-fermented and ages nine months in French oak, 48 percent new, but does not go through malolactic “fermentation,” the transformative shift that turns crisp malic (apple-like) acidity into creamy lactic (milk-like) acidity. The wine is a radiant medium gold color; it’s rich, spicy and generous, with notes of lemon drop and quince, mango and guava backed by a sprightly piquancy of ginger and clove. Boy, this is vibrant and resonant, a real mouthful of chardonnay, a Girl of the Golden West; it is, however, quite dry, amidst the delicious pineapple and grapefruit flavors (tinged with fig and pear), and your palate feels the tug of oak and woody spice pulling you into the long, dense yet filigreed finish. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,484 cases. Excellent. About $45.
Winemaker is Darice Spinelli
A sample for review.
I squeezed a little lime juice and dribbled a bit of soy sauce on two swordfish steaks and then patted into the surface a handful of an Asian-style rub. For the cooking process, LL heated olive oil in a cast-iron skillet until it was smoking and dropped the fish in and seared the steaks for a couple of minutes on each side. That was it. They were rare and juicy and filled with flavor. I opened a bottle of Highflyer Grenache Blanc 2008, Napa valley, a wine made 95 percent in stainless steel with five percent aged six months in new French oak. The grapes derive from a 2.7-acre block of the Somerston Vineyard, in the hills east of Rutherford at 1,100-feet elevation. The wine offers lovely balance and integration, beautifully combining spare elegance of structure with rich flavors of lemon drop, Bit o’ Honey (remember those?), pear and quince with a hint of ripe peach. While the wine is dry, crisp and lively, that five percent French oak provides a hint of spice in the background and some suppleness to the silken texture. This was delicious with the swordfish, with a great flavor-to-flavor profile and some keen acidity to cut the richness of the fish. Production was 720 cases. Alcohol content is 13.9 percent. Excellent. About $17, a Raving Bargain.
Craig Becker is owner and winemaker. Back in December, I reviewed the Highflyer Centerline 2007, a red wine blend.
A sample for review.

I was nibbling, for lunch, an excellent dry, nutty “clothbound” Cheddar cheese, with a few fig and hazelnut flatbreads, and I opened a bottle of the Renaissance Mediterranean Red 2006, Sierra Foothills, North Yuba. (The winery is about 70 miles north of Sacramento in Oregon House.) ’06 is the current vintage for this wine, which is a blend of 47 percent mourvedre grapes, 27 percent syrah and 25 percent grenache. It ages 36 months — yep, that’s three years — in a combination of one- to six-year-old oak barrels and large puncheons The color is dense ruby-red with a hint of magenta at the rim. This is a deeply spicy and savory wine, with scents and flavors of red and black currants and slightly macerated and stewed plums thoroughly imbued with briery-brambly forest-like elements, smoke and ash, dried flowers and spices and a burgeoning ripe, fleshy, meaty character. The Southern Rhone or “Mediterranean” nature of the wine is evident in its expressiveness and intensity married to a sense of delicacy and decorum. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Production was 244 cases. 14.1 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $25.
Winemaker at Renaissance is Gideon Beinstock. A sample for review.

We went to dine at Bari, the restaurant that features the cuisine of southeastern Italy. As usual, to start we ordered two glasses of the always delightful Vietti Rorero Arneis 2009, from Piedmont — the wine list is all Italian and so is the extensive menu of cheeses — and after a while I asked our waiter to open the bottle I brought to the restaurant. This was the Colognole Riserva del Don 2004, Chianti Rufina, produced at an estate in the historically highly-regarded Rufina region northeast of Florence; in fact, Rufina shares no border with the other Chianti areas and has a very different terrain. The property is owned by Contessa Gabriella Spalletti Coda Nunziante, a fact that almost dares the wine not to be great. At a little more than six years old, Colognole Riserva del Don 2004 is wonderfully smooth and mellow and seamless, with its characteristic sangiovese traits of red currants and red plums, moss and black tea, orange zest and potpourri thoroughly amalgamated with a modicum of woody spice and gently assertive, finely-milled tannins. A real treat and particularly good with our cheese course. Excellent. I paid $35 for this wine, though the national average is more like $30.
Imported by VinDiVino, Chicago.

We didn’t finish the cheeses, so we brought them home, and the next day I made the Grandfather of All Cheese Toast, which included a truffled gorgonzola, Piave Vecchio, a pecorino, something unknown, grated Parmesan, Urfa pepper, mapuche spice and a dribble of good olive oil. Perhaps paradoxically, I opened a bottle of pinot noir, this being the Angela Pinot Noir 2008, Oregon, though the grapes are from the Clawson Creek Vineyard on Savannah Ridge in the Yamhill-Carlton District of the Willamette Valley. The wine aged 10 months in French oak, 57 percent new, and you feel that reticence (materially and philosophically) in the wine’s ineffable blending of suppleness and sinuosity, in its elegant spareness matched with a seductive satiny texture. The color is medium ruby shading somewhat darker at the center; aromas of red currants with a touch of cranberry and cola are fleshed out with a bit of smoke, briery and mossy earthiness, rose petals and just a hint of cedar and sandalwood. In the mouth, this pinot noir offers some sweet ripeness of black and red fruit, but it’s not opulent or pushy or showy; again, all is breeding and grace, poise and harmony. Just a freakin’ lovely pinot noir that emits authenticity and integrity. When LL got home from work, I gave her a glass and said, “Try this Oregon pinot.” She sniffed and sipped, thought for a moment, and said, “This tastes like a pinot made by Ken Wright.” And by golly, she was correct. Production was 821 cases. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.
A sample for review.

Looking for a hearty, sinewy red wine to sip along with this Pork Chile Verde, its spicy, savory qualities deepened with a dollop of red ancho chile sauce, I opened a bottle of the Bodega Septima Gran Reserva 2008, from Argentina’s Mendoza region. Ah, yes, this worked. Actually, I was eating a bowl of the leftover chili for lunch; the night before, the first serving, we drank beer. The recipe is in the February issue of Bon Appétit, the “new” Bon Appétit relocated to New York from Los Angeles and under completely different editorial staff. Making the dish is one of those kitchen-wreckers, but it turned out great. You do, for example, have to use the processor to make the green sauce (tomatillos, green onions, cilantro, garlic and chicken broth) and then wash the container and so on to make the red sauce (which is toasted dried ancho chilies and toasted garlic with fillips of honey and cinnamon; talk about power and intensity). I’ll probably make this again when cold weather rolls around in the Fall, but I’m looking forward to lighter dishes over the next few months. There exists a great deal of controversy about the spellings of chili and chile, with national and regional variations and a plethora of stylebooks and grammar guides lending weight to their often contradictory favorites. Bon Appétit spelled the dish “chili” but the pepper “chile,” hence the name “Pork Chile Verde” refers to the sauce, not the concoction, as least by their lights. I think.

Bodega Septima Gran Reserva 2008 is a blend of 50 percent malbec grapes, 40 percent cabernet sauvignon and 10 percent tannat, the latter a grape of midnight hue and rough-shod tannins primarily associated with Madiran, in southwest France, but making headway in Uruguay and showing promise in Argentina. The grapes for Septima Gran Reserva ’08 derive from vineyards ranging from 2,800 feet to 3,600 feet above sea level, and you feel the high altitude gravity of gravelly depth in the wine’s robust structure. The wine ages 12 months in used French oak barrels. This opens slowly, with a deep brooding of briers and brambles, earth, forest and walnut shell, gradually unfurling notes of mulberry and plum, red currants and cranberry and intenser hints of bitter chocolate, tar, fruit cake and (yes) dried ancho chile. In the mouth, for all its vigorously dense tannins and graphite-like minerality, the wine is remarkably fresh, clean and lively, spurred by spanking acidity and luscious red and black fruit flavors that yield, over a few minutes, beguiling undercurrents of mint, lavender and potpourri. I kept going back for another sniff, another sip, as the wine developed in the glass and added both the dimension of heft and proportion and the finely etched details of fruit, spices and flowers. Drink now through 2015 to ’18. Alcohol is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $25.

Bodega Septima is part of the international Codorníu Group; imported by Aveníu Brands, Baltimore, Maryland. A sample for review.

The recipe for this terrific soup, which includes a drizzle of balsamic reduction, came from New Flavors for Soups: Classic Recipes Redefined, a Williams-Sonoma book published by Oxmoor House in 2009 ($22.95). This is an easy dish, which requires some fine chopping — onion, carrots, celery — but mainly involved sipping a glass of wine and reading the newspaper while things simmer on the stove. The smoked turkey legs came from Whole Foods. The “balsamic drizzle” is just 3/4s of a cup of balsamic vinegar boiled down to 1/2 cup, though I took it down to the point above still runny sludge. Other items we have prepared from this nifty volume include Chicken and Hominy Soup with Ancho Chiles (excellent); Spicy Turkey and Jasmine Rice Soup with Lemongrass (not so successful but our fault for not working well with lemongrass); and Cumin-Spiced Shrimp and Chorizo Gumbo, which was fabulous. Anyway I prepared the Split-Pea Soup with Smoked Turkey on the night when LL teaches and had it ready when she got home, along with hunks of crusty bread and a simple red-leaf lettuce salad. For wine, I opened the Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2009, Napa Valley. I include, below, notes on the 2008 version of this wine that I somehow neglected to write about last year. Winemaker is Ivo Jeramez. These wines were samples for review.
The Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2009, Napa Valley, displays all the subtlety, suppleness and confidence that this wine typically offers. Made from certified organic and biodynamic estate vineyards in American Canyon and Carneros, the wine receives thoughtful treatment: 80 percent of the grapes ferment in 900-gallon French oak casks, with 20 percent fermented in used small French oak barrels; after fermentation, the wine rests on the lees in neutral barrels for six months. The result is a sauvignon blanc that balances richness and ripeness with nuanced details and elegant dimensions. Enticing aromas of peaches, yellow plums and roasted pears are permeated by hints of jasmine and honeysuckle and touches of nectarine. The wine is delicately grassy and herbal, with emphasis on juicy lemon and pear flavors beautifully set-off by fluent acidity, a finespun, almost lacy limestone element and that gently shaping hand of lightly spicy, nearly illusive wood. The texture is a seductive combination of graceful spareness and moderate lushness, with talc-like softness balanced by keen vivaciousness. Alcohol content is 14.3 percent. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $30.
The Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2008, Napa Valley, received the same treatment in the winery as its younger cousin from 2009, yet the result was a different sort of wine. The ’08 is just as lovely, no, even lovelier, but the emphasis is on smoky grapefruit and lime with slightly more obvious spiciness and a swaddling of oak that warms and frames the wine even as vivid acidity and a burgeoning limestone factor provide balancing crispness and liveliness. Ginger and quince, orange blossom and a touch of green leafiness underlie refined peach, pear and grapefruit aromas and flavors set into a structure that’s a little more rigorous, perhaps even more powerful than the structure of the ’09, though this model (2008) never loses touch with its essential elegance and sophistication. The sense of presence and tone, the wine’s assurance and self-possession are utterly convincing and gratifying; also, it’s completely delicious. We drank this wine with seared tuna, bok choy and sweet potato salad. 14.3 percent alcohol. Now through 2013 or ’14. Exceptional. About $30.

Last night LL made what is probably the best risotto I have ever eaten. And since the wine I chose to match this paragon of ricely beatitude was smack-dab on the money, we had a pretty damned perfect meal.

It was one of those nights of looking around the kitchen, the refrigerator and the cabinets to see what was on hand. We had about a cup of leftover diced butternut squash, so LL broiled that until the pieces had nice blackened edges. She sauteed some chopped shallot and then a few sliced hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, stirred in the rice and some white wine, let the wine evaporate and then began the process of slowly incorporating the chicken broth, a ladleful at a time. Toward the end, she folded in the butternut squash and a handful of chopped parsley and then — pure genius! — about a tablespoon of white miso to give the dish a deep, savory bass note. Readers, it was wonderful, with layers of complementary yet slightly contrasting scents and flavors bound in the creamy, not quite chewy rice.

I opened a bottle of the Hugel “Classic” Pinot Gris 2006, from the venerable firm of Hugel et Fils, founded in the town of Riquewihr in Alsace in 1639. The grapes derive from nearby vineyards secured by the family through long-term contracts and also from a selection of declassified grapes from Grand Cru vineyards on the Hugel estate. The Hugel “Classic” Pinot Gris 2006 is made all in stainless steel and sees no oak. The wine is a lovely medium straw-gold color with a faint green cast. Subtle aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, quince and pear, crystallized ginger and a back-note of woody spices are woven with a strand of smoke and baked apple. In the mouth, the wine is satiny and mellow, slightly honeyed in aspect yet completely dry, with flavors of apple and nectarine and a hint of green grapes, all enveloped in a spicy, smoky haze that opens to a touch of barely mossy earthiness. The texture feels almost cloud-like, and the acidity, while lively enough for some vivacity, is soft and accommodating. What a treat! And the synergy with the risotto was amazing! And I’m using too many exclamation points! Drink now through 2013 to ’15, well-stored. 13.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About — here’s the clincher — $15, though you see prices on the Internet as high as $24; somebody’s making a killing. A Raving Bargain.

Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York. A sample for review.

I have often mentioned one of our favorite cold weather dishes, the Cod and Chorizo Stew with Leeks, Potatoes and Tomatoes. We probably make this twice a month during Fall and Winter. It’s a combination of ingredients and effects that never fails, but a couple of nights ago LL added a few fillips that turned it into perfection. To top that, we drank a wine that matched the dish flavor for flavor, spice for spice, a brief triumph of the synergy of comparison and contrast, of purpose and reflection.

Cod and Chorizo Stew is really a simple dish, but this time, because she was using a brand and type of chorizo that we had not bought before, LL added Spanish smoked paprika, which amped up the stew’s richness, smokiness and spicy appeal (and deepened the color of the sauce), and then, in the sort of intuitive flash of genius that makes her such a better cook than I, she quickly peeled a mandarin orange, segmented it and dropped the pieces into the gently simmering pot. Lord have mercy, what a difference these little touches made in the stew! A dish that we had unflaggingly enjoyed now became sublime.

For wine, I opened a bottle of the Colomé Torrontés 2010, from Argentina’s Valle Calchaqui vineyard area in the Salta region, way up northwest by the Bolivian border. Founded in 1831, the winery was acquired by The Hess Collection in 2001. The Colome vineyards occur at an astonishing 6,000 to 10,000 feet above sea-level. Winemaker is Thibaut Delmotte.

The Colomé Torrontés 2010 is lean and spare yet broadly floral and herbal; achingly dry yet juicy, almost luscious. Spiced peach and pear and roasted lemon segue into mango, with banners of jasmine and camellia waving free amid strains of orange rind, leafy fig and dusty apple and pineapple. This all sounds deliriously hedonistic, but the wine preserves an element of almost mysterious reticence, a muscat-like intensity and paradoxical sinewy quality, due to bracing acidity, clean-edged limestone-like minerality and a scintillating note of bitterness on the finish. Made all in stainless steel, from 30- to 60-year-old vines. 13.5 percent alcohol. 2,210 cases imported. I’m a fan of wines made from the torrontés grape, which tend to be simple, direct and refreshing, yet while this version does not overburden itself (or ourselves) with freighted importance, it’s probably the best example I have tasted, and it was close to thrilling with the Cod and Chorizo Stew. Because of its seamless amalgam of complexity and delicate airiness, I’ll go for an Excellent rating. About $15, representing Terrific Value.

Imported by The Hess Collection, Napa, Cal. A sample for review.

Last night LL made one of our favorite cool weather dishes, the roasted chicken with figs, garlic, thyme and bacon. Yes, it’s exactly as good as it sounds, and as we were chowing down, we kept stopping, each of us, and saying something like, “Holy shit, what a fabulous dish!” I wrote about this item previously, in October 2009; follow the link for a fuller description of the dish and how it’s made.

Anyway, to drink with this delight of savory and hearty flavor, I opened a bottle of the Niner Wine Estates Bootjack Ranch Merlot 2008, Paso Robles. which I’ll get to in the reviews further along.

The winery was founded in 2001 and is owned by Richard and Pam Niner. Richard Niner, a product of Princeton and Harvard Business School, spent 30 years investing and turning around small businesses before visiting San Luis Obispo County and deciding to get into the wine industry. He bought the Bootjack Ranch on the east side of Paso Robles in 1999; a later purchase was Heart Hill Vineyard, in the western reaches of Paso Robles, 12 miles from the ocean and often 10 degrees cooler than Bootjack. Chuck Ortman consulted for the first vintages produced by the winery; since 2004 winemaker has been Amanda Cramer.

These wines were samples for review.

For a winery that concentrates on red wines, Niner turns out a splendid sauvignon blanc; in fact, along with the Merlot 2008 and Syrah ’06, the Niner Bootjack Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Paso Robles, was my favorite of this group of recently tasted wines from the producer. The color is very pale straw-gold. Aromas of roasted lemon, tangerine and grapefruit are imbued with notes of lemongrass, dried thyme and tarragon and a pungent element of gunflint and limestone; this is a bouquet I could sniff and contemplate for hours. The wine ages briefly in a combination of stainless steel barrels and once-used and neutral French oak, so the wood influence is subtle and supple, a soft blur and burr of dusty spice. In the mouth, the wine is taut with spanking acidity and clean limestone-backed minerality; pert flavors of lemon and grapefruit wrap around hints of meadow grass and leafy fig; the finish is long, lacy, spicy, chalky. A great sauvignon blanc for drinking through 2012. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 1,395 cases. Excellent. About $17, a Remarkable Value.
The Niner Bootjack Ranch Merlot 2008, Paso Robles, is one of those rare merlots from California that asserts its individuality from under the mantle of cabernet sauvignon; that is to say, it smells and tastes like something other than cabernet. This polished beauty offers notes of blueberry, mulberry and cassis ensconced in graphite, cedar, lavender, thyme, pepper and black olive. The wine retains something untamed and plangent, high tones of wild berry and exotic spice, along with more typical black and red currant flavors bolstered by shale-like minerality and burnished oak from French and Hungarian barrels, one-third new. Tannins are finely-milled and plush, with just a trace of rigor and authentic austerity on the finish. This was terrific with our dish of roasted chicken, bacon, figs, garlic and thyme, with which we had roasted potatoes and sauteed chard. Now through 2013 or ’14. Alcohol content is 14.7 percent. Production was 908 cases. Excellent. About $24.
The Niner Bootjack Ranch Sangiovese 2007, Paso Robles, is a curious matter in that it’s a thoroughly enjoyable wine, but it doesn’t have much to do with the character of the sangiovese grape. Actually, it behaved more like a well-made, non-blockbuster zinfandel. The color is deep ruby-red; the bouquet offers red and black currants, black cherries and touches of smoke, coffee and tobacco. Dense, grainy tannins, polished oak and vibrant acidity provide structure that’s firm and lively in its support of luscious black currant and cherry flavors. Now through 2012 or ’14. Production was 851 cases. 14.9 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $24.
I was, on the other hand, quite pleased with the Niner Bootjack Ranch Syrah 2006, Paso Robles, which I will call, as a matter of fact, one of the best renditions of the grape I have tasted from the Golden State. The color is deep ruby with a slight magenta/blue cast, an entrancing hue; the ripe, meaty, fleshy bouquet offers a rapt rendition of spiced and macerated red and black currants, blueberries and blackberries backed by black pepper, briers and brambles, smoke and moss, honed granite and slate, all seamlessly layered atop a foundation of clean loamy earth and a touch of wet dog funk. Yes, this is the real thing. At fours years old the wine is beautifully balanced and integrated, and while 16 months in small French and Hungarian barrels (one-third new) lend the wine a character of unassailable oak, added to dense, velvety tannins, broad and generously spiced black fruit flavors make this very drinkable, especially with such full-bodied fare as venison, pork chops and beef stew, now through 2005 or ’06. Production was 1,281 cases. 14.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.

My slight beef with the Niner Bootjack Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Paso Robles, is a strain of vanilla that my palate and sensibility register as a flaw, if not a downright aberration; if vanilla is what you want, order a dish of crème brûlée. ANYWAY, this cabernet, like its merlot cousin fairly individual in style, is big, dense, furry, chewy, intense and concentrated; sleek, polished and honed; black currant and black cherry flavors are touched with wild berry, lavender and violets, licorice, smoke and potpourri, rhubarb and sandalwood; a few minutes in the glass bring out classic tones of cedar and tobacco.. The exoticism does not get out of hand, however, held firmly in check by keen acidity, heaps of granite-like minerality and tongue-swathing tannins. I sipped this with a strong Irish cheddar-style cheese, and it was perfect thus. Drink now, with a steak, through 2016 or ’17. Production was 2,294 cases. 14.3 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $28.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ I’m sorry to say that my reaction to the Niner Fog Catcher 2005, Paso Robles, was not ecstatic, though the wine, a blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent cabernet franc and 10 percent merlot, is well-knit, impeccably balanced and integrated, smooth and mellow, enjoyable, with classic notes of smoky cedar, fruit cake and spice cake, brandied black cherries, honed shale and so forth. It’s just not very exciting; it doesn’t offer that edgy poise between power and elegance, dynamism and transparent austerity that great cabernet-blend wines should possess. Plenty of pleasing personality here but not enough character; a wine at this price should not be so easy. 550 cases. 14.1 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $58.

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