Monday, December 26, 2011

Memorable Pairings of 2011

Well, of the last few months anyway. There have been a few truly memorable drinks and eats in the past months that I never found a way to write about here. So I'll compile them in a best-of-the-unposted list from the last part of 2011.

I was in Jerez in October, and one night I had dinner at La Carbona with Peter Liem and Eduardo Ojeda, the cellar master at La Guita and Valdespino. Eduardo brought several ridiculous bottles to this dinner, one of which was a bottle of La Guita Manzanilla Pasada...but from the mid 1970's! That's right, a Manzanilla Pasada that had spent the past 40 years in bottle. I'm telling you, the idea that Fino wines cannot age is simply wrong. When they are well made and stored properly they can be wonderful. This wine was stunning in its complexity, and also in its freshness.

We drank it with a perfectly grilled bone-in strip steak (I think that's the cut, anyway - you butchers out there can correct me based on the photo if need be). This steak would fare well against anything served at steak temples in NYC - seriously. And La Carbona is by not even a steakhouse. The pairing was fantastic - the umami depth of the wine complimented the meat and the freshness of the wine enlivened and cleansed the palate. An experience I must repeat at some point.

And more Sherry...Joe Salamone was also in Jerez in October, and he returned with a very fine bottle that as of now is unavailable in the States, a special Palo Cortado from Gutierrez Colosía, the very fine producer in El Puerto de Santa María. The average age of these wines is at least 40 years and the wine is a complexly concentrated elegant thing of finesse and beauty.

We drank this wine with home-cooking style Japanese food. It was great with everything, but drinking it with these fried oysters with miso and seaweed was among the most thrilling and delicious pairings I experienced all year. Savory briny sweet complex harmony.

I ate dinner with a few friends at Prune in the fall, and one of them drove in from Rhode Island with several absurd bottles in tow, one of which was the 1972 Leroy Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaut St Jacques. The wine was closed down hard at first, not so unusual for a wine that's been under cork for the past 40 years. But it opened up and showed beautifully, with savory earthy tones and even a bit of very gently stewed fruit. Such a great treat, to be able to drink a majestic old wine like this. We ate all sorts of good things at Prune, and I am not sure, but I think we drank this wine with lamb sausages and all of us were swooning.

Peter generously brought a bottle of Selosse Champagne from France for my birthday in the fall. It is a new release called La Bout du Clos, a wine made entirely from that same vineyard in Ambonnay, from the 2004 vintage. This wine was a bit more quiet than other bottles of Selosse that I've experienced, the oxidative streak not as strong, the supple fruit and saline minerality of the wine doing the talking. It was a special treat.

Peter made a lovely dish of Champignon mushrooms and daikon radish simmered in dashi to go with it - a perfect harmony of savory flavors and aromas. And a concrete reminder, if we needed one, that Champagne is a great table wine.

Why, on Christmas eve my friend Dan Melia opened an absolutely gorgeous bottle of 2006 Marie-Noëlle Ledru Saignée Rosé, and we drank it with excellent grilled cheese sandwiches and various pickles. An unusual pairing, maybe, but Champagne is great with fried food, and the pickles didn't intrude at all. Ledru's Saignée is so very vinous, it's like drinking red wine that happens to have a few bubbles. The wine unfolded slowly and gracefully and was best right as it vanished, a compelling merging of fruit and mineral concentration with textural finesse and grace. Note to self: buy everything Marie-Noëlle Ledru makes before she stops making Champagne.

I've never had Violane before, the sans-soufre cuvée by Benoît Lahaye. This bottle comes entirely from 2008 and is a blend of equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I love Lahaye's wines, I love their clarity and focus, their delicate yet powerful expression of Pinot Noir from Bouzy. I loved this wine too, although it is definitely different from the other Lahaye wines I've had. First of all, there is no sulfur, and the wine shows an oxidative undertone that frankly reminded me of some of the Selosse wines I've had (yes, the wine is that good). There is an intense concentration of fruit aroma and flavor and the finish never really ends. We drank this wine on its own, and it was a wonderful pairing. I am drinking the dregs on day two as I write this, and gnawing on a piece of country wheat bread, and it is good.

I haven't had a wine from Santorini in over a year now, as after an initial love affair, I had a group of wines that showed too much sulfur and not enough deliciousness, and I kind of retreated. Not sure what I will do now, after this wine. Peter and I were trying to decide what to drink the other night with a dinner of breaded and fried veal cutlets, cauliflower with cumin, king oyster mushrooms, and garlicky greens. He saw a bottle of 2007 Sigalas Barrel Fermented Assyrtiko in my wine fridge and asked that we open it. I would never have picked that wine, and wow, was it a great pairing.

We decanted the wine about two hours before drinking it, and it was fantastic. The aromas were clear and fresh, vibrant. The wine has a unique aromatic profile, and now that it is maturing, it is articulate and detailed. For me the primary aroma is pumice - the volcanic rock. There is citrus fruit too, something floral, a Burgundian barrel-influenced sweetness, and all infused with this lovely slightly smoky savory-ness. Great freshness and acidity on the palate, balanced, and expressive. Simply delicious wine, and seems like its only beginning to grow into itself. The wine went so well with the veal cutlets, which I topped with a little deglaze of butter, lemon and chopped salted capers. It worked with the earthy cumin notes of the cauliflower and the savour of the mushrooms too. It was surprising to me how this wine offered enough richness to pair with everything on the plate, but also the brightness and refreshment to balance the meal.

This last one reminds me, as a new year approaches, of the value of being open minded, of welcoming new experiences, of being informed by and considerate of what I've learned to be true, but also of wanting to be wrong about things - of learning continuously. I hope that your 2011 ends in a lovely way, and that our 2012 is filled with happiness and learning and many exciting new pairings.


Maggie said...

Lovely. Fantastic pairings and good to see folks putting food-friendly wines (that too many forget are food friendly) to use at the table.

Anonymous said...

Wow, one of the most visually and mouthwateringly seductive blog posts ever! Sherry and Japanese food...bring it. Keep up the great work. Looking forward to reading on.

April Torzewski

buonsangue said...

It might just be me living udner a rock, but why on earth would Marie-Noelle Ledru stop making Champagne? What an alarming thought...

Do Bianchi said...

absurd wine! I love it... and I love how the Santorini made it into this mix... happy holidays, Brooklyn Guy... I'm just catching up after the arrival of GP and I'm looking forward to Brooklyn Guy in 2012...