We feel rather fortunate we got into wine in the early 2000's. The quality of wine exploded during that decade but two new regions in particular climbed the mountain, planted a flag and belched out an announcement of their presence: The Douro in Portugal and Washington. The critics fell in love, the high scores flowed like rain and, unlike some nouveau-riche wine regions, for us, the praise was (and is) entirely warranted.
With Washington, the wine region shares the same latitude with Bordeaux and much of their early success came from Bordeaux blends. Now, things are branching out a bit into all sorts of different blends, single-varietal bottlings and experimentation all over the place. Their success is in the blend of the Old and the New, a French grace with an edge and savory freshness that seems to be uniquely Washington.
Pair it with a meal that tastes like rainy Northwest fancy comfort food and you have a winner, winner, duck leg dinner.
Food: Duck leg confit, tea-smoked lentils, beets and beet greens with La Briola harvest baguette and lavender jam
Raisin River, Michigan duck leg confit from Gene's Sausage Shop on Lincoln ($8 for package of two). If you don't want to make your own duck leg confit, here's a completely viable alternative, and frankly, if this is what we can get at this price, we're going this direction in the future. Too easy and too delicious not to. Just throw them in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes, then finish off under the broiler. All the duck skin deliciousness and juicy confit duck meat with none of the work.
Lapsang Souchong tea-smoked lentils and tomatoes from this recipe. Tastes like dark and dirty loamy soil and Chinese black tea tannins with all of it freshened up by the tomatoes. Roasted beets and sautéed beet greens with a fennel seed, mustard and balsamic vinaigrette. Eat your beet greens because they're What's Good.
La Briola harvest baguette with L'Epicurien confit of lavender flowers jam. Outrageously expensive jam at $8 for a five-ounce jar but worth every penny. Frenchy delicateness and one jar lasts through seven meals at least.
The result was a meal that tasted like the definition of Northwest food and we've never even been to Washington. We've had these flavors. Had the lentils and tomatoes. Eat beets and beet greens fairly regularly. Had duck leg confit plenty of times. But while eating all of it together, we kept saying, "I've never had these flavors as a complete meal."
Tasted new and surprising. And the wine fit like a glove.
Wine: 2008 Efeste Syrah Yakima Valley Jolie Bouche Boushey Vineyard ($35 - Wine Discount Center on Elston)
#15 on the Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2011. Great vintage (95 by Wine Spectator). The second that list hit the web last November, I'm betting every bottle of the 385 cases made of this vintage was gobbled up. Can't find it anywhere on the interwebs now. We got lucky.
Opened the bottle about three hours before the meal to see where it was and found it soft and short, all plum and vegetable greens. Put the cork back in and let it ride. With the meal, everything opened up and stretched out its arms in such a distinctive 'dirt and dirt with a side of dirt but never tasting like dirt' sort of way.
Blackberry, licorice, bacon and leafy greens. Leafy, leafy, leafy! A very direct wine with very little frivolity. Light texture, belying its 14.7% alcohol quite nicely. What it lacks in deep mystery, it makes up for in confidence and savory verve. Pretty acid that kept everything in line and tannins so well integrated that they were only perceptible by how well the wine revealed its stream-lined layers.
In our limited experience with Northern Rhône, blind, this could have been a freshy-fresh, more modern-angled Côte-Rôtie.
A critical darling but when reading critics, we've found that finding a critic that shares your tastes just makes for smart shopping. Harvey Steiman of Wine Spectator is one for us. "Stylish, balanced and raucous all at the same time," indeed. Pretty wine and linked up with the dark and more quiet flavors in the food in a great way.
Pairing: Textbook example of making food that shows up in the tasting notes of the wine
Multiple reviews of this wine mention its vegetal quality and one (Steiman) talks about its roasted beet flavors. So Mrs. Ney made beets and beet greens. Check. Syrah and tea/tomatoes are friends. Check. Duck and a lighter-styled syrah. Yes. What you get by heeding such things are flavors playing in a specific realm but swirling all over the place, bouncing off the walls and exploring every nook and cranny of that realm. That's what we got here.
Happy food with a literate and brooding undertone.
Total Cost of the Meal: About $65. Not cheap but if we had this in a restaurant with this wine, we're probably talking a $220 tab easily just for the wine, two entrées, tax and tip.