We're in holiday mode here at Food With Wine. Movin' slow.
Easy Christmas this year for us. Fun Christmas. And good food and wine, capped off by a Christmas dinner of wild boar and Côte-Rôtie.
But first, a new feature here at FWW:
Wine News, Notes and Meandering Thoughts
*** Champagne season! The New York Times has you covered. Robert Simonson tells us that Champagne cocktails are by no means a new thing. Scream that from the mountaintops, my friend. Chief wine critic Eric Asimov, author of the newly-released and great How To Love Wine, offers up a piece on pinot meunier that does more than just tell us what it is. It tells us why Champagne is G-O-O-D. Egly-Ouriet's Les Vignes de Vrigny, a 100% pinot meunier, was one of our favorite wines of the year.
*** No d'Yquem this vintage for the first time in 20 years. Brutal October weather in Bordeaux led to the decision. Left Bank cabernet shouldered the brunt of the challenging vintage whereas merlot, in what seems to be becoming a theme lately, made out well. St.-Émilions in particular are reported to be in great shape. After two "vintages of the century" back-to-back in 2009 and 2010, the last two years - along with quickly shifting marketing forces - have forced many houses in Bordeaux to get creative. That's all I'm sayin'...
*** Sulfites give you headaches? Science to the rescue! A natural alternative is in the works, reducing SO2 by 95%. Some people profess that drinking wine in Europe bottled by the wineries to be drunk locally and quickly - hence little to no SO2 added - makes for the best drunken bacchanalia on the planet. You can drink for days, they say, with no hangovers, headaches, dehydration, etc.. I've experienced that anecdotally and have absolutely no evidence to back up the SO2 levels, but where the hangover disappears, your liver HAS to be screaming!
*** The Canadian wine writer Natalie McLean, of the eponymous Nat Decants, is in a bit of a kerfuffle. Palate Press has the scoop and Michael Steinberger has all the goods. She reportedly has been lifting other peoples' wine reviews and listed them as her own on her pay site. Kinda. Sorta. Or to put it another way, just enough kinda-sorta to give her an out (like labeling some as from "-JRO" for Jancis Robinson. What's the 'o' stand for?). Personally, the sock puppetry feels more offensive. And sad. The Tracy Flick comparison is just downright priceless.
*** They caught the scofflaw that trashed most of the last six vintages of Gianfranco Soldera's wine, one of the great producers of Brunello di Montalcino. And one of the most hated. Many in the region believe Soldera was the whistleblower in 2008 when 20 wineries were cited with blending other grapes (merlot a big one) into what is supposed to legally contain only 100% sangiovese. The horror! Things were said, people spewed righteous indignation and the finger went Soldera's way because he's a bit of a traditionalist loud-mouth, according to reports. Tempest in a tea cup, but I bet the entire region secretly wanted this to be more than just a disgruntled ex-employee exacting revenge over not getting lodging on the estate (that's soooo Italian. Weird things just happen there).
*** In the wine accessory realm, these wine preservation disks aren't cheap but work. Used one of a Chilean syrah recently, left it sit for two weeks and it was not only delicious, but...better... These clear wine chiller bags ARE cheap, goshdarn cute and all over Europe right now, if that trips your fancy... We had to replace our decanter this year, as the old one was beyond saving. This Metrokane decanter with a wine shower funnel and screen does the job. It's currently at its high-water mark in price at $45. Got it for $10 cheaper six months ago. If you're in the market for such a thing, keep an eye on it because the price has fluctuated dramatically. Watch until after Christmasy time and I bet the price drops.
*** Reading Between The Wines is a capital-G Great wine book; a love letter to wine like no other. Terry Theise is releasing an update of sorts to that 2010 manifesto in video form with Reading Between The Vines. Doubt video stores or streaming services will be tripping over each other to get it but can't wait.
*** And the Robert Parker sale of the Wine Advocate is just getting weird.
Let's sashay back to our purpose here, the excruciating minutiae of food and wine pairings, one meal at a time.
This Christmas was brought to us by D'Artagnan, that crazy luxury meats company based in Newark, New Jersey that supplies a bevy of New York restaurants with crazy meat goodness and has a handful of products in shops all around Chicago. We got six wild boar shanks, pheasant terrine and French prosciutto for around $72, sent directly to our house overnight in a refrigerated box (awesome customer service people to boot). If you buy one thing, shipping starts in the low $20s. The trick is to keep the weight of your total order under a certain poundage. Do that and you can keep adding items with the shipping price barely budging. Our total meat-fest shipping cost came at around $25. On a side note, I know Newark gets a bad rap, but Newark has been good to us this year. Fantastic airport, so much better than Dulles (now on our "Never Again! Cripes!" list, right behind Heathrow in all its nightmarish wonder) and now D'Artagnan. Who knew?
Food: Wild boar shanks, farro with chestnuts/pomegranate seeds and grilled radicchio with balsamic
Christmas dinner. Two-day marinade from this recipe, swapping out celery for fennel in the mirepoix, scrapping the butter, substituting olive oil for lard while adding star anise. Always hated the "fall off the bone" descriptor but it's apt here. Moist, tender, not at all gamey wild boar shanks with deep and dark flavors that never bullied the rest of the food on the plate. Farro with fresh roasted chestnuts (probably sticking to pre-roasted after this - shucking chestnuts is annoying) and pomegranate seeds that slid right into the mountain food flavor. Grilled radicchio with balsamic from Michael Ruhlman (genius, that man). Good. Interesting. But keep it.
Mountain food is what what this was in more than one sense. Physically, it was a mountain of food on the plate that looked like something given to a fat, sloven, corrupt, medieval king. In flavor, this was mountain food that tastes like a Christmas meal in some obscure, hard-to-reach enclave in the Italian alps eaten by a man who wears a lot of animal furs, chops a lot of wood and owns old shotguns from World War II. So...delicious. And we'd do it again with some alterations.
Didn't finish it. TOO MUCH FOOD but made for a great wild boar ragú with pappardelle a few days later.
What helped amp up this meal into the "Christmas Special" realm was the wine as well.
Wine: 2003 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d'Ampuis ($110 - The Chicago Wine Company)
Château d'Ampuis has been around in some form for ten centuries, recently fell into disrepair, the Guigal family bought and restored it and poof! You get this wine. Unlike Hermitage in Northern Rhône, which has to be 100% syrah, the Côte-Rôtie AOC allows up to 20% viognier to be blended into syrah (though it rarely gets that high). This one is 93% syrah and 7% viognier.
Hot vintage in 2003 all over Rhône and it shows with this wine in its texture, but not to its detriment. A sweetness perks up here but felt like much of it has blown off, leading to a pop of full flavors but carrying with it a beautiful weightlessness that makes good wine good.
Two-hour decant. Very floral with licorice, tobacco, smoke, touch of bacon and herbs, sorta truffle-y even. Darkish fruit more subdued, mostly taking a backseat and only showing up more explicitly with 'an impression of dark fruit' in its texture. Long wine, lingered beautifully. Tannins and alcohol early that dissipated quickly. Very pretty overall. Could have been a Barolo in many ways, offering an initial appearance of a bigger wine only to reveal a gorgeous, lilting structure that keeps everything out of the world of BIG in every way. Not cheap. MIGHT buy it again, but a different vintage. I'd like to see how a cooler vintage reveals itself here.
Pairing: Right and proper stuff, though fell just below great
A technical match, a good match, we enjoyed this. Felt like it was walking a tightrope at times with a few jagged edges but overall, this meal with this wine felt like a holiday. Wild boar isn't something we eat. Northern Rhône isn't something we have a ton of experience with. Had both through the years. Can't speak to both with any sort of real authority. With that as a background, it became Christmas food full of surprises.
And it was frankly spectacular with the boar.
For Record-Keeping Purposes:
*** Christmas lunch of pheasant terrine and a cheese plate of English white cheddar, gouda and Rogue Smokey Blue with baguette and rose petal jam, served with NV Larmandier-Bernier Rosé de Saignée ($75 - Binny's). A meal that didn't click with a wine that's a bit of a quasi-Christmas tradition. Country-style terrine (read: chunky) that needed to be more pheasant-y. We liked at first that is wasn't overly gamey but then realized that it lacked pizzaz for that very reason. Great gouda, overly creamy English white cheddar that obscured any subtlety and Rogue Smokey Blue, a favorite, that careened the pairing into a ditch (especially with a swig of late harvest torrontés that we brought to the table just for blue-cheese-and-dessert-wine funnsies. Wow! That was awful!). A good enough food experience here that never felt like more than that. An experience. Never jumped into the realm of happy-happy-joy-joy.
The Larmandier-Bernier is a favorite since first having it two Christmases ago with duck, farro and Brussels sprouts. This one was disgorged in July of this year and it showed. Not ready. Merely nice stuff right now but not expansive enough. Hasn't spread its wings yet , allowing it to offer any mystery. Blood orange juice mixed with the fanciest mineral water on the planet but that's it. Tight stuff, solid bubbles, spastic acid and should be happy-slappy stuff with some time. The pairing never got off the ground for the most part but with the gouda and the rose petal jam, it found places of complexity that unfortunately didn't translate to the rest of the food.
*** Put this last meal under the heading of "Don't judge a wine by your first tasting, Christo. It only makes you look stupid." Freezer hanger steak marinated in smoked paprika, garlic, olive oil and soy sauce with potato-kale cake and a 2005 Bodegas Astrales Ribera del Duero ($33 - Wine Discount Center). Hanger steak that didn't taste frozen in the least. So fresh. Just fine potato-kale cake done up in the Spanish style. And a 2005 Ribera del Duero we didn't enjoy a year ago, when it seemed to have an identity crisis. Not so this time. Com-PLETE stuff, showing dry, succulent dark fruit, fancy licorice, proper wisps of smoke and a surprising graham cracker note. Quite the dichotomy with its last showing, though we've seen bottle variation with the Astrales in the past.
When it's hitting its routes, cut and turning just right, it defines what's best about Ribera del Duero in a relatively cheap package. That's what we got here. The acid and the tannins were Montana and Rice for this showing while a year ago, it was Cutler and anybody but Marshall. Fantastic stuff with fantastic, simple, Spanish food. When right, it's oh-so Right. Here, it was Done. Right.