Seemed fitting to cap the year with two new French wine friends that harkened back to a great 2012 Spanish vacation.
And a third wine friend that tasted just like it did when we had it on this rooftop in September. It was a review of sorts on New Year's Eve, with wine that highlighted the best vacation of our lives - a Didier Dagueneau Silex (different year) drank at Asador Etxebarri south of Bilbao, and an Egly-Ouriet (different bottling then) drank at Mugaritz south of San Sebastian. The third wine friend is a Contino white Rioja that will forever taste like that blissful week four months ago. If Chicago is home, Rioja is home in a parallel life. Last night's food and wine felt like a tiny peek back into that world.
Lunch: French prosciutto with Pierre Robert and sheep's milk brie cheeses, baguette, butter and rose petal jam with NV Egly-Ouriet Les Vignes de Vrigny ($55 - Binny's)
Bayonne French prosciutto from D'Artagnan. Something about French prosciutto with its brightness and freshness makes it taste so...essential when talking about its place in the realm of French food. Something we don't find in Italian prosciutto, where it's made as a product onto its own instead of purposefully blending into the greater Italian world. Serrano and Iberico ham have that purposeful feeling as well. Italian prosciutto never feels like it to us. French prosciutto serves as a delicious counterpoint to other, richer, deeper flavors. And this stuff is DE-licious. Pierre Robert cheese from the Seine-et-Marne region in north-central France. It's basically the same thing as the triple-cream goodness that is Brillat-Savarin, just aged longer, turning it into a deep, buttery, silky, better-integrated pile of white goop. Fantastic stuff. Sheep's milk brie. Keep it. Brie ammonia flying all over the place (though pretty great with the Champagne). Baguette, KerryGold butter and rose petal jam to round things out. Meat and cheese plate at its most basic essence and its most basic deliciousness. Mâche salad to finish, which with an avocado dressing made for silky goodness with the Champagne. Avocado and bubbles. Yes. Always.
The Egly-Ouriet Les Vignes de Vrigny is 100% pinot meunier, last had by us in April of (now) last year with Quebecois cheese, smoked trout and various other vittles. Eric Asimov just did a write-up in the Times discussing this grape and this very wine, nailing its appeal. It's not a biting grape. Pinot meunier isn't that. It's round, fruity and tremendously focused with a fennel and nutmeg crust around berries with a yeasty, herby cream core. Utterly defined by a smart acid that knows when to take the reins and steer the ship. Great length, too. Tastes like reading an author recommended to you and finding a world entirely new and oh-so joyful. Not geek wine, just good wine, and with this grape gaining traction with grower-producers in Champagne, bottling it solo like blanc de blancs, the Champagne world can only become bigger and better. We're very intrigued.
Happy pairing here, with a wine taking the stage and never relinquishing it as it constantly changed with different bites of food yet always staying frankly great. Great with the butter, rose petal jam, mâche and brie. Good with the prosciutto and Pierre Robert. If that had been reversed, and the Egly-Ouriet shot into the stratosphere with the two food elements we loved, this might have been a happy-slappy-wha-wha pairing. It wasn't. But we were just fine.
Dinner was another issue.
Dinner: Michael Symon chicken, salsa verde, sweet pea gnocchi and kumatoes with celery leaves, served with a 2005 Didier Dagueneau Silex Pouilly-Fumé ($110 - The Chicago Wine Company)
Michael Symon chicken and salsa verde. Learn it. Know it. Love it. It's Better Chicken, with lemon and bay oozing into every crevice and salsa verde (more anchovy-heavy this time) that's all deep and dirty while offering tremendous lift at every right moment. Sweet pea gnocchi from Ohio City Pasta in WestSide Market, Cleveland. Good. Bit doughy this time, but oddly great (and wrong) with salsa verde. If we stopped here, we would have had a good meal. Something about the addition of kumatoes with celery leaves, celery seed, salt, olive oil, chives and white balsamic turned this into fancy food, expansive food, food made for a feast (and tasting like the kumato salad at Las Tortillas de Gabino in Madrid during previously said vacation).
And even more of a (not the cat food) Fancy Feast by dumping chives over everything, sticking thyme and fennel fronds up the chicken and the adding celery leaves to the kumatoes in order to match up with what was probably the best white wine we've had in a gosh-darn long while.
The 2005 Didier Dagueneau Silex Pouilly-Fumé - one of the last wines made by Didier Dagueneau before a small plane he was flying crashed just after take-off and killing him in September of 2008 - confirms to us, once again, that he was a crazy-mad genius. Dagueneau's sauvignon blancs are fuller due to his unique use of oak, and more ripe, as he worked to extract every bit of flavor from only the best grapes in his vineyards, meticulously cutting back yields as everyone around him did just the opposite. With this 2005, we found a big, older sauvignon blanc that knows all the angles, like watching Roger Federer play tennis (I'll get to that in the pairing). A toned-down acid here that nonetheless is still in complete and total control. Notes of orchard apricot, peach and pear, herbs, honey cream. But all of that kept turning into something else. Minerals that never shouted its existence, but utterly defined its strut. It's tough to describe, only to say that it offered a structure that told everything about what this wine was, what it is now and what it's going to be. In other words, confident, pure, clear, spunky, full of life, wearing its personality on its sleeve, daring anyone to tell it that this isn't the best expression of sauvignon blanc on the planet. Just like every report from every person that ever met Mr. Didier Dagueneau.
His son, Louis-Benjamin, has taken over the domaine and seems to be just as brilliantly nutty as his father. Read this great piece in the LA Times about him. At only 30 years old, Louis-Benjamin, having worked alongside his father in the vineyards since 2004, succeeds a wine-making force of nature that was already at the top of its game and avoids the unfortunate peril of some many wineries in France - no heir. The world should be seeing the genius of this particular expression of sauvignon blanc for decades. Louis-Benjamin's 2009 Silex, had at Etxebarri, was probably the most pure wine I've ever had. Just shimmered. Oh, and Dagueneau is 100% organic. Has been since the 90's. And we can't wait to try his Jurançon.
With this food, The wine did what has to maddeningly frustrate anyone who plays Roger Federer in tennis. It simply never missed an angle, never missed a baseline shot, took whatever was given to it in terms of food, aggressive or soft, and said, "Oh, you want to do that, I'll give you this. And I'll just keep giving it" It offered a method, grace and surprise at every step in a way that only reveals itself when it comes from immense talent and a total understanding of experience. LOVED IT!
Great New Year's Eve.
(In Rocky J. Squirrel voice) and now here's something you'll really like...