Growing up, during the late 70s and early 80s, I collected Star Wars action figures. It was a competitive thing in our neighborhood amongst us eight-to-twelve year-olds, trying to see who could get the most rare of rare figures. Parents and brothers got involved. Even aunts and uncles. Grandmothers. Grandfathers. State borders were crossed. We weren't a status-driven, Joneses-type small town, but if there was one thing that seemed to matter for a brief time, one thing that could prove a family's hunting skills and acumen, if only as a fun lark, it was finding an action figure that nobody else had. That usually involved some scouring, pillaging and even borderline underhanded dealing. Everybody knew when the K-mart shipment came in, even by the hour. For a very short time, Farm & Fleet had the jackpot. The smart ones knew that because the neighbor's daughter worked there and she dug through the store's stash and reported back. Some more industrious types knew where other kids would hide action figures in the store when they didn't have any money and had to wait a day or two to buy them (I got a Gomorrean Guard from a stash hidden inside the women's pants rack at Target).
It was a thing. It's what we did in the 70s and 80s before the Internet and big-boy, grown-up responsibilities.
But that hunter-gather mentality hasn't left my brain. It's just been transferred to wine in my big-boy, grown-up world. Not completely. I'm not digging through women's clothing to find a rare Arbois but when the moment presents itself, I can get a little obsessed.
So when Christmas was getting close, it was that time of year to search wine auction sites for Two Hands Beautiful Stranger, a shiraz amarone-style wine only sold in the Two Hands showroom in Australia. It's been my holiday tradition that has led directly to shooting an email to the winery to see if they had some hidden stash (always says that it's sold out on their site) that I might be able to procure. The emails, over the last few years, have gone unanswered, as I'm sure they had better things to do than answer an odd request for niche wine given the business volume Two Hands does. This year, I got an answer regarding the Holy Grail of wines in our current wine world. A few cases were left in their cellar and they're willing to part with some. Eureka!
Four months and $200 in shipping later, we had six bottles of the stuff split between two vintages. It felt sort of like a Star Wars action figure high. Like the time I found the Rancor Keeper. When I was playing with Star Wars toys as a kid, I didn't need the Rancor Keeper. What's HE going to do? He was just a big fat boomba-laddy that was just going to killed off early in the rebel invasion of the mountain fortress made out of pillows and old plastic Pepsi cases, probably by a G.I. Joe, as those two worlds blended together in 1983. That didn't matter. I owned him and Scott Fox (may he rest in peace), the undisputed collection king of the neighborhood, the kid who had the AT-AT Walker before it even came out, didn't.
Now, it's not about what others have and don't. It's more about, "We have to drink this. I want to know what that's about!" It's a rather rare impulse these days but, to me, the Beautiful Stranger began to take on epic Star Wars proportions the second after my wife first found out about its existence and said she wanted it a few years ago.
Found it! Got it! Let's drink it!
Food: Bison hanger steak, yucca fries and calçots with arugula salad to finish
Medium-rare bison hanger steak, from D'Artagnan. Livery, in a good way. A nice one-off in our meat world, preferring bison flank steak more, but felt good to mix it up. Solid batch of yucca fries with mayo for dipping. Green onions done up Spanish calçot-style, placed under the bison. An onion and bison bite brought complex depth, yucca fries always good, this was souped-up meat and potatoes with guts. Arugula and basil salad with pomegranate seeds to finish.
Full and happy. Full. And Happy.
Wine: 2004 Two Hands Beautiful Stranger Shiraz Amarone ($75 with shipping from the winery)
100% shiraz, taken from Two Hands vineyards not exclusive to Barossa Valley, as Australian law requires that to be put on the label (at least as we've read it). From the Two Hands website regarding the Amarone-style process:
The bunches were carefully picked, placed on racks and stacked in a shed with good ventilation. After 2 weeks they were destemnmed and the berries crushed into a small fermenter. After 14 days on skins, the fermenter was drained and the skins pressed with the combined free run and pressings. Racked twice, the wine was then bottled with minimal fining and without filtration (2006 vintage).
Opened an hour or so before the meal and liked where it was. No decant except for right before the meal, as this was CHUNKY. Enormous, thick coating inside the bottle. Freakin' brilliant acid lift that defined the wine right out of the gate. Only 14% alcohol (the 2006, for which we have four, is 17%). And that's what shocked-shocked-shocked (!) us. This was an extremely dense and concentrated wine but...oddly...light.
Thick and tightly packed upfront, starting with a cherry/raspberry cola concentrate and following with a sassafras, tar and licorice number, most all of it on the front half. What followed was a graceful and linear downslope to the finish that was all sparkly acid that made it so friendly with the food.
This wine was all fireworks. Bursts of goodies all over the place. And a wine, in the end, we flat-out loved. Less brooding, dark and complete as the Hobbs Gregor but no less an utter joy in its own right. Just lighter, more gregarious, like a person that keeps few secrets but you nonetheless always enjoy their company. It faded a touch over the two hours at the table and probably isn't too long for this world but a few more years of a reasonably active life seems right.
Looking forward to the 2006.
Pairing: Lived up to the self-imposed hype
Quality acid play with the wine and the bison, cutting through its livery-ness,even accentuating all the good parts of that. The wine didn't even budge from being itself with a big onion bite. We've found more whirly-swirly goodness with yucca and other wines though good enough stuff here to never distract.
But this meal was about drinking the recent Holy Grail of wine hunts.
And we just loved it, that and everything about it.
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