One American red wine for the rest of our lives?
It'd have to be reasonably cheap. Say...$35 and under, because we'd have to be able to afford it. Check that. Between $25 and $35, because no matter how much people want to tell you about the great bargains under $20, American wine under $25 is a big bloated bucket of hit and miss. It would have to be big enough to play nice with more aggressive foods, yet graceful enough to allow more subtle foods to strut their stuff. Something nicely medium-bodied with some guts, grace and a modicum of deference when asked to have it. It would have to be consistently good across vintages, have that American freshness without ever wondering into American overripe sappiness. It would have to be a hybrid of Old and New, a broad catch-all with food that repeatedly, continuously excites. Something that just keeps changing for the good with each successive bottle. Something with layers upon layers that always hit a place.
In that world, with that criteria, with the sort of heavily herbed and spiced fare we eat, pinot noir and merlot would have a tough time holding their own across the board. We don't love cabernet or zinfandel. It would have to be a blend of grapes we like in order to cast such a wide food net. Something with thought, precision and a history of drinking and loving it.
Having said all that, the Villa Creek Mas de Maha had us at "New World tempranillo." We knew we were going to love it right out of the gate and have for the last few years. So feet to the fire, this is our "one American red wine for the rest of our lives." No question mark.
Meal #1: Cuban pork roast with rice, beans and grilled pineapple, served with 2008 Villa Creek Mas de Maha Paso Robles ($35 - Winery)
Hugh Acheson Cuban braised pork shoulder. 5 1/2 lbs pork shoulder used (it was a behemoth) so recipe doubled. Added two cups orange juice (instead of doubling the chicken stock) to the marinade because that's how Mrs. Ney rolls with her Cuban pork. Cuban-style black beans and rice with the pan juice marinade from the pork dumped in. More juice dumped on top at the table. Everything topped with pomegranate seeds and parsley. Juicy, meaty, herby, spicy, porky goodness galore! Wasn't even the best pork. Not the best rice. With oozing Cuban food juice, none of that matters. It's not food that should ever be fancified. Kept rustic, kept in the realm of just plopping down a big mound of Cuban flavors on the plate and going to town, you got yourself food that feels like it's giving you a hug as you eat it.
60% Tempranillo, 20% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre, 10% Carignan. Spectacular 2008 vintage in Paso Robles. Loved it with oxtail ropa vieja last February. Old World in expression this time, as it was last year, with the grapes hitting a pinnacle of blendy-ness, all playing off each other so nicely. This wine is about the tempranillo. Or what Paso Robles tempranillo is, which is all herb-rubbed cherry-berry fresh, vibrant and sparkly. I think this is the first time Villa Creek has added carignan to the blend (2006 was tempranillo with 20% each of grenache and mourvèdre). This drinking had a delicious well water component to it, even a ground water, old water pump, metallic hint in the background that we both loved. What makes Mas de Maha such a love of ours is its three-act play. Fresh upfront, more dirty, darker, deep, licorice-y and olive-y in the middle, with a cinnamon finish that jazzes up all of that without becoming too ridiculous. It's a wine that tastes like it knows what it's doing. Smooth tannins, pop and pour, perfect in every respect for our liking.
And with Cuban/Latin food (and spiced/herbed up beef in any respect), this wine becomes so much more. Link up the cinnamon in the wine with cinnamon in the food and it's what constitutes food and wine pairing perfection for us.
It's just such broad and glorious stuff.
Meal #2: Skirt steak, gougères and kale leaf and parsley salad with 1996 Clos Fourtet St. Emilion ($60 - Brown Derby)
Thomas Keller marinade for the skirt steak from Ad Hoc at Home. Medium-rare skirt steak with a deliciously huge rosemary oil flavor. Gougères made with a blend of Rogue Smokey Blue, cheddar and parmesan. First gougères attempt for Mrs. Ney. Big success here. Kale leaf and parsley salad to finish.
So...meat and potatoes Frenched up so we could drink the stupid amount of Bordeaux we have in this house compared to the amount of love we have for Bordeaux. Clos Fourtet got us into Bordeaux a few years with the 2003. Such pretty, earthy, grown-up stuff when we had it. That led to buying as much Clos Fourtet as I could get my hands on. That led to too much Clos Fourtet taking up room in our two rather tiny wine fridges. And that's led to trying to drink it when the opportunity arises in order to make room in those wine fridges. Each time we've done that recently - drink superfluous Bordeaux - it's been a huge food and wine fail.
No exception here. 17 years old, Right Bank, merlot-based. Opened two hours before meal. At a good place. Typical Right Bank nose of cigar and vanilla, red berries and smoky oak. Typical Bordeaux follow-through in the mouth, but with a backbone here that was all mushy and weak, turning thin on the finish. Fine enough but nothing even remotely exciting. In fact, it became a chore to drink 1/4 of the way through due to its lack of excitement. Boring with the meat, sorta less boring but still boring with the gougères and flat-out awful s$%t with the salad. Gag-worthy.
Cracked a 2009 Trader Joe's Meritage Napa Valley to try to salvage the meal and we got oak chips soaked in Night Train and then slapped into canned pie filling.
Should have drunk better Bordeaux. Didn't. Lesson learned.
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