Last night, I had the most ethereal moment of my wine and food life.
So much so that I fear my words will become too precious for, well, words.
As you grow older, it becomes tougher to be surprised. Tougher to not take a moment or experience and not immediately categorize it. Immediately place it into a box and watch the sensation of the moment slowly wither. And slowly feel it fall into the scattered jumble of life's moments.
Last night's meal was akin to a seemingly meaningless moment I saw or felt when I was seven years old yet it never failed to exit my brain. The kind of experience that will most likely become one of those imprints.
It was a meal that felt like a lace curtain blowing in a hot, late summer breeze.
Precious enough for you?
Oh so precious but these were some of the thoughts rummaging around my head as we ate last night.
Food: 21 day dry-aged beef filet, roasted potatoes and pearl onions with mâche
Better than the antelope from Schwa
Better than the duck from French Laundry
Better than the wagyu from Blackbird
We're still new to the dry-aged beef world, having it only once before three months ago. Here I'll plagarize myself:
Basically, it sits in its own juices for a period of time (this was 21 days) in a temperature and humidity-controlled cooler with air circulating around it. For me, it almost tastes like it's been sitting in salt for months yet it doesn't taste salty. Every natural beef flavor is drawn out.
With one change. We had New York strip then. Last night was filet. Both were from Fox & Obel.
Cut into 4 oz.-ish medallions and rubbed with salt, pepper and oil - seared then quickly roasted, they turned into something extraordinary. Better than the NY strip. While the strip sprinted directly for the beefy butter realm, the filet brought a perfect balance of meaty butter and beefy structural integrity.
I've eaten good beef. This isn't beef in the traditional sense. This is something else, something more, something...Other.
Mrs. Ney made a cherry-red wine reduction to accompany the meat and go with the wine. A gorgeous sauce that had the right hints of everything but we wouldn't let it touch the meat. Seemed wrong.
The medium heft of the potatoes, pearl onions and mâche worked perfectly with the beef.
Wine: 1964 López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Gran Reserva ($350 - K&L Wines)
This was a Christmas gift to Mrs. Ney (and me). K & L had it for $100 off, it's our favorite winery and the '64 is considered one of the top two wines ever made by Heredia (with the '47) so there wasn't really a question over the purchase price.
Virtually no loss of wine in the bottle (top shoulder fill). Great cork. Broke 3/4 of the way down but didn't crumble at all. Let out a wisp of air when opened, a sign of good things to come.
Now the good stuff. Since ordering it, I've read what seemed like 500 reviews of the wine, getting into how the wine shows in the glass to the evolution over the time opened. Everything about how to serve it came with oodles of uncertainty, wanting it to peak at the right time, most of my thoughts being informed by the 1962 Clos Fourtet experience and its small prime drinking window. Even knowing these were two entirely different wines from different vintages in different styles with different drinking windows, I eventually settled on opening it about 20 minutes before the meal. Kind of winged it.
None of the fuss was warranted.
In the glass, there wasn't one sign that this was a 46 year-old wine. No orangish hue on the edges, no thinning out in the least. Pure medium red from middle to edge with only the ever-so slight tinge at the very edge. If I wasn't looking for it, I wouldn't have even seen that. We got a great bottling with a spectacular cork.
On the nose: Cherry, some berry, a bit of plum and a hint of vanilla and cedar. Maybe a background truffle. Very little basement dust. Blew off extraordinarily quick.
On the palate. OH, on the palate. If I knew more about prime Burgundies at their prime drinking age, that's the only thing I would have guessed if I drank it blind. Such a beautiful, silky texture brought on by something resembling creamy plum. Seamless in the most pure way. Cherry notes - alive, vibrant cherry notes, not dried - with some cedar and vanilla playing on the mid palate. Not big. Not small. The definition of a perfect medium-body with an elegance and grace I've never experienced in a wine ever before.
And what made it was the liveliness of the acid, an acidity bringing about the perfect balance, awakening something so old in the most beautiful and odd way. I never expected even a scintilla of that. Tannins weren't fully resolved either. Almost gone but not yet (five more years?).
There were moments of basement funk on a couple of sips toward the end of the meal (about 1 1/2 hours) but the wine itself never stopped, never began to close, never changed dramatically. Just evolved with such a generous and open grace. Washed over us and stopped us in our tracks. Almost too pretty for us in our current wine world.
The finish at its peak lasted two minutes, hanging mostly at the upper part of the throat and gradually seeping down.
After reading so much about the wine, especially from reviews of Rioja verticals and horizontals, I almost pitied people that drank this wine up against so many others, thinking the beauty of this '64 would be lost in the crowd. Mrs. Ney put it perfectly. If you meet the Queen of England, that's pretty great. But if you meet her alongside the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Japan, Elvis, etc., well, the Queen of England might draw a "meh."
There's just too much finesse and haunting, underlying tone to find in this one when there are 15 more glasses are in the queue.
We love the 1978 López de Heredia Viña Bosconia (Bordeaux style). All mushroom, truffle, basement and rustic cherry. The 1964 Tondonia (Burgundy style) is in a different stratosphere. A bottle mix-up years ago led to the bigger Bosconias being put in the Burgundy-style bottles and vice versa. They just stuck with it.
Best wine I've ever had and it's not even close.
Pairing: Best Ever
That's all I can say. I've never experienced anything like this. On the technical side, the unexpected acidity and the medium weight of the meal and wine helped everything along in the most perfect way. Mostly though, when you have the best beef you've ever had paired the best wine you've ever had, the result is most likely going to be the best ever pairing if the heft of everything matches and some acid is brought to the party.
This was that.
Recently, Mrs. Ney and I were talking about how we don't seem to really enjoy rich food. We like rustic food with hints of richness, but once it approaches the gates of rich, we're turned off a bit.
Mostly, I think we like foods that approximate richness in new and original ways. Like the butter quality of dry-aged beef without the butter. Or the subtle creaminess of Spanish wine that doesn't wander into a Shiraz-like fruit-cream bomb. We enjoy the creaminess of leeks and the subdued richness of a properly made reduction.
This meal was like a fastball of that placed right down the middle of the plate.
We're still learning, but last night was about the prettiest thing we have ever experienced.