We poo-pooed much of California wine until about a year and a half ago.
California Rhône-style wines opened the door. That was where we found wines that offered much of what we like in wine. With those, we got a nice purity of fruit with plenty of earth and herbs, maybe some licorice, a little graphite, some smoke and ash maybe, all wrapped in a full-bodied structure.
With good California wines that we've had, the finesse always came with how well everything has been integrated within that full body. They tend to be bigger and a bit more obvious compared to their French counterparts but sometimes, especially lately, we've come to crave that obviousness, that California-ness.
In many ways, it's taken the place of Australian wines in our house. We've had eight Australian wines since early November. Three years ago, it would have at least 20 over the same time period.
California is winning and we've been okay with that.
Food: Lavender-rosemary lamb lollipops with a blackberry-olive purée, tomatoes Provençal, mâche with basil and baguette and butter
Mrs. Ney just bought a new lavender plant and it's been six weeks since we had lamb at home (twice at restaurants but not at home). That's just too long for us. We've missed it.
Rack of lamb marinated in lavender, rosemary, a dollop of grain mustard, red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil overnight and then seared and roasted. Nice lamb, tasty with a pretty wonderful lavender kick. Four lollipops on each plate made for just the right amount of meat.
A blackberry and Greek black olive purée put under the lamb was freakin' delicious by itself with the only problem being (and it was a big one) that it utterly destroyed the wines. Hollowed them completely out. Who knew? It was only blackberries and olives blended together with a little olive oil for textural consistency and black pepper. Nothing else added.
But the tomatoes Provençal. Oh, the tomatoes Provençal! First, it wasn't really/completely/genuine/traditional tomatoes Provençal but it was close. As Jacques Pépin would say, "I do it this way and you do it how you like, you know."
Grape tomatoes halved. Bread crumbs, basil, parsley, entire head roasted garlic, olive oil, parmesan, anchovy, salt and pepper mixed together, tossed with the tomatoes, put in a brownie pan and baked at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. What came out was the star of the night. Little crusty bits of the former paste-like mixture were utterly fantastic with each bite brightened up by the tomatoes. The tomatoes had to be used up and the result was spectacular.
Mâche with a little basil this time tossed in oil that remained in the cast-iron skillet from searing the lamb and a little balsamic. A staple because it's good.
It was a "God, we eat well" kind of meal.
Wine: 2006 Lucia Syrah Gary's Vineyard Santa Lucia Higlands ($37 - WDC) & 2007 Trader Joe's Label Syrah ($10 - Trader Joe's)
Almost popped the Sanguis Bossman but went with the Lucia instead.
Opened a half-hour before drinking. Dark purple in the glass, charred meat and blackberry on the nose right out of the bottle. A dark fruit medley on the palate with tons of blackberry mixed with blueberry and a hint of wild gnarly fruit. A little sweetness in the oak with this one and an occasionally hint of smoke and espresso. Pure and bright fruit that peaked on the mid-palate, giving way to smooth, slightly sweet tannins on a medium finish (hardly any alcohol). Good medium weight overall. A nice balance after about an hour being open and a licorice note really started to come through.
Nice, pleasant, good enough and it certainly had its moments. Maybe missed some herbal notes and/or minerality (even some sort of flint or pencil shavings or something) in a more pronounced way but we liked it. Didn't love it. And for almost $40, we wouldn't buy it again. For $25, yes. We had the 2006 Lucia Syrah Susan's Hill Vineyard probably a week before I started this blog and the Gary's Vineyard was better in our world.
Popped the Trader Joe's Label Syrah to contrast and...well...it was Monday. Two bottles were going to be drunk. For $10, not a bad little wine at all. Sure, it's just above ordinary wine in many ways but we've spent 2-3 times as much for worse wine. More red fruits first here with maybe a little too much sweetness that give way to more dark fruits. Nothing special but it's $10. Might be perfect for a quick grilled steak and fries.
Pairing: 84 Needed more chutzpah from the wine
We loved the blackberry-olive purée so much, it was a shame it killed the wine with the lamb.
Some highlights, though. Tomatoes Provençal (especially with the tiniest bit of the purée, oddly) worked with the Lucia and the greens were quite nice with the Trader Joe's wine. Even the bread with a bit of the purée worked with both wines. Something about the bread toning it down helped things along.
But this was lavender-rosemary lamb. This is right in our wheelhouse and the wine didn't really work. At times, with other parts of the meal, the Lucia showed itself with a properly delineated structure and occasional bursts of pretty fruit, sometimes with a nice little finish.
Overall, though, it didn't seem to have the guts to stand up and then play well with the food.