Thursday, June 10, 2010

#83 - Thomas Keller Chicken, Mâche & Cheese With Two Chardonnays

We have a few prejudices that we're more than willing to let linger as we find our wine feet.

Mostly, it's "screw Cabernet and Chardonnay". We just don't enjoy their guts as much as other wines. We know good Cabernet and Chardonnay are good and have had a few good ones. And we know we'll eventually get to them more at length. But we also know that "good" costs money, especially with those two grapes.

With both of us having worked in the restaurant business/wine retail-ish world for so long, we've had tons of overpriced and bad Cab and Chard. They can wait while we spend our money getting into the nuances of wines and regions that we truly enjoy. We've opened up to virtually every style of wine. These two linger as a judgment though and we have no impulse to mess around trying to find bargains of two grapes we don't care about.

But, last night, threw a wrench into the works a bit. And both of us thought that might happen.

A wine writer for the now-defunct New York Sun quoted Henry James when discussing the Királyudvar Sec, a glorious wine that we've had on multiple occasions since November and a wine we almost switched to last night:

In a rare moment of concision, the novelist and critic Henry James observed, "There are two kinds of taste, the taste for emotions of surprise, and the taste for emotions of recognition."

We seek out surprise in wines. But, for us, the impulse hasn't been there to be surprised by Cabernet and Chardonnay.

Champagne has been recently scratched off the "don't freakin' care about" list. I can't believe I'm writing this but're now off the list. Cabernet...(and Malbec and Tannat and Zweigelt...OH!...and Pinot Grigio, something that's well ahead of Cabernet in our 'screw you' world) are the only ones really left.

Thanks to what might have been the perfect recipe to get into Chardonnay, the response to last night's meal was, "Why was THAT so good?!"

Food: Thomas Keller chicken with pea shoots, mâche with avocado vinaigrette and baguette with Burgundian cheese and Irish butter

Here's the recipe. Get to know it because it's stupid good. Better than Wine Can Chicken, five words I thought I'd never say, and easier to prepare.

No one element of the chicken made it delicious. It was the total product. Simply prepared and tasted exactly like what people mean when they extol the virtues of simplicity with an almost brightness in its earthy goodness. It's the new "Winner Winner" in Chicken Dinner.

The Burgundian cheese, delice de Bourgogne, nearly matched the chicken. Like brie without the brie-ness. Intensely creamy without choking you with its creaminess and just enough funkiness that knows when to go away. Served with LaBriola baguette. No baguette is better and it's not every close.

Mâche with an avocado vinaigrette made with crappy, store-bought guacamole that was used previously for a quickly whipped-together taco lunch a few days earlier. Just extra virgin oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Complimented the chicken beautifully and served to help the already present brightness in the chicken along. Pea shoots brought something more crunchy and became the bridge between the mâche and the chicken.

We could have served any of our favorite wines with this meal and would have loved it.

But it's Try New Things Summer.

Wine: 2007 Domaine de Roally Viré Clessé ($20 - WDC) and 2008 Craggy Range Chardonnay Kidnapper's Vineyard ($17 -WDC)

2007 Domaine de Roally Viré Clessé

Grape: 100% Chardonnay
AOC: Viré Clessé in the Mâconnais subregion of Burgundy
Vintage (WS): 92 Precise, pure and elegant, with lively structures if harvested late; at worst unripe if picked early

2008 Craggy Range Chardonnay Kidnapper's Vineyard

Grape: 100% Chardonnay
Region: Hawkes Bay

We sampled both wines before the meal and the Burgundy was the undisputed winner right out of the bottle. More golden yellow than the New Zealand wine, which had a crisp green in the glass, the Domaine de Roally had a huge barnyard funkiness to it that was deliciously weird. A bit of oak and butter but the hay and something that was almost lavender (without the overt lavender quality) was unique and good. Initially, the Craggy Range was all buttered toast, the exact quality that we don't enjoy at all about Chardonnay, with a wee hint of pear.

Things changed over the course of the meal though. The Craggy Range quickly showed more nuance with more expressive pear and hints of lime and a clean, refreshing acidity with the excessively buttered notes falling into the background. Almost delicate with even some limestone notes. Mrs. Ney put it perfectly. Blind, it could have been an enjoyable California Sauvignon Blanc.

Very much less acidic and more rich, the Domaine de Roally evolved into buttered baked fruits with the barnyard quality integrating more into the fruit profile and tons of minerals. A better, more interesting wine than the Craggy Range with an elegant coating of the throat as it went down.

Comparing both styles seemed apt given our aversion to the grape and we benefitted from it. It was a classic Old World/New World thing with two great examples of both. And both at or under $20.

Just really enjoyable and "surprised" the heck out of it.

Pairing: 94 As a total meal, that's the score but it's tough to score something like this

Nothing went off the rails but some things were better with a specific wine. And some things were the definition of perfect.

Eating the delice de Bourgogne and baguette with the Domaine de Roally would turn anyone skeptical of what wine does with food and what the French unequivocally get right with food and wine in about two seconds. Pure silk and made us pause.

The mâche and avocado vinaigrette with the Craggy Range did nearly as well. The lime and mineral notes in the wine exploded and together, they both sang.

The chicken played right down the middle, serving both wines well and we alternated back and forth, picking up what we wanted, when we wanted it at each particular time. Mostly, it was the nice backbone of minerality in different forms in both wines that made the chicken pairing (particularly with the nicely salted skin) work so well. Oh, and we slathered butter on the chicken because Thomas Keller told us to. You don't question Thomas Keller. Delicious with the Domaine de Roally.

I'm not going to say we going to rush out and buy up as many Chardonnays as we can as soon as possible. But in our world, it's found a small niche, made that way by what might have been the perfect meal to make that happen.

A quick note. Went to Mado Tuesday for another goshdarn good meal. Appetizer menu was meat platter of chicken liver paté, testa and copa, roasted carrots in ras el hanout goat cheese and cumin honey, farm fresh egg on toasted cornbread, citrus-cured lake perch, and asparagus and peas with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Entrees were spaghetti with spring onion, chilies and bread crumbs and eggs in purgatory, a sort of Sicilian green olive, spiced tomato and breadcrumb stew. We were happy and full.

Eaten with the 2007 Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir Ulises Valdez Vineyard ($75 - Binny's) and the 1999 Prager Riesling Smaragd Steinreigl ($16 - WDC). The Prager has been discussed here numerous times. It's almost done and the degree in which it's leaped toward its death was even more intensified since the last time we had it. All dried flowers and apricots with only a hint of sugar. Got better as it opened up. We've enjoyed every second of watching this one go. The Paul Hobbs, bought when I was in a spendy mood and apparently more open to overpriced California offerings, didn't come close to living up to its price tag however. Very Californian with that syrupy quality and pleasant enough fruit and decent balance. If I spent $30 on it, I would have thought it was a fine enough wine, even good. At $75, I was a bit pissy about it.

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