Ah...it was good to have big flavors again.
A week in Portugal, while relaxing and quite beautiful at times, left us wanting when it came to food flavors.
The best single item I had, a quail tapa with apricots eaten with an insanely cheap '05 Quinta do Vale Meão at the stellar Chafariz do Vinho Enoteca in Lisbon, even left me wondering what would have happened if a pinch more salt were used.
We had good food in Portugal. Solid food, interesting food to a point. We just missed bigger flavors...and maybe some risks.
And the first full meal back brought it.
Food: Paulina beef filet with English cheddar, Whole Foods Seeduction bread and an arugula and parsley salad
Beef filet seasoned with a Penzeys Spice blend of sweet basil, Turkish oregano, red bell pepper, garlic, thyme fennel, black pepper and anise seed with a little salt and olive oil (and a touch of balsamic?) added. When the meat first hit the pan, the house smelled like fancy pancake syrup.
Cooked a great rare to medium-rare, the filet melted in my mouth with each spice alternately taking the stage as it dripped down my throat. Each bite was glorious, partly because we missed such flavors and partly because it was cooked so beautifully. A little over-the-top description but golly, we missed such things.
Served with aged cheddar from Montgomery Farms in Somerset, England. I'm no cheese maven but this one has the cheddar goods. Mostly indifferent to cheddar - and cheese to a certain point - the Montgomery cow's milk brings a subtle and long cheddar taste with a tiny grassy hit and a wee touch of must that made everything taste intentional, natural and balanced. Ponderous in many ways. Dry, firm and pretty delicious. With cheese, I continue to learn why it's good...and this is Good.
Served with Whole Food's Seeduction bread. Hearty bread with sunflower seeds, poppyseed, millet and what seems like a thousand other grains. It's the only bread at Whole Foods that ever really delivers the bready goodness when you're stuck in a pinch and have to buy bread there.
Simple, undressed arugula and parsley salad that was oddly more delicious than the sum of its parts. Again, probably missed home flavors.
Home flavors are what we want and this was exactly it. Loved it. Initially, we were leaning toward cracking a 2003 Clos Fourtet, serving it with vanilla mashed potatoes and getting all Bordeaux-y with it. In the end, with the heaviness that may have brought and just enduring 13 hours in the air, we're glad we didn't.
Wine: 2005 Dominio De Atauta Ribera Del Duero ($35 - Binny's)
Region: Ribera Del Duero
Vintage (WS): 95 - Hold - Assertive wines with chewy tannins; the best have great depth
Toughy. Chatter on the interwebs talked about the wall of oak showing right now with this one. And with the vintage recommendation of 'hold', what we got was seemingly a wine right at the beginnings of shedding that and entering its tannin maturation phase.
Dominio De Atauta is a Mrs. Ney favorite. I've always been left trying to figure it out and end up pretty much loving it. Our first bottle ('02 or '03, most likely) of this was brought to the now-closed Rick's Cafe, a perfectly good if unspectacular Mediterranean BYO in Wrigleyville and, mostly because of the wine, I can remember most everything of that meal and the bottle. I remember the purity of the fruit and the beautifully dry, violet-tinged finish.
The winery is a rarity. Pre-Phylloxera vines with many over 100 years old (some over 150 years - the "La Mala" bottling), they're wines to experience and ponder and simply figure out. The process of rehabilitating the neglected vines has only been going on for a little over 10 years and the results have been, in our limited experience, a benchmark of what is great about Ribera wines (the '02 single vineyard "Llanos de Almendro" is in the hopper).
This particular one would benefit from some more time but nonetheless showed much of what it's going to be. A slight nose of herbs, tar and blackberry with an early palate that showed blackberry with some black cherry fruits. With some air (a quick decant that should have been longer), the fruit turned into a blackberry liqueur/blackberry pie note. Persistent but still light on its feet, it brought a medium-full mid-palate with a pleasing hit of smoked meat mixed with a touch of vanilla. The finish was the ponderous part. Oak was fading and more small jumps of vanilla showing but the tannins were drying things up. Not unpleasant but shortened it up a bit. Distinctive and borderline good-to-great but a couple more years in the bottle would be prudent.
The Domino de Atauta regular estate offering has seen an incremental increase in price since the first bottling in 2000, up to $50 now from its initial $30 tag (we got it on sale). Worth it?...Yeah. Maybe should have left it alone for a couple of years and/or given it a long decant but in the end, it became for us much of what we wanted. It's a distinctive Ribera style that you have to love and want to follow for that price but if you do, the rewards are great.
Pairing: 90 Stayed consistently solid with even a few surprises throughout the meal
Fell right in the great meat and wine wheelhouse with the filet, offering much of everything anyone would want. Maybe not transcendent but a solid core of meaty-winey goodness.
The purity of the fruit in the wine showed more with the English cheddar with more delineated flavors and really attacking the must in the cheese with a vengeance, turning the wine into something that just kept changing. More herbal and a more tar note. Gave it a bigger backbone.
Even entirely acceptable with the arugula/parsley salad, turning the blackberry fruit into a dried blackberry that was completely welcome.
A meal that was a welcome return to big home flavors.