This is the stuff we should have smuggled home from Portugal!
The 2003 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro opened the gates for us in spending money on the Old World a few years ago. Fantastically creamy, rich fruit doused with Asian spices and charred meat and herbs all over the place. I can tongue-remember everything about that wine.
Then we went back to the 2002, which came off a touch less rich and didn't develop as well in the glass (some say it's drinking beautifully right now).
Shot ahead to the 2004 and found it so confident and delicious (recently had it again in March). The 2005 was recently guzzled at the stellar Chafariz do Vinho Enoteca in Lisbon at a patently ridiculous $85 price tag.
In our world, Vale Meão is two things. One, it's the one wine that causes more hemming and hawing about the quality and preparation of the food. For us to crack one, the food has to be something special from conception. Two, until the day we die or they stop making it, Vale Meão has a customer every vintage no matter the price tag. It's our Lafite-Rothschild, our Ausone, our Pingus. When it's cracked, it's a holiday in our house.
Food: Asian beef filet with asian spiced sweet potatoes and a watercress salad
Quality beef filet from Paulina Meat Market. Not the most beautiful marbling, according to Mrs. Ney, but good stuff.
A Saveur recipe doused with sake, soy sauce and generous amounts of sea salt and cooked rare to medium-rare. Melty in the mouth with a grassy bamboo note from the sake coming through beautifully. Less so with the soy sauce. The joy came in every bite but especially an end bite with more of the beef char and the sea salt that came off more like a sea water deliciousness than coarse hits of salt. Perfect. It's a great recipe. Use it. With quality meat, the standard advice is to not screw with it. Screw that. With this recipe, it's entirely elevated.
Sweet potatoes dressed with butter, szechuan peppercorns and cocoa nib. Done up to accompany the wine. Good stuff, interesting stuff, just didn't match up with the wine in the least. Fell short and that diverted our attention away from it. Became something simply on the plate.
But the watercress salad blended with mint and dressed with sesame oil, balsamic vinegar, szechuan peppercorn and cocoa nib oddly played right into the meal. Something about the mint and how it plays with Douro reds forgives other elements, like the similar peppercorn/cocoa nib on the sweet potato, and opens things up. The mint was the bridge as a minty/eucalyptus note typically pops up on the finish of these wines.
Mrs. Ney declared it to be the best food in months in this house. I tend to agree. I'm still hung up on TK chicken. And the first meal we had after the flavor wasteland that was Portugal in many ways, the beef filet with English cheddar, might have been right there in terms of flavors from the food.
But she was talking about the complete meal. With that, I agree in spades.
And the wine was actually slightly better on its own.
Wine: 2007 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro ($75 - Wine Chateau)
Hour and a half decant and could have used much more. Dark crimson core with a purplish hue swirling around. Closed nose of charred meat and smoked plums (do people smoke plums?). Reticent as all get out. 2003 and 2007 were vintages that our wine tour guide at Vallado confirmed to us to be the most exciting vintages in the Douro in the last ten years. 2003 was hot from beginning to end, bringing the fruit right to the front of the line in all their glory. 2007 saw early rain that cut yields but an even ripening after the rain and perfect harvest weather brought great balance. Looking at it through that lens and comparing the two wines, that was confirmed in the glass last night.
The fruit was mostly hidden, popping up in the background halfway down but still propping up everything. Mostly smoked plums followed through from the nose, some cassis and jumbled mix of red berry. But the wine was defined by its charred meat rubbed in fine earth note that vacillated back and forth between offering a minty note and something like roadkill...in a good way. Less dark chocolate and less obvious Asian spice notes right now than previous vintages. Interesting acid, something that almost tasted like what tangerine/blood orange acid notes offer. Lifty and brightening. And I swear an actual blood orange note kicked up with a szechuan peppercorn bite. And not just from the peppercorn. Tasted like it was IN the wine. Fit like a glove.
The tannins needed a taming, though. More decanting was needed. They never took away from the enjoyment of the wine but nonetheless shortened the silkiness of the finish. One or two more years and this is gonna be a great wine. Once the fruit shows a touch more assertiveness and the tannins bring more integration to the party, this might be a "top ten of the decade" sort of thing.
Pairing: 92 Wine=95, Meat=94, Pairing=92
As a pairing, it didn't touch the 2005 Yalumba Hand-Picked Shiraz-Viognier with the same preparation of beef filet in January. Something about how the sake-soy sauce-salt combo blows open a wine with already bigger, more forward fruit. Just a fancy feast for the senses.
The Vale Meão was better on its own rather than with the food, showing more guts, potential and just a flurry of nuance.
With the meat, that was toned down a bit. Mostly, the charred meat/roadkill notes played right into the charred beef filet in pleasing and delicious ways. The sake lift in the meat worked with the gorgeous acid lift in the wine. Both played together nicely but a sip of wine and a bite of meat separately bought more pause-worthy, ponderous moments.
The sweet potatoes shortened the finish in unexpected ways, especially since we've done Asian sweet potatoes before with Vale Meão and liked it. Probably needed more a fruity core presence with the wine to pull that off.
But the wine rebounded with the watercress. Didn't sing but with greens and red, who knows what's going to happen. The mint in the salad cozied up mighty kindly with the wine.
....Yep....best meal in months.