We like various grains risotto'ed up.
Jus' sum'in 'bout it. Something about its ability to round out edges in the rest of the food and the wine, round out the pairing, enhance spicing, perk up fruit, help along secondary flavors and bring a rational, sane and mature flavor to a meal.
Stupid Italians. They got yet another thing right.
Whether it's a saffron risotto with arborio, blue cheese fregola, pistachio fregola, pearl municion, fennel arancini, English pea risotto, duck risotto or various other takes on these and other styles, risotto has been the happy-slappy glue to many a great meal for us over two-plus bloggy years and more.
Last night was no different. Outstanding food here that harkened back to a former food place for us and served with a wine that was all Portugal.
Food: Bison flank steak with almond/olive tapenade and Israeli couscous/São Jorge risotto
Bison flank steak marinated in onion, yogurt, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, ginger and saffron; seared in the cast iron skillet. Bright and delicious bison made more bright and more delicious by the marinade. Bison, we missed you. Odd that in 208 pairings of this blog, we've only had it 3-4 times. Used to be heavily in the rotation.
Bison placed over a tapenade of marcona almonds, niçoise olives, lucques olives, parsley, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar and Aleppo pepper. Tapenade is another food that used to be heavily in the rotation and inexplicably fell out due to the exploration of other styles/accompaniments. Something about the raw marcona almond, olive and parsley intermingling that resembles a nostalgic memory for me, this one weaving beautifully with the bison. Tasted right and proper with each element talking to each other in great ways.
Israeli couscous 'risotto' made with shallot, cumin seed, orange zest, lemon thyme, [simmered with cinnamon stick, bay leaf, cascabel pepper in] beef stock; finished with São Jorge cheese. The goods, the stuff, whatever the kids say these days. The São Jorge cheese to finish lent a great nuttiness and lifty depth while also allowing everything else to show through. A starch done in the risotto style once again made for a plate of food that turned it into great.
A finishing sauce made with leftover beef stock and the pan goodies from the searing of the bison. Brought a liquid saltiness that we could have done without but ultimately didn't detract in the end from the love we had for the food.
Mint sprinkled over everything.
It wouldn't have been as good without the bison marinade, not as good without the São Jorge cheese, not as good without the return to tapenade. It was a meal where you could clearly taste where each step went right, making for food that, once again, tasted nostalgic and right in our wheelhouse.
Crap, that was good.
Wine: 2007 Duorum Reserva (Alfaia Garrafiera wine shop in Lisbon - $30)
Grape: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Sousão
Region: Sourced from different areas around the Douro
Vintage (WS): 96 - Drink or Hold - A cool, wet spring and summer cut yields by 20 percent, but ideal harvest weather delivered optimal ripeness
Way too young when we had it at Chiado but wildly interesting stuff drunk with great food. Still too young now but still all Portugal, priced exactly right for what you get and should plow forward for years while aging gracefully.
Slipped up on the decant, never getting to it until about a half-hour before the meal. Triple decant and tons of swirling. Smoky berry, spice and chocolate nose. Initially, somewhat closed, showing a chalky blueberry but opened up in a nice linear fashion, starting with a bit of blackberry that led to more interesting cassis-like fruit wrapped in a wee hint of Asian spice and touch of high-quality, powdered dark chocolate. Some almost Ribera-like herby smoke mixed with anise throughout, slightly different than Douro smoke. Prevalent, finely-grained tannins that settled down about an hour into the meal and was even tamed enough early on by the food to enjoy its core in pleasing ways. Great length to the violet-tinged finish that echoed the best of Portuguese reds while coming off similar to the light smoky-sweetness of a French Syrah.
Beautifully crafted stuff. Leaner than what Quinta do Vale Meão does but more individualistic than what Quinta do Crasto does. Less upfront, more medium-bodied than Vallado's Reserva Field Blend. Tasted like a small producer wine that just hits you right with notes that hit you in the right order. It's not ready yet and my fruitless chase before finding it in Lisbon most likely added to some long unrequitedness that was finally, joyously sated but I got myself a jones for this wine and shall follow it until it dies.
And maybe some of that comes from what it offers for a price point. Once Vale Meão started getting the press love about five years ago for its 2003 offering, the mid-range Portuguese red world dried up. It's been the cheap, under $20 Dãos and Alentejanos that we don't love, the low-$20 estate offerings of Crasto and Vallado that are fine but at times come off a bit grizzly and the $60 and up Vale Meãos and Vallados that constitute everything we want and utterly adore about Portuguese reds.
With the Duorum Reserva, a mid-range price world is opened up that gives us everything we want from Portugal while giving us something entirely interesting and slightly different, idiosyncratic and distinct. And we don't have to feel like we're breaking the bank or drinking something that HAS to be at its peak in order to pop the cork.
Pairing: 93 My goodness, Yes! Any day, any time.
Best with the risotto as it smoothed out the tannin edge, revealing all the well-crafted secondary flavors in the wine and mixing oh-so well with the Portuguese cheese and perking up the orange zest and lemon thyme. Opened up the wine earlier than expected.
Good stuff with the bison and tapenade, rounding out the fruit and bringing it to the fore. Still prevalent tannins but nothing that particularly got in the way from enjoying the match.
Mostly though, the enjoyment came in eating food that tasted like home and drinking a wine tasted like Portugal with the pairing not standing in the way of truly enjoying either.
A quick lunch note: São Jorge cheese with baguette; arugula with lemon thyme, white balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil; rose petal jam and serrano ham served with the 2006 Niepoort Douro Redoma Branco leftover from the previous night. A wonderful cornucopia of flavors that offered everything we wanted from lunch. New cheese for us, a São Jorge from the island of São Jorge in the Azores. Tasted like blueberries and nuts, oddly, and we loved it, using it to finish the risotto above. Stellar arugula, something about Jewel organic arugula, man. It's the only thing we really buy at Jewel but there is no substitute.
The Niepoort came off excessively oaky the night before so we put a wine disk in it and stuck it in the fridge. Turned it into a very nice Portuguese white that tasted a bit like a López de Heredia Tondonia white. Not worth the $40 price. Not worth the $10 markdown we got it for either but wonderfully weird Portuguese white fruit. Orchardy, like guava, lemons, apples and melons sat down in the heat for a bit, but an edge of dust, oil and honey with a touch of well water, hence the Tondonia comparison. Good pairing with the cheese but utterly fantastic with the arugula salad. Couldn't have been better. Greens get the short end of the stick in pairing talk. This was awesome. Pairing Score: 98 with the arugula, 90 for the meal