Wednesday, April 4, 2012

#268 - Pistachio-Crusted Lamb Rack & Pea Risotto With '09 Freeman Pinot Noir

The problem with gaining a bit of wine knowledge is that one - and when I say one, I mean me - has to resist the compulsion to think they know their tastes, like it's something quickly achieved with a bit of effort and then everything is done.

The same can be said about wine knowledge in general.  Just when you think you have a firm grasp on wine-related things, something comes along that rather bluntly tells you that you're - and when I say you're, I mean me - an idiot.

It's akin to the adage about youth, life and aging.  At 18, you don't know anything.  At 20, you think you know everything.  At 25, you're back to being a moron.

With wine as in life, attempting to get to 'a point' of knowledge is a fool's errand.

Case in point (and this continues to shock me with its foolish foolishness).  Two years ago, my 37 year-old brain figured California pinot noirs and California wines overall weren't going to give me the character and finesse I want from wine.  Good ones are going to be good but big and forgettable.  Nothing that's going to get into your bones.

It was a shortcut.  We have a bit of money to spend on wine but nothing like a war chest to spend willy-nilly on just anything.  My experience with California over the years said I could basically eliminate it in the quest for Good Wine with maybe a little dalliance here and there.

I'm an idiot.  If pressed, my favorite, huggy-bear wines still come from France and Spain.  But if someone told us we could only drink wines from the United States for an entire year, with what's going on in Oregon and Washington these days, we would happily do it and crap, would we drink well.  Not a huge surprise there. But, at times, as we continue to be...surprised by California a bit of a revelatory, educational and joyful...surprise.

Food:  pistachio-crusted rack of lamb wrapped in pancetta, pea risotto and grilled whole scallions
Third time for this preparation, a Ferran Adriá recipe from Food & Wine.  Go here and here to see the previous two meals.

Make a pistachio, thyme and rosemary paste with olive oil, slather it all over the rack of lamb, wrap the rack in pancetta and roast away.  The oily herbs and pistachio paste goes down deep into the lamb with the pancetta fat and pancetta meat offering this crazy-kooky contrast to the lamb in delicious ways. Mint oil drizzled over everything.  Heightened lamb.  Outstanding lamb.  This lamb a bit less so than previous preparations (wandered into the cooked medium territory) but still tasty.

Pea risotto and grilled whole scallions cooked in leftover lamb fat to round things out.

We ate well here.  It just didn't live up to the previous two versions.

Went the Oregon way the last two times with a 2008 Ponzi Pinot Noir and 2006 Ken Wright Canary Hill.  Both served us well but the pistachio-pancetta lamb and its various accoutrements outshone both in the pairing realm. That was reversed this time.

Wine:  2009 Freeman Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast ($40 - WDC)

Speaking of warm huggy-bear love, it's in this bottle.  A really great ripeness to the raspberry fruit with this one, suggesting a wee touch of sweet raspberries, seeds and all, but always staying in balance with its other, delicious elements and maintaining a solid medium body, never strolling into big-boy territory.  Touches of cherry cola and grilling herbs but at its core an expansive geranium note with a bit of tomato plant, all doused with pepper that just sung so beautifully.

A young wine.  We opened it about a half-hour before the meal and liked where it was but this one opened up and stretched out all throughout the meal, becoming particularly beautiful during its geranium phase.

Chockablock with finesse, panache and grace.  Loved it.  Fantastic balance and integration of tannin, acid, alcohol and body that allowed everything else become a playland of flavors.  Tons of very particular California "aaahhhh" moments that I've come to respect and frankly love.  Feels like a California love affair is about to begin.

Pairing:  88  This was about the wine

We liked but didn't love the pea risotto.  We really liked but didn't really love the lamb.  But where things missed the love category in the food, the wine filled in the gaps.  This was an example of a pairing where our admiration for the wine and love for its expression allowed us to glaze over the more technical aspects of pairing enhancement.

It had its moments with individual bites, especially with a big pistachio-pancetta-lamb nugget, rounding out the wine even more and amping up the pepper notes in the wine, but this meal was defined by the presence of such a pretty and appealing California pinot noir.  It took the stage and never relinquished it.

And we loved every bit of the show.

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