Tuesday, November 6, 2012

#306 - A Potpourri Of Pairings

Geesh! It's been two weeks.

We here at FWW haven't been in the type-y mood as this election has sapped the strength of even the strongest of oxen. It's been head-in-the-sand time in our house, sitting very still, letting the time pass and hoping it does without incident, desperately wanting the polls reflect an accurate reality.

The Ney house endorsement is to the right. Always has been, always will be.

But it's time to clean house. Keeping busy on something other than following election coverage will help to keep me sane during this longest of days.

Today's effort is merely for cataloguing purposes, as nothing in the last two weeks blew us away. But some nice moments of pairing pleasantness occurred so let's put those to electronic paper.

Pairing #1: Smoked mozzarella ravioli and tea-smoked lentils with 2009 Ponzi Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($33 - Binny's)  

Ohio City Pasta smoked mozzarella ravioli from West Side Market in Cleveland. Sauce of onions cooked in (duck?) fat, can of San Marzano tomatoes, black lentils (cooked in very strong-brewed lapsang souchong); cinnamon stick, bay leaves, lemon thyme. Baby kale salad with extra virgin olive oil and cheap balsamic. Basil on top of everything.

Smoky meal yet surprisingly light. Meatless in its solid food construction but flavored up with what Mrs. Ney could only describe as "freezer meat fat" with any degree of certainty.

Good. Not an aggressive smokiness necessitating a bigger-bodied wine to keep up. A 2009 Ponzi Pinot Noir, last had here, sufficed. More than sufficed. After finding a random 2009 bottle at Binny's well before it was released everywhere else (think they got a sample and accidentally put it on the shelf), we popped it a few months back and found it lacking in, well, everything. We know Ponzi rather intimately and found a wine unrelated to the Ponzis of the past. It was mushy, mealy-mouthed, lacking in what made Ponzi, Ponzi. Even if it was somewhat young.

I was wrong. Off bottle then because we got all the Ponzi love with this meal, if in a more quiet package. Cranberry, raspberry, baking spice and roses with bright earth and a finish that kept expanding as the wine opened up over the course of the meal. Can't say it's going to age well as much of its joy felt rather tenuous and ephemeral but a surprise here, especially in the context of our previous drinking.

A nice cinnamon stick in the food/baking spice in the wine matchup here that let the acid in the wine show its face and drive the bus. Beautiful contrast of brightness in the wine and the subtle, dark smokiness in the ravioli and lentils. Sort of a textbook example in many ways of food and wine finding a few things in common and letting each bring out some of the best in the other. Pairing Score: 90

Pairing #2: Miso-marinated black cod with soba noodles with 2004 Loimer Langenlois Riesling Wachau 375ml ($7 - WDC) & 2011 Ponzi Pinot Blanc Willamette Valley ($23 - Winery)  

Black cod/sablefish marinated in red (chili) miso, sake, mirin, sugar for two days, baked, then broiled.  Recipe from Nobu. Leeks combined with leftover scallion sauce (from Hungarian skirt steak), cooked down for over an hour with tarragon, lemon thyme, nigella seeds; sprinkled with orange juice and ponzu. Soba noodles. Basil and sesame seeds dumped over everything. 

Didn't love it. Liked it but didn't fall in love. We want to eat more fish. This black cod, while nice, didn't force us to rethink sea bass a la Veracruzana when we have a fish jones.

But some happy wine helped the cause. The Loimer, even being a 2004 and cheap as all get-out, held up just fine with the food, retaining a typical riesling flavor profile and balance well past the time one might initially think it could. Bobbing for apples in a barrel of grapefruit peel-flavored mineral water were the flavors. Dry. Delicious. For $7. Yes, please.

Some niches, nooks and crannies in the pairing were pure joy. We were left with an overall impression, though, of a meal rather saved by the wine as the food left us wanting more boldness. For a marinade so laden with bigger flavors, we got a finished product that came off too delicate, too precious in ways. Pairing Score: 86  

Pairing #3: Szechuan tuna with 2009 Arterberry Maresh Dundee Hills Maresh Vineyard ($50 - Binny's)

Szechuan-Moroccan tuna. Learn it, know it, love it. Might be a death bed meal. If you're gonna go out, go out feeling clean, fat and happy.

Whole Foods tuna slathered with a spread made of coriander, pink peppercorns, Szechuan peppercorns, cardamom pods, fleur de sel and ginger slices, cooked rare. Topped with a mélange of roasted beets, fuyu persimmons, heirloom tomatoes, cars cara orange suprèmes, gaeta olives, pomegranate seeds and a orange juice-based vinaigrette made with shallots, cumin seeds and lemon thyme. All put over wilted beet greens and served with Seeduction bread and cherry-white tea jam.

I need to amend my previous comment about the last two weeks not having anything that blew us away. This did in spades and always does. Eat this because I don't think a bigger explosion of flavors exists in this world.

We weren't overjoyed at first with the expression offered by the 2009 Arterberry Maresh, a wine heartily recommended by the owner of Vinic in Evanston. But it just needed some air time to find its feet. Popped 1 1/2 hours before the meal. Left open but no decant, liking where it could go with just a little air. A quick decant before the meal should have been the way to go as everything came together beautifully about 45 minutes into eating. A cornucopia of red fruits led by raspberry seeds and liqueur-soaked cherries, mid-palate of earth with rainwater minerals and a clean, tea-laced finish, something that we've had a hard time finding lately with Oregon pinots. Good to have you back, tea. Merely nice at first but reticent. Once it opened up, what was in the glass began to match the price tag. Extremely savory, especially from the mid-palate down. An Old and New World blend of styles done right. Maybe not as acid-driven as we prefer but fantastic stuff that's going to be fun to watch.

The tuna was the star but the Arterberry Maresh showed a brilliant arc, opening up and gradually ingratiating itself ever more to the food with each successive sip and bite, bite and sip, keyed by its complex savory notes weaving into the complexity of the spices. This tuna and Oregon pinot. It's a meal we flip over every freakin' time.  Pairing Score: 92  

Pairing #4: Thomas Keller/Michael Symon roasted chicken, Quebecois "moondust" cheese, baguette, rose petal jam and mâche salad with NV Piper Hiedsieck Brut ($35 - Trader Joe's) & NV Ayala Brut Majeur ($50 - Binny's)

House meal. Roasted chicken and Champagne. Used to be roasted chicken and white Burgundy. We've moved onto the bubbly goods and what it does with chicken skin.

Standard Monday chicken goodness. Slap a honkin' roasted chicken on the table, put down some good cheese and bread with fancy jam, finish it with a cleansing salad and you've eaten well.

Mixed results in the wine arena. Started with the Piper Heidsieck, a delicious, citrus-driven sparkler that's all sorts of fun in the glass without taking itself too seriously. Wouldn't say it offers any sort of mystery, intrigue or depth but it also never tries to be more than it is. Didn't have the backbone to bring anything more expansive with the food, falling mostly flat, but at $30-ish, it's friendly and gregarious.

Wanted a Egly-Ouriet Les Vignes de Vrigny Champagne. Bad bottle. Moved to the Ayala Brut Majeur and found a completely different expression than we've ever seen from this bottle. It was like someone made cantaloupe bread with a sprinkling of jackfruit. Pleasing darker minerals that lent an aura of mystery to the finish, especially when comparing it side-by-side to the Piper Heidsieck.

The pairing fell into the bottom of the chicken and Champagne pack but that's been a pack chockablock with wonderful pairing integrity. Merely good but still happy-slappy. Pairing Score: 87

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