Thursday, August 29, 2013

Peppercorn-crusted & Pomegranate-glazed Lamb Riblets And Farro with 2009 Angela and Ponzi Pinot Noir

Anya von Bremzen, author of The New Spanish Table, a cookbook that has seen such a workout in this house that it's falling apart, brings us this lamb chop recipe that came so deliciously tart, tangy, deep and delicious that the meal ended up being a 2009 Willamette pinot noir comparison from two of our favorite producers. We wanted to extend things out and take our time.

Some alterations in the cooking:

* A dry rub on two pounds of lamb riblets ($6/lb - Whole Foods) of ginger, salt, black pepper, Szechuan pepper, cardamom, coriander and fennel. The same rub used on the best tuna on the planet, left in the fridge for two days, glazed with pomegranate molasses, black currant whole-grain mustard, garlic and black pepper and thrown under the broiler to get it all rib-sticky.

* Similar compote recipe of plums, garlic, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, fenugreek; green onions, cilantro, parsley (just like Food & Wine recipe, but added cardamom, omitted dried mint, savory, and tarragon).

Lamb riblets put over the compote, farro as a starch and pomegranate seeds and mint dumped over everything.

Keeper. This became lamb with fancy goodness that snuck up on us. A couple of bites in and it went from "This is pretty darn good," to "Jeebus! This is pretty darn great!" As it all came together, the glaze offered a perfect sweetness to counter the spice from the dry rub, elevating it to Better Food. This wasn't just spicy, this wasn't just sweet. This was lamb that found the balance between both of those elements, offering both but with each falling into the background, allowing the totality of all the flavors to shine.

1 + 1 = 3 stuff. If anything, a perfect light tartness defined the glaze grizzle.

Not BIG food. Seems like it should have been. Wasn't. In the least, really. The compote amped up the clean and light tartness, farro soaked up the juice and spice.

We ate extraordinarily well here, particularly when Mrs. Ney had suspicions that this might not be the best.

With a Rioja vacation on tap, we nearly popped a 1994 López de Heredia Tondonia Gran Reserva to get into vacation-flavor mode (and with the lamb-Rioja red connection) but the aggressiveness of flavors in the food brought us to our senses rather quick-like.

I don't know why we haven't touched 2009 Oregon pinot noir lately. Last November was the last time, with this Ponzi and a stupid-delicious Arterberry Maresh with the aforementioned peppercorn tuna. A huge white wine kick that lasted nearly a year, probably.

Various vintage reports on 2009 in Willamette (this is a good one) talk about lighter structures, bold flavors, a lot of cranberry tartness and a good balance between alcohol and acid. 2006 seems to be the comparable vintage. "Solid" overall vintage seems to be the consensus. Personally, these have been "solid" wines for us, if leaving us wanting a touch more sparkly acid lift that makes us love Oregon pinot noir.

That said, with the 2009 Angela Pinot Noir Clawson Creek Vineyard ($40-ish - Northwest Wine), a wine made by Ken Wright from a vineyard sitting right next to his Abbott Claim vineyard (house favorite with a little Savoya thrown in for me), this showing became the earthiest Angela we've ever had. Toned down Angela here, with a California-like expression on the nose, only to turn into a deliciously quiet cranberry-plum number to start and transitioning into about six different tastes of fancy earth going down in pretty, parsed-out levels. Really enjoyed the levels. Not ripe in the least. Just a gosh darn good medium-bodied pinot noir that made me think that Ken Wright got a chance with this vintage to take Angela to a different, more delicate and dirty place while still retaining Angela's character. We very much liked the results.

The 2009 Ponzi Pinot Noir Willamette ($30-ish - Winery) gave us what we were missing in the Angela with a tea tannin quality and wilted rose petal quality typical of Ponzi. Lighter in color and body than the Angela, this one brought the cranberry and a touch of cinnamon we saw in the past, rose petals sprinkled all around, and finishing with a wee touch of tea tannin. Nice stuff, as always with Ponzi. Maybe a little too...focused. Or compact. Everything was on the mid-palate with segues from front to middle to back coming off a wee bit quiet/hollow. Still damn good stuff. Ponzi's probably one of maybe four or five red wines that I'd pop and drink by itself. It's just not a thing we do, but with Ponzi Pinot Noir, there's a joy and perfect simplicity pervading every sip. It's a wine that's complex enough but never overly complex. Luisa Ponzi seems to pick the important things and sticks to them with the Willamette Valley offering, saying, "I'm gonna give you this, this, this and this. That's it, and it's all gonna taste like sunshine."

In the pairing realm with this food, the Angela won the night, with more structure to stand up to the flavors. It expanded out more, went deeper, jumped and jived with the touch of tartness in the wine playing with the tartness in the ribs/compote in happy ways, then allowing the earth to take the stage. More of a three-act play with the Angela.

The floral notes in the Ponzi played a bit with the floral notes in the spices and was happy business with the compote, but didn't have the oomph to make for true-blue, full, back-and-forth food and wine pairing love. Good, just not as good with the Angela also on the table.                  


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