Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Frenchy-French On Crack & Rillettes, Salumi, Cheese & Andrea Calek Blonde

Drink wine from great importers like Kermit Lynch, Terry Theise, Neal Rosenthal, Cream and such, and you're going to end up drinking a boatload of organic, biodynamic and natural wine.

None of them stock their portfolios based on whether the wines are org-bio-nat or anything in-between. The wines they carry are wines they like that typically come from small producers that put a premium on subtlety, grace and good farming. That usually means not dumping a bunch of crap on their crop to some (or all) extent.

We don't drink org-bio-nat wines because they're that. We buy wines from good importers (mostly) and their wines happen to fall in that realm. We're not dogmatists. Dogma is "RIGHT OUT!" in our house.

But over the course of our wine drinking, our taste for wines that we like and want has been developed by those great importers, in a way that's almost like having a good hitting coach. It's become, in a small way, a cross-section of our own jones and how those importers can satisfy it. Not always but rather significantly. Heck, I liked the Yellow Tail sparkling rosé so there's that.

So as we wade deeper into the natural wine world, something that's been a big jones of mine lately, we're finding some limits in our tastes, but we're also finding wines chockablock with interesting interestingness. Which is all we ever want. Give me something interesting. If it's interesting, you're constantly engaged. If it's interesting, true surprise is possible.

Drinking the same thing night after night is boring.

To wit. Andrea Calek Blonde Ardèche ($30 - Astor). Chardonnay/viognier. Here's a natural wine that tastes like an apple-fennel salad with a citrus vinaigrette was put in a blender and pulverized into liquid. Delicious? Umm...yeah. Like a cross between a cider and a wine, some quality freshy-fresh goodness was to be had upfront, followed by a minerally/rocky mid-palate that kept me thinking about it. Good? Umm...........yeah. More delicate than we prefer, like it was testing the limits of just how light and precious we like our wine.

The food didn't help in the venture. Homemade wild boar/pork belly rillettes (marriage of Suzanne Goin and NYT recipe/cooking instructions), Olympic Provisions French saucisson, petit Basque cheese, apricot mostarda, pickled onions, baguette.

Mrs. Ney's been wanting to make rillettes for years (and the Calek Blonde has been on a stickie for years. We're taking care of things this winter). Thanks to the svelte nature of wild boar ($14 for the mini-roast from d'Artagnan--you cannot say no to this), this one used half the fat the recipes called for, which allowed a beautiful porkiness to come through. Delicious stuff. We really enjoyed Olympic Provisions when we were in Portland and were excited to see their salumi at Pastoral. What we've found in the three different salamis we bought is a nice pure, clean pork flavor that's overwhelmed by a butteriness to the fat. Petit Basque cheese = house favorite. Spicy, great, homemade apricot mostarda. Aggressive Michael Symon pickled red onions. All the goods. We liked this meal and we'll forget about it by next week. Except for the rillettes. That was the Sh*t.

The Calek Blonde was beaten up and thrown all over the mat by this meal. Thinned out by most bites, swallowed up and spit out by the more spicy ones (and this wasn't overly spicy in the least). But rather spectacular with the cheese, showing all its goodness and finishing long. Live and learn. Two more bottles. Might have to get all molecular and pair it with an apple-fennel concoction of some sort in the future. That's the play here, I think.

But all that is usurped by the best meal we've had this year.

Frenchy-French On Crack

Guinea hen with three heads of garlic--Delia Smith recipe.  Separately roasted potatoes, carrots, onions with evoo and herbes de provence.  Seared shaved Brussels sprouts with whole-grain mustard and balsamic. 

We like the deconstructed meal, mostly. Elements separately cooked so we can mix and match as we see fit, creating a multitude of combinations and a long, enjoyable meal. Mediterranean-influenced food, in other words.

Here's a composed meal separately cooked to retain that "separateness" and then tossed together to form a loosely composed meal. And it was stupid-awesome-happy-ridiculous, offering everything that makes a composed meal good without all the dullness that comes with eating a big plate of sameness.

D'Artagnan guinea hen (free shipping this month, people) that isn't cheap at $33. But free shipping and no tax! It's what many organic, free-range chickens in the ChicagoLand area want to be. We've had more than one that tasted like eating a shriveled old man. Guinea hen done up in the 20-30-40 cloves of garlic way. This one was about 30. Frenchy potato-carrot-onion business. Frenchy Brussels sprouts. Frenchy-French bird. Frenchy-French on Crack! All cooked perfectly.

And so was the wine, except both of us thought after the first sip that it could have easily been a great Portuguese red. A bottle of 2007 Vin de Monsieur le Baron Chateau de Montfaucon ($38 - Zachy's), a REALLY traditional blend of 15 different grapes, containing nearly every grape that's allowed in the Côtes du Rhône. Tough to describe. Dusty to start. Blew off quick. Dark red fruits all over the place with wet cigar and licorice. The syrah showed its face most of the time, but it was more than that. It was full of minerals in the middle, the white grapes served as a driving acid force in a unique way, not overwhelming. The darn thing was just so pretty, big without being pushy, smoky, long and delicious. Great weight and rusticity complement to the food, allowing each to serve as background to the other. We loved it and need more. Don't believe some drinking windows on the one (Wine Spectator has it wrong, Cellartracker has it right). Oodles of life left on this one.

We opened a 375-ml of the 2007 Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe La Crau ($35 - Binny's), a wine we love and a wine we love more for having it in 375's. The Vin de Monsieur le Baron Chateau de Montfaucon was a better, more sexy and sashaying wine. It won the night.

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