Tuesday, July 12, 2011

#205 - Skirt Steak & Juanita's Saffron Potatoes With '02 Atauta Llanos del Almendro

The dog's cancer-free so we cracked the good stuff.

And this certainly was the Good. Stuff.

In fact, right out of the bottle and after two hours in the decanter, we thought it might have the potential to be more enjoyable than the 2000 Pingus from three months ago.

Its progress towards that level of goodness was halted over the course of the night, never reaching that amount of depth and seduction but if you named ten elements that a Ribera wine can possess that would make it an exceptional wine, this one certainly had eight of them.  And every one of those eight elements were delicious.

In other words, it was Ribera all the way while offering such a unusual and idiosyncratic voice.

Food:  Skirt steak, Juanita's saffron potatoes and arugula salad

Whole Foods skirt steak (one pound - another meal that was evidence we don't need this much meat) marinated in balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, honey, basil and dry mustard.  Some very nice beef that served its purpose admirably.  Rosemary oil drizzled over the top that overpowered things a bit with its loud obviousness.  Our lament of the rosemary oil came more with what it did with the wine than the taste by itself (but a little of that as well).  Tasty meat but bullied the wine.

Juanita's saffron potatoes in almond sauce, a Ney house favorite. They taste like Spanish farmhouse food, always pair great with a wide array of wines (especially López de Heredia whites) and are all around delicious stuff.  These were no exception.

Arugula salad that both of us thought might have been the best greens we've had in a long time. Arugula, mint, lemon thyme, sherry vinegar and rosemary oil.  So much going on with every element talking, making for a great, harmonious, layered conversation.

Good food.  We liked it.

The wine was better.

Wine:  2002 Dominio de Atauta Llanos del Almendro ($120 - Knightsbridge)

Grape:  Tempranillo
Region:  Eastern side of Ribera Del Duero
Vintage (WS):  87 - Drink or hold - Warm summer, rainy harvest; firm structure, with mineral and earth 

A smaller, newer producer in Ribero Del Duero, Dominio de Atauta has only been making wine since 2000.  Read all about the winery here.  Pre-phylloxera vines and very cool nights lead to a distinctive wine every year, no matter the quality of the vintage.  We've loved their flagship wine in the past.  This is the first single-vineyard one for us and only the second time the winery has made the Llanos del Almendro cuvée (2001 being the first, a ridiculously great year in Ribera and Spain in general.  Good luck finding it).

Hidden fruit right out of the bottle.  Two hour decant to open it up.  That unmistakable nose of Ribera that is so seductive, the kind of smell that if I smelled it when I was eighteen years old, that alone would have gotten me into wine far earlier than I did.  All smoke and herbs and smoky herbs and darker, sometimes very dark fruits mixing with minerals and rocks, grilling meat in the process of charring with an edge of fresh country wind blowing over violets.

Both of us stretched to adequately describe the technical aspects of the wine.  Ribera fruit of darker cherries and a blueberry/blackberry mix on the nose but not necessarily in the mouth.  Cherries in the background but more sweet plum skin than anything.  Wonderfully subtle smoky minerals jumping around everywhere with a proper and pretty three-act play backed up by nice acid and silky, aging tannins, smoky and sweet.  Haunting at times, playful at others, "What was that goodness?!" at still others, leading to a delicious, unique complexity that made it everything Ribera is, everything we want from Ribera Del Duero and much, much more.  A beautiful wine that's worth every cent of the high price tag (and maybe more) and drinking beautifully right now.

And you can taste the quality of the winemaker in a difficult vintage with this 2002.  Instead of trying to force-fit a style and expression into every vintage, it tastes like he took what was handed to him, never tried to develop something that the critics needed to taste from Ribera to get a score, instead deciding to explore every nook and cranny of what was in front of him, from that year.  This was utterly a Ribera wine but entirely different from any Ribera I've ever had in order of taste and expression of fruit and smoky sweetness.

The thing about Ribera wines is that they're such a male wine.  Big bravado with a sensitive, sometimes thin skin underneath with food.  They can be touchy and this one was.

Pairing:  90  The wine was better than the food but the pairing had its moments

Saffron almond potatoes once again proved itself to be the element on the plate pulling more than its fair share of the weight with the pairing, letting the wine be itself, transition well and stretch its legs while intermingling with the almonds, saffron and goop in great ways.  Spanish food, Spanish wine, dut, dut, dut.

With the beef, before the rosemary oil, a smoky-sweetness in the wine mixed nicely enough with the marinade, but the addition of the rosemary oil caused the wine to turn a bit touchy and shrink from its true self, shortening the finish and losing the complexity of its mineral core.

Overall though, we were left with a meal that served as a nice vehicle for experiencing one of the best wines we've had this year and what we felt was a true expression of it.

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