Thursday, September 1, 2011

#219 - Skirt Steak, Mushrooms, Spinach & Vanilla Mash With '00 Clos l'Oratoire

It's tough to have the 2003 Clos Fourtet work as a Right Bank Bordeaux benchmark for us.

When we drank a 375ml of that Clos Fourtet in 2006, it was all dark, dirty, sneaky and haunting.  I thought I had experienced a wine epiphany.  "I think I love Right Bank Bordeaux!"

In our experience since then, they've been finicky in our world.

No exception last night.  We cracked this 2000 Clos l'Oratoire about an hour before drinking to see where it was, found it muted and tight, decanted for an hour but still barely got a crowbar in the door jamb.  After two hours, with much of the food consumed, the wine started to hit its stride with the acid coming to the fore, bringing everything into balance but even that window seemed exceedingly small.

As I said.  Finicky.

When it did hit its stride with small touches of ash, tar, blackberry and lead framed well, both of us still thought, "Nothing special here."

But the French-type feast was very much wanted.

Food:  Skirt steak, mushroom and spinach sauté and vanilla mashed potatoes

Cheap and delicious skirt steak from Gene's Sausage Shop, marinated in olive oil, soy sauce, worcestershire, garlic and rosemary.  When I say cheap, I'm talking under $5 for 12 ounces.  And it was silly.  Juicy with proper gnarl and deep but bright flavor.  Beef stock/wine reduction from the freezer added to sauce it up.

Mushroom and spinach sauté.  Mushrooms done up with shallot and thyme, spinach wilted in beef-searing pan with basil leaves.

And a friend returned.  Vanilla mashed potatoes, that decadent glop of heaven that's been away for almost a year, made with butter, heavy cream, vanilla bean and white pepper.  No mashed potato is better and if you think so, I will fight you (I think I said that about them last time).

Just fantastic food that we both wanted so much with every bite.

And should have played its part in prying open the wine but that only happened in fits and starts.

Wine:  2000 Clos l'Oratoire Saint-Emilion ($70 - Binny's)

Grapes:  90% merlot, 5% cabernet sauvignon and 5% cabernet franc
Region:  Saint-Emilion
Vintage (WS):  97 - Hold - Rich, powerful and structured, yet harmonious
Production:  Same percentage as the bottle planted throughout the property
Typical case production:  4,000
Note:  Same guys that make Château Canon-la-Gaffelière and La Mondotte

To review:  Opened - muted.  One hour in the decanter - barely showing much.  Two hours in - started to show a rounder body and balanced nature but nothing special and nothing we were compelled to reach for.

Most surprised by the medium-bodied nature of the wine.  Nothing in it said 'plush,' which would be welcome if it weren't so shy. Even light at times. Came off like an earthy, thinner Dão in some ways without the obvious presence of earth and grit.  Certainly a Right Bank but there are some wines you drink that you know you don't love but there's a feeling that you want to love it.  Some elements are present that you beg to become integrated and become something more.  I didn't really want to love it, even.  No hate, it just washed off me quick and clean with each sip, never really leaving even a semblance of an impression.

Nice ash, prevalent tar, blackberry and blueberry with a base of medium-dark red berry, a mineral thread that was nice but never felt like it added to the definition, a spice/licorice/vanilla note that never added either.  Cheap truffles or truffle approximation, I guess.  Popping, tasty tannins that nonetheless shortened things a touch.  It just never seemed to know what it wanted to be, even when it opened up.  Nothing thought-provoking or evocative.

A good bottle from a good vintage, stored properly and decanted and tasted in stages over about 2 1/.2 hours.  More decant was the play, sure.  But given all that, we should have gotten something more in our book, something more indicative/expressive/pleasurable.  It was just $70.  In the Bordeaux world, that's chump change, especially now.  But to think that we could have bought a much more enjoyable Quinta do Vale Meão, explored more of Chinon and Vouvray with two bottles, bought two Mas de Mahas, two Ponzis, got a Flor de Pingus and much, much more for the same price, the expense and finicky nature of Bordeaux is quickly making me sleepy and bored.  And let's face it.  There's not exactly a wide expanse of food that slides right in with Bordeaux despite some internet protestations to the contrary.

We'll keep drinking them.  Too much in the cellar not to and we like/love about half of the labels we've had. But this experience might stick a bit in our memory and somewhat inform future choices in a way.  I think Bordeaux remains a twice a year thing with food absolutely geared toward it.  Sad.

Pairing:  81  Tasty and more broad with the vanilla mashed potatoes but not much more.

The food made efforts to play into the wine and nothing came off like it didn't or shouldn't or couldn't.  The wine simply wouldn't contribute to the conservation in meaningful ways.

Sure, a subtle, pointed joke on occasion and it got along with the host of the party, the mashed potatoes, but it left the party without offering much in the way of presence or effect.

It was there, breathed oxygen, ate some chips and dip and scooted out.  It merely showed its face, performed its social obligation and got the hell out.

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