Tuesday, September 6, 2011

#220 - Bill Kim Chicken, Soba & White Asparagus With An '03 Hirtzberger Axpoint

We've had a nice survey of quality grüner veltliners over the past two years, thanks mostly to the suggestions from our favorite wine person at Wine Discount Center.

Last night's offering, a 2003 single vineyard released at $45 and now sold for $20 due to the perceived lack of acidity needed for aging in the initial reviews right out of the shoot, is the best one both of us have ever had.

While the acidity certainly didn't define the wine, it tasted like the subdued level of acid most likely experienced right away, in 2004 or 2005, was arrested, staying in the realm of low-ish but nonetheless utterly performing its due diligence, lifting everything else, rounding out the edges, turning the wine into a three-dimensional delight as if it was merely a couple of years old instead of eight.

The big reviewers and their short drinking windows for Austrian wines continue to give us the best wine values when they're halved in price one year after Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate says they're done.

It's one example of how the domination of the market by the big-boy reviewers actually benefit wine drinkers.  Cheap goodness all around.  Of the 25 or so we've bought at a severe discount from the release price over the last three years, maybe two or three weren't Good Stuff.

Food:  Bill Kim chicken, soba noodles and white asparagus

Bill Kim marinade from the freezer, last used for this meal, a similar preparation with the added wonder that time coming from fava beans with crème fraiche and mint from the Pintxos cookbook (those were good).  Marinade here.  From the freezer but tasted fresh, still offering that huge pop of flavor and the mysterious depth from the fish sauce.  Bittman under a brick chicken again.  Cuz it's easy-peasy and tasty as heck.

Soba noodles that came off more deliciously delicate this time, tossed in reduced chicken stock, butter, sesame oil and soy sauce, then topped with scallions, cilantro and lemon grass.

White asparagus, steamed and tossed in soy sauce and sesame oil.  A mountain of it that was a fine accompaniment to the meal and came off best with the wine.

Sesame seeds sprinkled over everything.

Ended up being a meal that tasted fancy pants instead of thrown together like Mrs. Ney thought it was in the beginning.  Flavors both deep and bright that jumped and left both of us feeling very much satisfied.

The wine played its part in that.

Wine:  2003 Franz Hirtzberger Smaragd Axpoint Grüner Veltliner ($20 - WDC)

Mrs. Ney thought it could be a malvasia-chardonnay blend from some crazy genius.  I didn't have a clue how to describe it, just that it was so damn elegant.

Stone fruits, sure.  Touch of peach.  Touch of grapefruit.  Touch of cream.  But the definition came from its secondary flavors of something like fava bean water, papaya soda at times, honeysuckle at others.  A veritable cornucopia of exquisite, light flavors that tasted three-dimensional, all with a confident backbone.  None were bullied.  One would pop up and then would gracefully step aside for the next to speak its mind, then the next, like they all had a plan how to speak as one.

Great, low-key acid and a nice proper length all-together.

Yep.  Best grüner veltliner we've had.

Psst.  I think we like Hirtzberger more than Prager.

Pairing:  94  Who Knew?

Thinking about it the day after, we probably could have known.  There were nice tie-ins across all three elements on the plate with ingredients made for each other.  Soy sauce, scallion, sesame oil, buckwheat noodle, lemon and lime zest, fish sauce and herbs to tone all that down, forcing them to play nice.

But who knew an eight year-old grüner veltliner smaragd would offer the guts to stand up?  It did in great ways, more 3-D with the white asparagus but offering something more fleshy with the soba and something more green fruit/veggie water with the chicken.

A meal that tasted like it's been tweaked and experimented with to get to this place.  It hadn't.

A happy accident that made our tummies happy-slappy, wha-wha!

Two quick notes:  Lunch.  A new favorite, quick, cheap lunch that's taken over for quick-lunch TJ's Spinach Pie.  Marinated mozzarella balls in herbs and olive oil with kumatoes and basil and crushed red chili peppers, all dumped in a big bowl with a baguette for dipping, eating, topping, whatever trips your fancy.  Served with the 2010 De Falco Falanghina Beneventano IGT ($14 - WDC).  There is such a delicious saltiness to this wine that it's almost like drinking bubbles as it performs some of the same cleansing duty.  Mrs. Ney's description of it being like a cross between a Muscadet and an Albariño nails it.  Salty paper and snappy lemon from Muscadet with an added depth of more complex lemon, herbs and heft from Albariño describes it perfectly.  One of my favorite meals from this summer included this wine.  The simplicity, cheapness and tastiness of this meal ran right along side that favorite in what it offered.

Dinner Sunday.  The final nail in the coffin of the Daniel Boulud fennel balls.  From the freezer, this time returning to the altered recipe of peppadew pepper purée instead of the Boulud suggestion of piquillo.  Peppadew wins.  Too deliciously bright to ignore.  Served with the first drinking of the 2008 Villa Creek Mas de Maha ($30 - Winery).

The 2006 drinkings are chronicled here.  It's a favorite and if I were pinned down on an Inquistion-like body stretcher and asked my favorite wine-food pairing, I'd first scream and wet my pants because I was on an Inquisition-like body stretcher but then I'd say Mas de Maha with Cuban food (I don't know.  I've probably said that about another pairing but it's in the top two or three).  This one was not consumed with Cuban food but was still mighty nice with the fennel balls.  Not spectacular but fine.  More interesting to note from the Mas de Maha's different expression than the 2006, coming off more like the winemaker got into Portuguese reds right before blending the vintage.  The 2006's tempranillo (60% in both blends) went through a delicious, constantly changing arc but was defined by its evolving bright cherry, cedar and herb notes.  The 2008 is playing more in the darker realms, making the wine come off more rustic, less extracted, and Old World.  Some Portuguese echoes of Tinta Roriz that surprised me but also some confident Rhône expression here as well.  The 2006 Mas de Maha is/was such a friendly, open wine screaming for food and we love/loved everything about it, including the bright, somewhat prominent California, slightly extracted edge to it.  I think the 2008 has the potential to be a freakin' masterpiece once it stretches out a bit.  Here it seems Villa Creek found a way to use every bit of the California-ness inevitably present in the wine to every bit of its advantage, ending up with a wine that has the guts of the Old World with a distinction of the New.  We couldn't have loved it more and look forward to its evolvement.

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