Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#225 - Flank Steak, Duck Fat Potatoes and Toscano Cheese With '04 Vale Meão

I still surprised how medium-bodied this wine was.

Every review for every Quinta Do Vale Meão wine talks about its 'richness' and 'powerful body.'  We always got something leading towards richness and power but they always pulled back from the edge at the right time so words like 'finesse' and 'grace' and a 'pretty touch of earth' were always bandied about.

Big, full, rich wines can of course (and do) have those elements but in the context of liking a wine, for us, those words denote something that isn't really big, full and rich.

Vale Meão wines always love to have a dalliance with bigness and fullness but, in the end, come back to what they are:  their own unique place of the very definition of the top end of medium-bodied - flavors that evoke richness with a body to balances all that out.  The really good ones charge right up to the full-bodied line, taunt the big boys on the other side and then just stay there, taunting, "Look what we can do! Screw your extraction!"

Having said that, the 2004 is and has been for us closer to the world of a standard medium-bodied than we expect from Vale Meão, even missing some of the aspects we love about their wines, in particular a touch of Asian spice and a hidden surprise 2/3 of the way down.

Food:  Flank Steak, duck fat potatoes and Toscano cheese with an arugula salad

TJ's flank steak marinated in onion, yogurt, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, ginger and saffron; seared in the cast iron skillet to a pretty medium-rare, leaning towards rare in a great way.  We like flavors and this is a flavor that, along with the entirety of this meal, puts it the top 20 in our book.

Potatoes cooked in duck fat to mimic the success with had with duck and this vintage of Vale Meão in March of 2010.  Duck and Vale Meão is always a winner, winner, duck fat and Portuguese dinner.  Surprisingly, this was the least successful part of the pairing.  Great potatoes though, with mayo to dip.

TJ's 'Toscano' cheese, a Trader Joe's attempt at an Italian cheese product, made in Wisconsin.  Intensely creamy with a slightly nutty edge and a cinnamon crust.  Nice stuff, nothing great but nice stuff.

Arugula salad to finish, tossed in evoo, balsamic, salt and Tellicherry pepper.  It's funny to have strong opinions about pepper.  Tellicherry pepper is the goods.  2-for-1 Jewel organic arugula.  Best arugula on the planet at half-price.

Nothing missing from this meal in the least.  So satisfying and always reminds us that Food is Good.

The wine didn't help as much as we expected though.

Wine:  2004 Quinta Do Vale Meão Douro ($45 - WDC)

Grapes:  Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barocca
Vintage (WS):  93  Drink  Ideal growing season; rich wines with polished tannins and concentrated flavors

Decanted for an hour a year and a half ago and saw it close down on us about two hours in.  Popped about an hour before the meal this time to see where it was, seemed in a great place but tried it a half-hour later and the tannins took over the party.  Tossed it in the decanter and went from there.  That seemed to crack it open and polish it out.

But, as I said, what we got was something very medium-bodied, never charging up and down the flavor spectrum, playfully wondering into new nooks and crannies throughout the drinking like we typically get from other Vale Meãos; subtle bursts here and there but more happy to remain in its more narrow place.

The tannins didn't shorten it.  Plenty of fine tannin, well integrated (plenty of life left).  Smoked plums dominated with an interesting perk of all blackberry about an hour into the meal.  Smoked meat over an herb/brush fire everywhere and always.  Something about the body though.  A wee bit on the watery side at times with a finish that faded instead of pronouncing anything new or interesting.  We missed that low-grade intensity and dynamism.  Felt like it wanted to intensify at times but was indifferent about achieving it.  Not tired, just indifferent.  And clipped, like something told it to shut up.

Missed the Asian spice that comes with Vale Meão as well.  Could be in a weird place right now but it came off...not necessarily clunky...but something a bit lost on how to express itself confidently.  Not damning with faint praise here but this could have been a great vintage Meandro instead of the big-boy stuff.  What saved it was the minerals, keeping it in the realm of What We Like.  And we liked this wine, just didn't love it.  As Mrs. Ney said, it tasted like walking on a gravel road on a hot day just after a summer rain smelled.

Pairing:  88  Solid in every way, just never great

The wine made admirable attempts to keep up with the food but never added much.

One combo was delicious though.  A bite of cheese followed by a bite of flank steak followed by the wine.  The cheese brought out the yogurt in the meat marinade, then bringing out a more smoky, almost spicy edge in the wine, the only real time we could get the wine to become a touch more complex.

The greatness of the food left the goodness of the wine in the dust from a technical view but we loved this meal muchly.

We'd just try a different vintage or slide over to Ribera with this food next time.


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    Good luck.