Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#234 - TWIB Notes: This Week In Bottles

About two months ago, a meal of Bill Kim chicken, soba noodles and white asparagus with an '03 Hirtzberger Axpoint led us to thinking we'd just had the best grüner veltliner ever.

Graceful, nuanced and delicious at every turn.

So much so that I rushed out the next day and bought two more bottles.  Now, it's only been two months and we saw a touch of acid depletion in that first experience but this week's drinking of that bottle left me perplexed.

The acid two months ago ever so tenuously kept it in the world of delicious in great ways, coming off like a healthy Mickey Mantle, the later years.  This week, Mick's knees buckled trying to stretch of single into a double and it feels like he'll never be the same again.

Without the tiny acid lift, we got flab, flab and more flab tasting like the cheapest of cheap that had been left open in the fridge for days.  One more left.  Maybe it was just a bad bottle but nothing in the way of food flavors tried with two different flavor worlds did anything to make it remotely interesting.

Let's get to it.

Meal #1:  Acorn squash and pancetta risotto

Acorn squash, pancetta, onion, pine nuts, parmesan, sage, green beans sauteed in pancetta fat, feta and pomegranate seeds tossed in with arborio rice risotto'd up.  Liked it muchly.  Didn't go gaga for it but I kept wanting to eat.  Touch of sweet from the squash, touch of salt from the pancetta, vegetal green beans, burst of pomegranate juice, sweaty onions, nutty nuts and parm with a risotto ooze.  Tons to like and tons to play off each other, tasting slightly different with each bite.

Initially served with the aforementioned 2003 Franz Hirtzberger Grüner Veltliner Axpoint ($20 - WDC).  Got nothing.  Wasn't particularly interesting upon first pop and became woefully boring with the food.  Shelved for Berbere chicken (see below), thinking it has something to do with the glut of flavors in the risotto.  Cracked a 2008 Domaine De Tours Vin de Pays Vaucluse Rouge ($20 - WDC) instead, our first drinking of this vintage.  See the 2006 drinkings here and the 2007 drinkings here. The 2008 might be the best one yet.  the 2006 with fig tart a couple of years ago blew us away but t'was a finicky lot with multiple other meals.  The 2007 was off the charts with tomatoes Provençal but also seemed to be a bit moody, both wanting very specific stuff in order to spread its wings and shine (Did you ever know that you're my he-ro...).

The 2008 casts a much bigger net, at least in the VdP Rhône world.  Open and wanting to please, showing a juicy and lean body but still substantial, playing in the red berry world with darker, shadowy tones throughout the meal.  Wee hints of a whispered secrets underneath of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape in many ways, with an herby brush, tobacco and smoke edge that kept us reaching for the glass, trying to figure out more.  We liked the previous vintages for how they performed in the price range.  The 2008 blind could have been a leaner, mid-range CdP and we wouldn't have been disappointed.  The freshness was the key and the structure didn't suggest a particularly long life but we were happy-slappy.  The pancetta and nuttiness in the risotto wanted red and the pomegranate seeds sort of sealed that deal.  We wisely switched up from the Axpoint and the pairing worked.  Pairing Score:  90

Meal #2 - Berbere chicken, Semiramis hummus with pita and mâche salad

$5 TJ's chicken (we're currently poor) marinated in a Berbere spice blend (paprika, ginger, cumin, garam masala, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom with curry, onion and garlic powders), cooked under a brick à la Mark Bittman.  Good stuff.  Semiramis hummus with pita, the best hummus on the planet and if you think differently, I will fight you.  Mâche salad with balsamic and olive oil to finish.

Tossed together meal to end a very busy house cleaning day and felt warm and cozy and tasted like What We Wanted.

Gave the Axpoint another go and it came off worse than the night before.  Cracked the last of the 2008 Orballo Albariño ($18 - Binny's) in an attempt to save the pairing.  This is our fifth drinking of the 2008, a wine usually reserved for how well it performs with Greeky food, particularly skordaliá.  Great acid and verve in the past but started to show its age recently.  Same result here but still plenty to provide a counterbalance to the spice and hummus, brightening things up quite nicely.  Lemon rind as always defines the fruit in the wine but the secondary flavors of pear and pear pit, a touch of almond and a great and ever-present minerality from beginning to end makes it something we always crave.  No different here.  Just sung, tasting like a flavor memory with the hummus standing in for skordaliá.  Pairing Score:  92

Meal #3 - Sort of Asian-y lamb, roasted potatoes and snap peas

 Continuing the theme of abandoning boring wine at the start of meals, we went through four with this pairing before we got to the one we liked.  Not four full bottles, that would be reckless (!), just sips, proclaimed our boredom, badness or DOA status and quickly moved on to the next one.

Okay meal, good enough flavors.  TJ's lamb that's starting to get rather expensive lately.  $18 for a rack (ugh).  Quality lamb, though.  Seems to be getting better with each purchase.  Tender stuff.  Bill Kim marinade from July's Food & Wine, using garlic, basil, cilantro, ginger, shallot, scallion, Chinese black bean sauce, brandy, hoison, sambal oelek and Asian fish sauce, a marinade that we believe is the nearly exact recipe used for the #2 Lamb & Brandy dumplings at his restaurant, Urban Belly, a staple in the buffet of goodness ordered when we go. This marinade didn't reach that depth.  Tasty and fresh but came off a touch meatloaf-y (?).  Rosemary roasted potatoes with mayo for dipping, something that we both thought was the best part of the meal.  Strangely great potatoes.  Snap peas with basil, mint and pomegranate seeds.

Ate well.  We liked the flavors but wanted a bit more.  And the wine was annoying.

Started with a half-bottle of 2009 Ridge Geyserville ($22 - Binny's), a blend of 74% zinfandel, 17% carignane, 6% petite sirah, 2% alicante bouschet and 1% mourvèdre, and a 2005 Shild Estate Shiraz Barossa ($25 - WDC).  The Schild suffered from its lack of surprise, just like it did in April, 2010 with hanger and tostones.   Tasted like playing a pickup football game with a slightly deflated football.  Flat stuff with no jump.  Stored perfectly, given time to breathe and still came off borderline tedious, leading us to the question, "Why continue drinking THIS?"  So we went cheap and cracked a 2009 Trader Joe's Syrah Paso Robles ($12 - TJ's).  Took two sips and abandoned, tasting barely above church wine.  Moved on to a 2009 Napa Cellars Pinot Noir ($8 - TJ's), because if we're going to run through cheap wine in this way, trying the TJ's stuff seemed apt.  Got the minimum lamb and pinot noir pairing tastiness, enough to satisfy and for $8, there are much worse pinots out there.  Nice cherry, touch of fairly good quality earth, Christmas potpourri and very little of that sweet California body that typically comes in this price range.  Nice job here.  The Ridge suffered, for us, from the Seghesio/Saldo comparison.  With air, it started to attain a modicum of balance with interesting sage, coffee and tar notes perking up but a roundness and multi-leveled expression never showed up and the fruit profile that never tickled my tongue.  Maybe needs time but we're not rushing out to stock up.  Not our bag.  Pairing Score:  Frustrating and not worth the $90 spent on the meal!!!             

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