Tuesday, January 10, 2012

#243 - Walnut-Pomegranate Chicken Thighs & Israeli Couscous With An '03 Heredia Cubillo

Strange and delicious collection of food-wine meals of late.

Borscht with smoked trout on rye (cheap gewürztraminer), a meal that tasted like really fancy Arby's (Bogle Phantom) and this one, vittles that tasted like a Spanish-Persian food baby that secretly had a Greek father. Oh, the scandal!  Almodovar should make a film about it.

Who could play the ghost that represents the ghosts of the Spanish Civil War?  I'm going with Kathy Najimy.  Almodovar loves to gender-bend.

It's been years since we revisited the Heredia Cubillo world. I think the first one I ever had was the 1999 or 2000 vintage and I was oh-so impressed with its tobacco- orange peel-leafy bigness.  Sure, it was a bit of a bumpy ride going down but something about it appealed to me.

When picking out this wine for this meal, I was struck by how much I haven't craved it in recent years.  We've had oodles of meals where a Cubillo could have excelled but nothing about it has recently screamed, "Drink me!"

Some of that lies in the fact that much of Heredia's upper line is only $10 more than the Cubillo line.  Cubillo's appeal comes from its pokey weekday lunch of tapas and a match-matchy goodness that's defined by its appealing rough edges.  Tastes gritty, rough and weathered, like the leathered skin of an old Spanish goat herder.

But, for $10 more, a Bosconia or Tondonia turns that gritty goodness into such wonderful grace and finesse that it tastes like something that should cost so much more.  To wit:  go here.

Cubillo has a place.  It's just not a place we've wanted to return to lately.

Last night reinforced that impression a bit.

Food:  Walnut and pomegranate chicken thighs, Isreali couscous and arugula salad

Taken (and modified) from the "Fesenjan e Ordak" recipe in The New Book Of Middle Eastern Food, chicken thighs in a walnut/pomegranate sauce:  thighs in ras el hanout marinade; braised with onions and walnuts in chicken stock, pomegranate molasses, cumin seeds, lemon thyme; finished with parsley and pomegranate seeds.

Reading the recipe, I thought it would play in the larger realms but it didn't in the least.  An elevated baseline of larger flavors existed but it got to that line and stayed right there, never rising above it and coming off larger or aggressive.  Great stuff with the walnuts really getting into the chicken meat.  Thoughtful recipe that tasted like the Old Flavors they were with the ability to taste every freakin' ingredient.  The broth-y liquid alone could have been a tasting menu item in a shot glass.

Israeli couscous heavily saffroned and made into a pilaf.  Nice complement to the meal that played well with the wine.

Arugula salad with parsley, balsamic, olive oil and pomegranate seeds to finish.

We both loved every bit of this meal.

But the wine added little to the pairing conversation.

Wine:  2003 López de Heredia Viña Cubillo ($26 - WDC)

Grapes:  Tempranillo 65%, Garnacho 25%, Mazuelo and Graciano, the rest
Vintage (WS):  86 - Drink Now - Hot year. Ripe fruit with good concentration, but some overripeness

Down year for Rioja in 2003.  Hot, rainless summer was saved by a September rain, leading to an extremely late harvest and we could taste it.  Very little stretch on the mid-palate here, something that previous vintages of Cubillo have shown in our world, coming off a touch clunky and rushed.  Nothing really expanded out and explored other flavor worlds on the tongue or down the throat.

The Cubillos wouldn't ever be called graceful in the traditional sense but good ones have an element that passes into that second level of goodness that can get into your bones.  This one missed that.

No doubt a Heredia. Cherry and berry with a hint of tobacco on the nose.  Same on the palate with touches of orange and old, working towards moldy leaves.  A rusty iron number that was welcome but it remained in a tight little box for the most part, never exploring other nooks and crannies of wine wonder.

A respectable balance kept it pumping along throughout the meal but it seemed like I could taste the struggle made by LdH to get there, like they had to forgo some desirable elements of expression to get it drinkable.

A nice wine but nothing to revisit.

Pairing:  87  The identifiable Heredia personality saved the pairing from utter boredom

Take out the unique Heredia expression and we would have opened something else.  Very little pop with any bite of food, really.  But some tastiness came from the dusty, rusty, crusty deliciousness that Heredia brings.

Pairing goodness went in and out with the chicken, same with the couscous, tasting rotten with the arugula (absolutely undrinkable, there) and never left the world of "that's not terrible, is it?"

But fine enough. C'est la vie.

Cubillo...you're a tough one.    

Two quick notes:

#1:  Fancy Arby's!!!  Medium-rare skirt steak marinated in extra virgin olive oil, worcestershire, parsley and balsamic vinegar.  Alexia sweet potato fries and jalapeño poppers from Saveur's "Top 100" issue with spicy mayo for dipping.  Served with a 2008 Bogle Phantom ($17 - Binny's).


No illusions.  It tasted like fancy Arby's, like if Arby's tried to open an upscale version of itself (like Walgreen's is currently trying downtown and every news outlet in Chicago seems to think it's important news).  But it hit a place in both of us where wanted to embrace its fat-laden goodness with a tight, loving hug.

The Bogle...meh.  A zinfandel-based blend, it's a softer ditty, bringing blackberry, licorice, nonspecific herbs and vanilla in a simple package. Some generic intensity and low-level verve but nothing that shot out of the glass and announced itself.  Most impressed by how well the sweetness stayed in check and it played well with fancy Arby's, but it just didn't sashay into the world of memorable in the least.  This food was almost wrong but hit a place in us so much that a fancier zin could easily have jettisoned this pairing into something nearly great.  Pairing Score:  89

#2:  Borscht with smoked trout, cucumbers and a horseradish spread without the horseradish on rye.  Borscht made with beets, shredded brussels sprouts, fennel, onion, carrots, potato, beef broth, red wine vinegar, caraway seeds; finished with harissa and dill. Smoked trout on rye with cucumbers and a cream cheese/sour cream/pickle brine/white pepper spread.  Served with a 2010 Michel Léon Gewürztraminer Alsace ($10 - Trader Joe's).  The wine is nothing special, more a standard, basic gewürztraminer than anything, but it serves well in being just that.  A touch of off-dry sweetness and a bit floral.  And that played itself the natural sweetness of the beets nicely with a nice secondary play with the spices in the food and the floral aspects in the wine.  Good match. The borscht was the star, though.  If this is borscht, I want more borscht.  Pairing Score:  88

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