Tuesday, May 29, 2012

#279 - Shrimp Lunch With '10 Strub Riesling & Greek Dinner With '09 Villa Creek Avenger

Hey, it was thigh-soaking hot last Memorial Day as well.

And we went Greek then, too!

And we had Villa Creek wine just a few days before last May Remembrance with ropa vieja, a meal we were just talking about last night!

This is eerie. Moon cycles or something.

Our pairings were better this May holiday than last, with a quality bargain riesling and a surprisingly savory Villa Creek number that I think shows the vintage and the work Villa Creek put in to create something rather delicious.

Lunch:  Leek-saffron shrimp and bread for juice dipping with 2010 Strub Niersteiner Brückchen Riesling Kabinett ($18 - WDC)

A shrimp riff on the saffron volatile compound category from Taste Buds & Molecules, combining leeks and saffron (two complementary elements) and then heeding saffron's carotenoids, aldehydes and terpenes that often give a bitterness to saffron. (<--- I have no idea what all that means. Science.) As the book suggests, balancing that bitterness with richness is key and riesling offers that richness.

Got lucky here, I think. This riesling is a kabinett but the 2010 German vintage, as told to us by Mr. Johannes Selbach last week, was a big'un. Enormously ripe fruit AND buckets of acidity. Rare, that. This one could have been a spätlese, so it offered a touch more richness to help in the food balance department.

Grapefruit, peach, minerals and jumpy, if not age-worthy acid dominate. Large appearance of sweetness upfront that gives way quickly to a riverbed mineral core and finishing, interestingly, very dry, almost like a tannic red in ways. Grapey. Wouldn't call it pretty but I would call it delicious. Textbook with surprises and cheap. A Terry Thiese selection, naturally, and the same house that makes the Soil To Soul label. We don't know a whole lot about riesling yet but this seems it would be a great wine for a tasting, straddling that line between kabinett and spätlese, informing as to what that difference is.

Where the anise-flavored volatile compound, magi-fancy salad and sauvignon blanc worked, this one may have been too buddy-buddy to enjoy a contrast w/r/t the pairing. The wine wove itself into each bite so much that a bit of its identity was lost along the way. Still got all the flavors we got on its own and a refreshment certainly offered itself up but something, something small, seems too...integrated. Still nice stuff, instructive, tasting like a wine class pairing lesson, and might even do it again.  Pairing Score:  88

Dinner:  Lamb sausages with tzatziki, hummus with flat pita bread and tomato-pomegranate salad with 2009 Villa Creek Avenger ($42 - Winery)

Paulina lamb sausages, always good, with homemade tzatziki. Homemade hummus. All very tasty stuff.

But the star this night was a Saveur tomato salad with herbs and pomegranate. It's a house fav and guess what, eaten with Villa Creek this time and many times sits alongside ropa vieja! We didn't know what we were drinking until the salad was essentially complete. This just happened. Moon cycles, man. Cherry tomatoes, parsley, mint, red onion, thyme, lemon juice, peppers, Aleppo, pomegranate molasses, pomegranate seeds, salt and pepper. I laid sod for a summer 20 years ago. It was the sweatiest, most tiring work of my life. 13-hour days just laying sod. But it was $13/hour, which was a fortune in 1992 in Iowa. My day was defined by just getting to the end of the day and driving home to the hose (huh!). There's being dirty and then there's 13-hours-a-day, laying-sod dirty. There's hot and then there's 1992 Iowa summer hot. The combination...oh, the combination! But getting to that hose and spending 15 minutes sitting on a cheap, K-mart, woven nylon, pastel-colored lawn chair and letting a hose wash over me as the dusk heat was just beginning to recede has defined refreshment for me since. This salad reminds me of such things.

The 2009 Villa Creek Avenger is syrah-forward with 15% each of grenache and mourvèdre. An hour decant. Another surprise here. Savory. Deeply savory with not really an ounce of sweet California fruit getting in the way. Truckloads of black fruit mixing with a cross between smoky mesquite and smoky cedar wood in the best possible sense with wisps of smoking herbs following each step down the throat. The wood notes were the surprise. This was good wood ("That's what she said!"), offering the flavors of fancy, complex grilling wood without the woody woodness. Though trending towards full-bodied, this one had a springy gait to it, allowing things to stay in the world of balanced. Delicious stuff and idiosyncratic enough to follow. Shows a superlative balance that we've only gotten from Villa Creek in Mas de Maha form.

While the pairing wasn't perfect, something about tomatoes and syrah continues to surprise. The tomatoes seem to coax out a roundness that isn't there before, exploring the grape's vegetal side to great effect and taming its tendency (at least in California examples) to go all ripe fruit all the way. Solid overall, great with the tomato salad. Pairing Score: 89

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