Wednesday, August 15, 2012

#296 - Sea Bass a la Veracruzana & Saffron Rice With '96 Heredia Gravonia

Back in 2010, right around this time of the year, we drank up one of our Quinta do Vallado wines in anticipation of a stay at their winery in Portugal.

And on that trip, we had wistful and unrealistic yearnings to hop over to Rioja from the Douro and visit another winery that holds a massive place in our wine hearts, López de Heredia.

"It's only six hours away. We're already here, have a car. Can we pass it up?"

Yeah, we found out we could pass it up. That's a long time in a car on a trip that already had six hours booked in said vehicle.

So we're going back to the Iberian Peninsula next month, this time to Rioja, to visit the place we yearned to visit two years ago. Time to drink up a few Heredias in the meantime.

Gotta prep.

After experiencing Veracruz-style sea bass with the 2001 LdH Gravonia in May and all its pairing glory (probably the best pairing we've had this year), seeing where the 1996 is with nearly the same food platform felt right and proper.

It didn't reach the May pairing heights but it was still quality Heredia food and wine stuff.

Food:  Sea bass a la Veracruzana with saffron rice

Similar prep as in May, altered a bit with the biggest diversion being the addition of gooseberries. Tis the end of the season.

$35 big piece of Whole Foods sea bass, marinated in orange juice. Onion, fennel stalks, green onion sautéed; deglazed with Muscadet. Halved grape tomatoes and gooseberries, with orange zest, added. Cooked down. Fish stock, [lemon-thyme-cumin-sherry-vinegar-marinated] Castelvetrano olives, pickled jalapeños, capers, bay leaves, parsley, fennel fronds and oregano added. Cooked down. Fish and marinade added, cooked 6 minutes per side, that's how thick the pieces were.

It's a recipe taken from Saveur but is quickly becoming Mrs. Ney's own. She spices and herbs it up more, as sea bass is a meaty fish and can take it without losing its essence. The gooseberry sour-tarty freshness (taking the place of half of the tomatoes in the original prep) added an edge here that will be duplicated in the future. Broadened out the flavors in an admirable way, even accenting the freshness in the olives more instead of their down-and-dirty briny quality, that made it equally as good as May's prep.

Great saffron rice to complement the fish and link up the wine, as saffron and Heredia white feel like two sides of the same coin.

Pea shoot salad to finish that wasn't finished.

Gorgeous plate of food. As good as May.

The pairing didn't match the 2001 but it came close.

Wine: 1996 López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Crianza Viña Gravonia ($23 - WDC)

Grape: 100% Viura (Macabeo by another name and the name of our hotel)
Vintage (WS): 88 Balanced wines with good fruit and firm structure

The 1996 Heredia white was the wine we cut our Heredia teeth on, opening a door in ways to the complexity and breadth of the multitudes of wine styles the world has to offer. Weird, odd, delicious, like nothing we'd ever had and wanted more right away. Drinking something like this for the first time made us ask what else was out there. And white wine became more than just wanting something snappy with good fruit.

Deep, deep, deep gold in the glass. It's been years since we checked in on the 1996 (post #5. There's 291 posts ago! - Geesh!). Honey, nuts and dried fruit with a hollowness at its core last time. This time, brush fire gasoline vapors with maybe an abandoned tire catching some flames underneath defined it for me. Dried pears and quince, touch of old honey, sometimes a bit cottony.

But overall, if drunk blind, with food, this could have been a cabernet franc. A delicious vacillation between black and white pepper with something like asparagus in truffle oil with the sea bass.

I can't say this has a ton of life left. It's becoming somewhat wonky and disjointed around the edges with the structure starting to hang for dear life. But boy is this dying an interesting death.

Pairing:  90  Enough secondary linkage to enjoy its pairing goodness but a Heredia-style freshness was missing

A freshness that Heredia whites offer when they're really humming, I mean. Which is typically 10-15 years after a decent vintage. 20 in good ones and 43 years for the great ones, as we saw with the '68 at Zuni.

Heredia whites don't need the typical acid freshness to be enjoyed in the least. But when pairing them with the complexity, zip, spice and diversity of flavors as we had here, a sturdiness to its acid would have helped counteract the grab-bag of goodness on the plate and help focus the flavors w/r/t the pairing.

We missed some of that. Tons of goodness to be had here, even to recommend. The food created a nice platform to showcase what the '96 had left in its tank. And it was nice to check in on the '96. It's our last bottle and it doesn't look like anybody on Wine-Searcher currently has it. Feels like a small loss there as it has such a big place in our wine world, becoming something of a thread sewn through our progression of getting to know wine.

Maybe we'll see it again in a few weeks.

A Few Notes:

Caprese salad lunch with a 2010 Argiolas ‘Is Argiolas’ Vermentino ($19 - Binny's). Wanted to like this old-vine vermentino from Argiolas as I love their basic vermentino bottling, particularly the 2009. Nice minerals wrapped inside a citrus and pear basket of fruit with a gaseous garbage dump quality that I enjoyed. Like when you drive by the garbage dump out in the country and it mixes with the fresh air. It's about $5 more than the basic bottling and would be interesting to try once a year with what we saw with this drinking, not much more. 2010 has been an odd, off year in my opinion for Sardinian and southern Italian whites. Minerals nice with the food but funky bubbles better with caprese in our world.  Pairing Score: 88

Chakundari chicken thighs, arugula, naan and raita with NV German Gilabert Brut Nature Rosé Cava ($15 - Binny's). Beet-marinated chicken = happy food. This one a bit more tepid in the spice realm, though. The cava, a trepat-grenache blend, was all strawberry, turning to berry with firm bubbles and a long finish. Nice. Cheap. Worth it. Nothing special but not un-special in the least. Good value here in the darker and straight-forward rosé bubbles world. Didn't become magically delicious with the food and didn't greatly enhance flavors but no complaints. Pairing Score: 86 

Asparagus-walnut-dill salad, Explorateur cheese & baguette lunch with 2011 Couly-Dutheil René Couly Chinon Rosé ($17 - Binny's).  Standard cab franc rosé but gets good when it counts. We had a 2007 Couly-Dutheil cabernet franc with Turkish beany surprise, Explorateur and asparagus salad about a year ago for dinner and it was a cab franc explosion of flavors with food to assist that. Eerily similar food and wine here and I don't think we meant to do it. Also, a year ago, during the Turkish beany surprise meal, we were a bit tipsy and nearly booked an impromptu trip to Cleveland to go to Lola. Here's the odd thing. We're going to Cleveland soon to see a favorite comedian and eat at either Lola or Lolita. And we're eating Turkish beany surprise tonight!  Weird, weird stuff. We have rhythms. Anyway. Great link-up with the dill and asparagus as Loire cabernet franc does, turning it into a mighty nice lunch that felt a bit fancy because it was all technically right and proper. Pairing Score: 91 

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