Thursday, October 18, 2012

#304 - Cacio E Pepe With '11 Vera Alvarinho

The biggest reason I continue to do this weird little blog is because there's no end to it.

There's no end to food. No end to wine. No end to pairings.

You can eat and drink everyday from birth to death and not even touch the tip of everything offered by this strange world. It just keeps going! Just abide by a few simple pairing rules and lunch or dinner jettisons itself out of merely lunch or dinner into a pause, a moment, a suspension of the normal flow of the day where the clock, the to-do list and the usual life annoyances no longer register.

Done well and they're tiny vacations.

Every. Day.

Food: Cacio e pepe pasta with arugula salad

Recipe from Saveur. Two alterations. Oregano added and Sardinian pecorino fioretto used in addition to pecorino romano.

Less is more with Italian pasta and that's why it's good. Get too cute, think you're all that, and you've ruined the joy of its simplicity.

And watch how cheap mini-vacation joy can be.

$1 - Trader Joe's spaghetti pasta
$.50 - Trader Joe's Arbequina Olive Oil ($6/bottle)
$.10 - Indian Tellicherry pepper ($5 - Spice House - Evanston)
$1 - Pecorino Romano ($3 - Trader Joe's)
$6 - Pecorino Fioretto Sardinia ($6 - Pastoral)
Free - Oregano from our neighbor's staircase garden

$4 - Jewel organic baby arugula
$1 - Trader Joe's grape tomatoes
$.10 - white balsamic (TJ's)
$.20 - olive oil (TJ's)

(I feel like I'm doing an episode of Sandra Lee's Money-Saving Meals here.)

Grand total of $13.90 for every ingredient, or $6.95 per heaping plate of food.

What we got was a pasta with a perfect starchy ooze that mingled with the fancy/cheap pecorino and fruity Indian black pepper in completely unique ways to us and with a flavor that never came close to getting old. The Sardinian pecorino was a softer style with delicious sheepy depth and bright earth while being the biggest budget buster but entirely worth it. Arugula salad with grape tomatoes, parsley, white balsamic and olive oil to finish. Arugula salad completes meals - settling, cleaning and finishing as only arugula salad does.

So simple but utterly fancy. With a prep time of about 20 minutes to boot.

Cacio e pepe typically wants a Chianti to match its peppery notes and bring some acid to delicately cut through the touch of richness brought by pecorino and that would have been nice. This was brighter pecorino working in the more elegant pecorino realms and Tellicherry pepper isn't just black pepper. This is fruity stuff. Our thought was that a white wine defined by its acid and minerals would play ball here and it most certainly did.

Wine:  2011 Vera Alvarinho ($17.99 - Binny's)

Country: Portugal
Region: Vinho Verde (known for simple, blended, slightly spritzy, lime and green apple-y whites)
Sub-region:  Monção and Melgaço (area where 100% alvarinho bottlings rule the roost)
Alcohol: 12.5%  

There's the simple, picnicky Vinho Verde and then there's Portuguese alvarinho, which is more serious, complex wine of more substance, more elegance that rivals some of the great albariños just across the border in Rías Baixas. Same grapes, similar flavor worlds but distinctive in important ways. Alvarinho is all Portuguese - that delicious, soily, salty, tropical weirdness that only comes from Portugal.

Same expression here and why it's good. Enters with watery, smoky earth, transitions to a swirl of melon, guava, lime, grass and chives, almost similar to a New Zealand sauvignon blanc in ways, and finishes with a sense of place that wasn't sea minerals like expected. This was smoky sea salt mixed with inland, former seabed, fertile soil. Long. Great. Surprising. Delicious.

Pairing:  92  Ever have a great meal out in the restaurant world for about $32? Here's one for home.

I have a particular dislike for the average restaurant $120 meal. You know, that meal where you go out, get a couple appetizers and a couple entrées, whatever bottle of wine marked up three times retail that's acceptable but far from wonderful, leave and think, "Well...I'm not hungry..." That's why we avoid such price points. Too often, it's just that. It's go high or go low. The middle is usually a flabby, dull concoction of boredom.

Especially when all you're really looking for by going out is to taste something you haven't had, eat something made well, try something that surprises.

This meal hit every one of those notes. Food flavors that were simple, complete, made well and surprising. Wine flavors offering the same.

And a pairing that saw the pepper cause the wine to explode while retaining its neatly defined segues. The sheepy pecorino became even more wonderfully sheepy with the wine while oregano became more defined and jumpy with a sip of juice.

A back-and-forth with this pairing that felt...maybe not made in pairing heaven, but interesting, complex, refreshing, good.

Only complaint. A cleansing expected from the alvarinho came up a wee bit short.

With this meal, I had about five different sub-flavors, combos, pairing surprises...newnesses.

All that for a mini-vacation costing $32.

No comments:

Post a Comment