Sunday, January 5, 2014

Neyers Vineyards Spotlight - Grilled Sirloin Skewers, Posole and Grilled Rapini With 2010 Neyers Mourvèdre

Jon Bonné's new book, The New California Wine: A Guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste, is doing something to me.

While it's certainly connecting loose nuggets, disconnected facts and vague geographical notions collected while drinking and reading about California wine, it's also debunking some lazy prejudices that have metastasized in my brain over the years.

It's been a flurry of "What? Nooo. He's that guy?" and "Well...that's explains why we liked both of those wines. The same person made them!"

Neyers winery, located on Sage Canyon Road north of Napa proper and east of St. Helena, has been one of those California wineries we've loved recently but only had vague ideas about.

Opened in 1991 and run by Bruce and Barbara Neyers, Bruce worked for Joseph Phelps for years before starting Neyers while, in that same year, taking a position as the national sales rep at Kermit Lynch, a position he still holds. Barbara worked as a chef and then manager at Chez Panisse. Tadeo Borchardt is the current winemaker (the Chronicle did a nice profile of him last year).

If you want to know what goes into the wine you're drinking, Neyers wines are a good place to start, not expensive in the least and frequently on sale around Chicago. They're quite open about their philosophy, along with the fact that they make a wide variety of wines to express it. Organically grown grapes, tight rows, ambient yeasts, no fining or filtration, hand-picked and foot crushing are the goal - inspired by Bruce Neyers's working with French producers at Kermit Lynch - with a good portion of their estate-grown grapes reaching that, and a keen eye on such things from their sourced vineyards in Sonoma, Contra Costa and Lodi, among others.

Cabernet and chardonnay are their moneymakers so they can play around with other goodies, it seems, which is where our hearts sit. Syrah, carignane, mourvèdre, zinfandel, merlot, grenache, pinot noir and blends bring the fun; grapes they can experiment with and find a happy expression. The 2010 Sage Canyon Red, a grenache, syrah, mourvèdre and carignane blend, was a recent favorite with post-grill marinade hanger steak and jalapeño-corn pierogis. A 2009 Syrah Old Lakeville Road with duck leg confit, tea-smoked lentils and beet salad came off a bit disjointed but had a quiet grace to it that's made me curious about the other bottle we have on hand.

As I said, their wines are frequently and inexplicably on sale all over town. The Sage Canyon Red was bought for a patently ridiculous $12 at Binny's (this is not a commercial. I repeat...). The Syrah at $20, a price we've been screaming for when wanting a nice value syrah with distinction.

The 2010 Neyers Mourvèdre Evangelho Vineyard Contra Costa County ($35 - Binny's), served with grilled sirloin skewers, posole and grilled rapini last night, offered the same sort of slowness and pause that comes with quality wine, allowing us to take in all the layers instead of assaulting your mouth and rushing to the finish. Here, with this meal, we found a happy-slappy surprise dinner when Mrs. Ney's initial thoughts were "let's just get this over with."

After the hominy for the posole took twelve freakin' hours to cook earlier in the week and she had to abort the Italian-Mexican lamb osso buco with posole idea, Mrs. Ney, in a "well, we have to eat it!" mood, tossed it in with grilled sirloin skewers and grilled rapini to create a meat-starch-veg dinner with no ideas towards reaching great heights. Sirloin? We don't eat sirloin. It tastes like summer patio food from my childhood. ...always chewy. Why sirloin when there's hanger, flat-iron, skirt and other cuts in this world? TV one day last week said it was cheap and takes a marinade well. Let's give it another roll and see, was the thought.

Turned out better than expected, took the [bay, garlic, white wine, butter] marinade nicely and served as a nice meat accompaniment to the posole and rapini on the plate. Perfect blanch and grill of the rapini, turning it into an explosion of rapini goodness. An altered posole, in that it wasn't a soup and more like cooked hominy with a reduction of the soup part into a ancho-mulato-pasilla-rosemary sauce, and it was stupid delicious. Anyone want some, because we have MORE in a very large sense. This turned into a delicious meat-starch-veg meal with happy surprises that came off perfectly light yet filling.

The mourvèdre offered the space to enjoy the food while adding happy perks of fancy tobacco, spicy dark earth and ripe yet savory black fruits. It was a wine that slowed itself down as it went down. Had a nice pace, allowing us to enjoy this...that...and the other without having to experience THISTHATOTHER all loudly mashed together. This was a great coda away from me flipping my lid over it, as the finish was a wee touch gritty and short.

Sorta loved this meal, which was a shock, and the wine helped with that, playing with the posole in a "what the hell?" ways while lining up with the sirloin properly, taking it down the mourvèdre-like dark, deep and delicious hole. The rapini made the wine take a sharp turn into kinda-great herb territory, adjusting well. A couple of times during the meal, both of us said, "This is pretty great meal," because it was a textbook simple meal that never tasted simple in the least.    

It's good to find a producer you like and then find out they do things honestly and right-like.

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