Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fish Cakes, Chermoula, Beet-Carrot Salad & Dill Rice With 2010 Forlorn Hope La Gitana Torrontés

We drink well in Chicago.

The selection has been fine enough in many respects. Most of the time, we feel lucky to be offered more than so many places in the country.

Then I read Jon Bonné's book, The New California Wine, and I got a bit irritated again. I go wine shopping now and (again) all I can think about is how there's so much sameness on the shelves in the city.

So when we took a trip to Lush recently and saw a bottle of Forlorn Hope Torrontés on the shelf, even if it was a 2010, I bought it.

Bonné wrote about Matthew Rorick (Chronicle profile here) and Forlorn Hope in that book. I'd heard of the name, never tried any of his wines, and certainly wanted to after reading Rorick enjoys making small-production wines from grapes rarely grown in California.

That's one of our wine loves, drinking wine from grapes not typically grown in a particular wine region.

"California torrontés? What? Put it in the cart!"

And we drank it with food that Mrs. Ney never thought would be this delicious while she was making it.

Food: Shrimp and tilapia fish cakes, chermoula, beet-carrot salad, beet greens and dill rice

Fish ball recipe (page 196) from Claudia Roden's The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, turned into fish cakes, using shrimp, which brought a great meatiness, and tilapia, which served as a fresh, rounded-out filler. These were beefy cakes, yet maintained a delicacy. Perfect textural fish cake. Shrimp, tilapia, eggs, pepper, coriander, ginger, cayenne, garlic, breadcrumbs, cilantro, flour. Made into cakes. Pan-fried instead of deep-fried.

Chermoula from the same recipe book (page 180). A hot, spicy, garlicky mixture indeed. Played off the cakes in new and great ways. Garlic, cilantro, cumin, paprika, cayenne, olive oil, lemon. Blended.

Roasted beets, sliced, coated with chermoula. Shredded carrots and scallions with orange blossom water and mint. Combined. Liked it. Gremolata'd beets are the perfect business, though.

Dill rice that tasted out of place, surprisingly, but the dill had to be used.

Sautéed beet greens underneath. Big pile of parsley in the middle of the plate.

We thought it would be fine and good. Ended up being much more than that. We kinda loved this.

And the wine played with the food in a strangely awesome way, like flowers and seawater jumping around everywhere. Flowers in the wine and the all the floral spices used. And like everything had spritzy fresh seawater in it. That's the only way I can describe it.

Wine: 2010 Forlorn Hope La Gitana Torrontés Silvaspoons Vineyard Alta Mesa ($21 - Lush)

Only 187 cases made. From Silvaspoons Vineyard, Alta Mesa, in the north of Lodi. Silvaspoons is home to a big mix of red Portuguese grapes as well (that note is mostly for us), along with the usual Lodi grapes, verdelho and a tiny bit of torrontés. 20 in all.

Big basket of alive, dying and dead white flowers without being overly floral. A freshness still remained with an salt-acid play that felt closer together and defined by each other more than most Argentinian torrontés expressions, if that makes any sense. Not salty in the least. And I was wrong when I bought it. Life still remains here. Pretty, light lemony citrus and faint apricot notes, restrained and happy. Three act play for the most part. Surprising. Sunny. Well-made Californian feel, like it MUST be drunk on a sunny, clear day and that day will be made all the better. Reminded me of the Elizabeth Spencer Sauvignon Blanc we had at C Casa Taqueria in Napa a few years ago. That day was a gorgeously clear, sunny, 75-degree day and that wine really brought that into focus (cheese-ball? Yes. True? Yes).

The other, turned bottle in the photo above is the 2012 Lima Loureiro Vinho Verde from João Portugal Ramos, a cheap house favorite that's also a lightly floral bottled wonder. We kept going back to the Forlorn Hope, though. Its newness, deliciousness and surprise made this meal that much better.

Pairing: Yep. Uh-huh. More. Always.

The Forlorn Hope brought "the lovely" perfectly with the fish cakes. Stellar match. The Lima mopped up all the other goodness to be had in the pairing world, but it served as more of a warm-up act to the star of the show in the Forlorn Hope.

On a day when the windows were open all day for the first time in months, this meal seemed a perfect match to fresh air and hints of spring. That's more of the embrace of my 40-something sappy waxing.

Don't care.  This is Good.

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