Friday, March 28, 2014

Quick Hits

Three meals, three $20 wines.

Many people think $20 is the sweet spot for wine - that place where quality meets price.

I think that's mostly true. Sometimes though, that $20 place can leave you wanting more from the wine. Just a touch more. It's so close.

Here's three.

Meal #1: Celery root brandade and fennel-blood orange salad with 2012 Mark Herold Acha Blanca Albariño California ($21 - Binny's)

Jacques Pepin brandade, swapping out most of the red potatoes for celery root, just for funnies, and using rice milk instead of dairy. The result was a lighter, less POTATO!-y brandade with subtle hints of celery root mingling with salt pollack (Devon Market) in pleasant ways. Fennel-blood orange salad mixed with arugula and topped with pecorino. We loved this salad before mixing it with the arugula. Big blast of licorice freshness. The arugula took that down a notch. But this salad will see a lot of play this summer if blood oranges are somehow still around. Baguette to dip and dunk. Happy meal here.

We liked the Mark Herold Albariño. Pleasing and defined layers here. Lychee notes and grapefruit acid upfront, followed by a lime-grass number, finishing with a pucker of more tropical citrus juice. Tasted like higher-elevation (?) albariño where the flavor-acid mix wander into less typical varietal notes with nice nooks and crannies that surprise. But it just missed that place where we wanted to impulsively keep going back for more. The absence of a seaside seawater spritz that would have lightened up certain crannies and nooks made it feel more weighty than it could have been. We liked this, but it felt more 'evoking of the variety' than evocative of something bigger. Best with the brandade. Flat-ish with the salad.

Meal #2: Hanger steak, potato pierogis, charred onions and chopped tomatoes with 2011 Maison Bleue Jaja Yakima Valley ($19 - Binny's)

A very Cleveland meal, both the good and rather ordinary of that. Medium-rare hanger steak with standard house soy/Worcestershire-based marinade. Roasted onions, fresh chopped tomatoes, parsley dumped over all of it. The food felt like it was missing something. Cinnamon. Mrs. Ney thought cinnamon.

'Jaja' is French for an everyday wine, and this wine hits in that realm. The wine DOES has a carbonic maceration quality to it and a seamless texture and transitions, as its WA review says. It tasted like a fresher, more lifting version of the Domaine des Tours Vaucluse in many ways. The Vaucluse is grenache-forward while this one is more syrah-forward followed by mourvèdre and grenache, but in texture and pleasure, they play many of the same tunes. Washington nails freshness of fruit with an earthy balance and this one shows that. Pretty darker cherry notes intermingled with licorice and earth. I have more fond memories of this wine after drinking it than the joy I found during, though. I fondly remember the great texture. But I also remember the clipped finish that would have helped this meal feel broader, longer and less...perfunctory. One more bottle left. I could be wrong.

Meal #3: Pizza Art Café of Pugliese, Diavola and Pesto pizzas with 2011 Quinta do Vallado Tinto Douro ($18 - Binny's)

This meal doesn't necessarily fit into the theme here, as this Vallado Tinto barked at much of the pizza only because it's still a bit too young. With the Tintos from Vallado, their $20 offering, letting things flesh out, particularly if it's from a great vintage as 2011 was in the Douro, is prudent. Six years after  a great vintage seems to be the zone in our world (2007 was perfect in 2013). 3-4 years for decent ones. I don't know. Just give them a wee bit more time than you'd think the basic bottling should need. They hit a perfect Portuguese place that defines why they're so good. Vallado does it better than any other Portuguese reds in this price range that we've had.

That's what we found here. The 2011 needs time for the tannins to move out of the way and allow the beautifully dry savory fruit with earth and Asian spice to show through. Grizzly right now. Still a nice amount of pleasure to give right now but this will get infinitely better. Oddly great with certain Diavola bites. How, I do not know. I thought it would be spectacular with the cream sauce and smoked beef on the Pugliese but it fell flat. The 2007 was stunning with a near-identical pizza spread from Pizza Art last year. This 2011 promises to do the same. It just needs time.  

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