As this is the last weekend before Lent, we pushed the boat right out. Butter basted Wagyu beef ribeye steaks and Three Cheese Hasselback Potatoes. If you looked up decadence in the dictionary, it would have this meal's picture in the definition. Green vegetables, you ask? For once my view that green vegetables are not food, but rather what food eats, prevailed.
To drink I opened one of my two bottles of the 1997 Ridge Monte Bello. I last had this wine at a restaurant in 2007, when it was a tannic beast. An additional ten years of bottle age transformed it into a mellow and amiable companion. Ruby red in color. Strong bouquet of cassis, blackberry, tobacco, leather, and anise. On the palate, the tannins have softened considerably. Indeed, the texture is now velvety smooth. Lingering finish. A truly great wine at its peak.
(No. I don't know why Typepad sometimes flips the photos on their side. Grumble.)
This 100% Cabernet Franc is sourced from a small patch of 5 year old vines in Ridge's famous Monte Bello Vineyard. Deep purple-ruby. No sediment yet. Pleasant aroma of dark berry fruit, anise, and coffee. On the palate, the tannins are firm but not oppressive. They come through especially on the lingering finish, where they have a distinct puckering effect. Blackberry jam, cassis, anise, and leather. Will improve but drinkable now.
This Loire Valley Cabernet Franc is a balanced, light-bodied red wine that lacks the depth and richness of a truly great wine but makes a yummy match for a casual bistro-style meal. (In this case, Gordon Ramsay's steak sandwich.)
Deep dark ruby. No sediment thrown to speak of.
Strong nose of blackberry, blueberry, and spices. On the palate, there are modest and soft tannins. Blackberry and blueberry again with a streak of minerals. Not a wine for the cellar but at just $15 per bottle, it's a great choice for near term drinking.
This blend of 88% Zinfandel, 8% Petite Sarah, and 4% Carignane from an old vines vineyard in Sonoma made a nice match for stir-fry flank steak with carrots and snow peas.</a>This blend of 88% Zinfandel, 8% Petite Sarah, and 4% Carignane from an old vines vineyard in Sonoma made a nice match for stir-fry flank steak with carrots and snow peas.
Deep purple. Almost no sediment. Dark fruit and warm spices on the nose. Well balanced and medium bodied. Drinkable now, but might improve with a couple of years of bottle age.
This year the Range 30 West red wine is 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc. Despite being just 4 years and a couple of months old, it had thrown a ton of sediment. I had not decanted it, but strongly recommend doing so unless you want the last glass to be sludge!
The bouquet suggests cherries, dried Italian herbs, and cassis. The palate follows the nose, suggesting rich red and black fruit with a dash of spice. Nice food wine.
1 medium carrot, scrubbed, cut lengthwise, and then cut into big chunks
1 rib celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, whole
1 cup red wine
1-½ beef broth
1 cup chicken broth
½ tablespoon soy sauce
½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
Season oxtails on all sides with salt and pepper. Brown on all sides in a large skillet over medium heat. Transfer to your trusty Cuisinart slow cooker. Add a couple of teaspoons of olive oil to the pan, return it to the heat, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until vegetables turn translucent and are just beginning to brown at the edges. Add vegetables to slow cooker. Deglaze the pan with wine and reduce by half. Add wine, broths, sauces, and bay leaf. Set to high. Cook for 4-5 hours.
Remove oxtails from slow cooker. Pour the broth through a fine mesh sieve into a clean container. Transfer broth to a fat separator, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. (Discard vegetables)
Once oxtails have cooled, remove and shred the meat. Put the meat in a glass bowl with a cover and refrigerate. Discard bones.
3 ounces diced pancetta
White and light green parts of one leek, cleaned and diced
2 cloves garlic minced
6 brown mushrooms
Sauté pancetta in a non-stick skillet until it begins to brown and has rendered its fat. Add leeks. Sauté until they begin to wilt and take on some color. Add mushrooms and sauté for about 6-8 minutes or until they are soft and have given up all their liquid. Add garlic and season with salt, pepper, a pinch or two of Italian herbs. Sauté for about 45 seconds. Transfer to glass bowl with the meat.
Meanwhile, reconstitute 1 ounce porcini mushrooms in hot water. Drain, rinse, and chop into medium dice. Add to glass bowl.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water seasoned with salt to the boil. Cook 10-12 or so baby potatoes and 1 carrot cut into quarter-inch coins for about 15 minutes. Drain and add to glass bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of Wondra to glass bowl and mix thoroughly.
About 30 minutes before dinner pour the stock off the fat into a large pot, discarding the latter. Bring to a boil. Add contents of glass bowl. Stir and reduce heat to a low simmer.Top with fresh chives and serve.
To drink I poured a Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) 2002. On decanting off moderate sediment, it showed a lovely ruby with just the slightest hint of brick at the very edge. The bouquet suggested blackberry, black cherry, and blackcurrant, with a dash of leather and cedar. Ditto the palate. Soft smooth tannins. Drink now. Grade: 93
PS: I can't figure out why TypePad insists on rotating the image. Grumble.
Christmas dinner was a couple of Rock Cornish game hens pretending they were turkeys with corn bread dressing and the other usual accompaniments. I like Pinot Noir with poultry and Sea Smoke is my favorite Pinot Noir producer (sorry my friends at Foxen, you are a very close second), so the 2008 Botella seemed a likely choice. And it worked out well.
It had thrown enough sediment to justify decanting, which I did about 45 minutes before dinner. A lovely medium ruby with decent legs. Good bouquet of red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, earth, and warm spices. On the palate, it is a delicious and very well balanced wine. Good red fruit character. Very clean. Soft smooth tannins. Oaky vanilla on the finish. Drinking really well now but probably at peak. Grade: 92
Christmas Eve dinner was prime rib roast for which the 1999 Gruaud-Larose made a wonderful match. Despite having thrown a substantial amount of sediment, the wine was still quite a deep ruby. Complex bouquet of blackcurrant, blackberry, cedar, leather, and earth. On the palate, there is still a lot of dark fruit, but also leather, cedar, spice, and earth. Long finish. Well integrated tannins. Perfect balance of alcohol, tannins, and acid. For a wine from a middling vintage, it showed quite well. Grade: 93
Simple dinner tonight of a grilled flat iron steak with Caesar salad. The Beaumont made a lovely match. Pretty aromas of blueberry and blackberry. On the palate, the wine is well balanced with ideal acidity and smooth tannins to make it a great food wine. Some smoke and earth on the finish add complexity. Hard to resist now but could age in interesting ways. Grade: 89
Like Usha Rodrigues, I'm a big fan of Cook's Illustrated and the rest of the American test Kitchen family. Christopher Kimball, however, not so much. I always found him a bit too prissy and pretentious. In any case, Usha reports that:
It depends. Do not brine a ButterBall or similar brand turkey, because it has already been injected with a salt and spice treated fluid. People will tell you not to brine a frozen bird or one that's been water cooled. But Alton Brown actually defrosts his frozen turkeys by submerging them in a brine, which is good enough for me.
Here's my recipe for a fresh (or defrosted) 14-lb bird:
Make six ice packs by filling quart zip-lock bags with water and freezing over night.
Put 8 pounds of ice and three ice packs in a cooler.
Start brine with 3 quarts filtered water, 2 12-oz. beers, and 1 cup bourbon in a large pan or Dutch oven.
Bring to a boil.
Add 1 cup pickling salt (it dissolves better), 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, and 1 tablespoon onion powder. Stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
Put the following into a cheesecloth bag: 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, 1 bayleaf, 1 sprig rosemary, 1 sprig sage, 3-4 garlic cloves. Add bag and 2 halved lemons to brine. Pour brine into cooler and stir until temperature drops to icy.
Put thoroughly rinsed bird into brine. Make sure it is fully submerged. if not, add additional water into which you have dissolved 4 tablespoons of pickling salt per quart.
Allow to sit overnight. First thing in the morning you need to check temperature of the water. If it's above 40 degrees, add more ice packs. (Don't add ice, which would dilute brine.)
Remove bird from cooler and very thoroughly rinse it. Rinse out cooler and fill with 2 gallons icy water. Return bird to cooler for 30 minutes. Remove, rinse again, drain, and pat thoroughly dry. Do not stuff with stuffing. (Ditto re Alton Brown.) Instead add 1 sliced onion, 1 sliced apple, 1 sliced lemon, a bay leaf, and a few garlic cloves to the cavity.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. I start with the bird breast side down in a roasting pan with a rack. After 30 minutes, I flip the bird over and reduce the heat to 350 degrees. After about 90 minutes, I use an instant read meat thermometer to take the bird's temperature. Make sure the probe does not touch the bones. I want the thigh meat to hit 170 degrees. Carryover heat will bump it up 5-10 degrees.
Let turkey rest at least 30 minutes before carving. Do not skip this step.
If you make a pan gravy with the drippings, note that they will be saltier than those from an unbridled bird. Use a low sodium stock and taste carefully before adding any additional salt to the gravy. Note that using Wonder flour to thicken the gravy rather than making a roux is a useful shortcut.
Many years ago I did one of my first blog posts on what wine to drink at Thanksgiving, suggesting Zinfandel should be your choice:
In the first place, the turkey is not what determines the choice of wine for Thanksgiving dinner. All those powerful sweet flavors (yams with little marshmallows) competing with equally potent savory flavors (herbed stuffing) are what has to drive your choice. Zinfandel's spicy berry flavors and mellow tannins are going to match up to the classic Thanksgiving fare than would, say, the steely tannins and currant and cedar flavors of a good Cabernet Sauvignon. In the second place, the dark meat of a good free range turkey has plenty of flavor to stand up to a zinfandel. In the third place, if you want to show off the wine, roast turkey - like roast chicken - is an great blank canvas against which the wine will show brilliantly (this is something I do not recommend for Thanksgiving, when I think the wine should be a condiment rather than the star, due to the presence of all those other dishes with their complicated flavors, but its worth keeping in mind).
In a 2004 TCS column I elaborated, observing that:
Assuming a gathering of friends but not of wine snobs, you want good wines that will complement the food but not be the star attraction. Anyway, star attraction wines -- well aged clarets, cabernets, or burgundies -- don't mesh well with Thanksgiving Day.
Granted, roast turkey would go well with most wines. Turkey is not quite as much of a blank canvas as roast chicken, as it has stronger flavors and a firmer texture, but it still will work well with most wines.
Instead, the problem children at the table are all the other things we eat at Thanksgiving. You have a lot of strong and diverse flavors with which to deal. Worse yet, you've got both sweet and savory items, sometimes in the very same dish: herbed stuffing, yams with those little marshmallows, cranberry in some form, and (lord help us) Jello molds. No fine claret or burgundy should have to compete with little marshmallows.
Which led me back to Zinfandel and a Ridge Lytton Springs or Geyserville Zinfandel-based wine with some age on it has been my standard Thanksgiving wine for many years.
But this year the WSJ suggests going a different route and I'm more or less persuaded:
Our radical plan to make Turkey-Day even more delicious? Pair your Thanksgiving meal—from start to finish—with sparkling wines: Champagne, Prosecco or Cava. Here’s how to pull it off. ...
Sparkling wine happens to be particularly well-suited to the Thanksgiving table—and I’m not only talking about the pre-dinner toast. The bubbles provide a lively counterbalance to the rich flavors and general heaviness of the meal (although they won’t necessarily counteract the turkey-induced tryptophan fatigue). Think Prosecco or Cava. Or, better yet, think rosé Champagne, which has the weight of a red wine with the liveliness of a white—and bubbles that lend a more festive note.
I'm on board with the bubbles. But then the article goes off the rails by recommending all sorts of foreign wines. And that's where I get off the train. As I observed all those years ago:
While lots of countries have some sort of thanksgiving holiday, Thanksgiving -- with a capital T -- is a quintessentially American holiday. So I start narrowing down the field with a basic proposition: Only American wines on the Thanksgiving table.
This has been my hard and fast rule for many years. And that seems especially appropriate this year with all the talk of nationalism in the air. Even a Davos-loving, globe trotting, citizen of the world should be okay with a little wine chauvinism.
This gives us a lot of choices. Schramsberg rose would be a nice choice for the main meal, with their cremant for dessert. J Schram would be a great choice if you're going to push the boat right out. Argyle (Oregon) and Iron Horse would be good choices too.
But here's a real wild card: Sparkling red zinfandel. Long time readers readers will recall my love affair with Australian sparkling shiraz:
Now we come to my favorite fast food and the ideal match. I love NY- style pepperoni pizza with extra cheese. It's a tough match for wine. You've got the bread of the crust, the acidic and often rather sweet tomato sauce, the salty meat, the rich and unctuous cheese. You need an acidic wine to slice through the fats, big flavors to stand up to the salt and tomatoes, and something to scrub the palate. In my book, the ideal match is a good Australian sparkling shiraz. It has all the requisite attributes. Indeed, if you can literally feeling your arteries clogging as you eat a good pizza, you can also feel a good sparkling red wine cleaning them out. It's the roto-rooter of Wine matches.
The same qualities would make an interesting (although perhaps too forward) match for Thanksgiving. Sadly, there aren't a lot of US versions, but Schug and Picchetti make sparkling red Zinfandels in the style of Australian sparkling shiraz.
As I assessed the state of my cellar, however, there was one obvious choice: 2012 Sea Smoke Sea Spray LD sparkling wine. It's mostly Pinot Noir, which makes a nice match for this meal. Medium weight with nice strawberry and black cherry fruit, with toast and nuts on the finish. This is the late disgorged version, which ramps up the yeast flavors and adds a lot of complexity. Good acidity and tons of very small bubbles refresh the palate.