It is early Saturday evening, and Jeff and I are engaged in a purely intellectual activity: we are taking a Capital Wine School class “Wines of the Rhone Valley”.
For $85, you get to taste through 10-plus pretty fabulous, hedonistic wines selected by MW (Master of Wine) Jay Youmans. The lineup featured such gems as 2009 Nicolas Perrin Condrieu, 2006 Domaine de Marcoux Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 2008 Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Saint-Joseph, 2005 Alan Voge Cornas “Les Vielles Vignes”, 2005 Patrick Jasmin Cote-Rotie, and 2007 Jean-Louis Chave Selection “Farconnet” Hermitage. I immediately fell in love with the two J.L. Chave wines…
I must say that summer is my hands-down favorite season, but it is not till late fall/early winter that I start craving those brooding, spicy, animalistic Syrahs from Northern Rhone that taste like sizzling bacon… I do sometimes see advantages to other seasons 🙂
Quite understandably, we had to satisfy the munchies from the wine tasting (and of course, felt compelled to continue enjoying Rhones with dinner :-)). A quick impromptu menu followed, inspired by the latest offerings from the Dupont Circle farmer’s market. Unfortunately, it is fair to say the selection will only be going downhill till the market’s rebirth in spring…
Watermelon radish, pink peppercorn and watercress salad.
Nothing like wildly bright colors to lift one’s spirits! This salad packs a number of sensory surprises (intensely aromatic and fruity pink peppercorns, sweet-and-slightly bitter radishes, peppery watercress). The selection of winter radishes and turnips in the farmer’s market last weekend was nothing short of amazing; there were a dozen different varieties, with a strong emphasis on oriental strains: daikons, watermelon, Black Spanish Round, Sakurajima, Chinese radishes, a few hybrids, and the last of summer radishes such as French breakfast.
Oven-roasted Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes, with walnuts and parsley (and a squeeze of lemon). Sunchokes boast lots of savory character (umami), and they are super easy to work with, What’s not to love?
Tomato-based pasta with fried Corno di Toro Italian heirloom peppers. I simply love Corno di Toro, – a fantastic sweet pepper with a complex flavor; sadly, those were the very last ones of the season. NB: I was feeling lazy, and Rao’s homemade marinara sauce came to the rescue.
We washed it all down with 2002 Cote-Rotie “La Sarrasine” Domaine de Bonserine (snatched at WholeFoods for $19.99!). This wine is all about roasted coffee, tar, dried herbs, smoky bacon, and of course, tasty dark fruit compote (plums and figs, as evidenced by a little “component” tasting with a brandied fig preserves from Country Pleasures Farm). It is both intense and elegant; at a mere 12.5%, it is not excessively alcoholic like some Cote-Rotie specimens. It still cries for a roasted piece of meat, but it is plenty satisfying with all-vegetarian fare. To get the affinity, you just have to create a deliberate connection between the food and the wine: through earthy nuts and root vegetables; intense fruitiness of peppers, peppercorns and radishes; acidity from tomato sauce and lemon; dried herbs in the sauce, freshly ground black pepper on sunchokes and pasta, slightly charred pieces of walnuts and peppers…That is “all the beauty you will ever need”.
2002 Cote-Rotie “La Sarrasine” Domaine de Bonserine (snatched at WholeFoods for $19.99!). You got a Cote-Rotie for $19.99? Wow!
Oh yeah! I remember from back in the industry days that WF had pretty small margins on some nice bottles (plus they squeezed out all they could from the reps). On top of that, sometimes they do closeouts like this one (another example – last year I got a kick-ass old beautiful single-vineyard Savennieres for under $20). WF’s in the DC area are also comparatively autonomous, so you never know what you are going to get. It is not my primary wine shopping location by any means (just convenient), and not as much fun as bin-diving at MacArthur Liquors, where sometimes you can find older premier- and grand crus Burdundies in the $20-40 range.