Thursday, January 2, 2014

Black Eyed Peas and Merlot - A Match Made in Heaven?

Boo may have lived North of the 49th Parallel for decades now but, deep down, he's still got some Southern blood flowing through his veins. For years now, it's been a tradition at our home - much like it was in his in his youth - to start the year with black eyed peas and corn bread.

There was a slight problem to 2014's start, however. Boo had to work New Year's Day and that meant that it was left to me to prepare the traditional vittles.

That's some heavy pressure. So, to be on the safe side, I figured I should open a big bottle of wine that might distract Boo's attention if my black eyed peas didn't quite meet expectations.

1511.  2007  Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot (Napa Valley - California)

Duckhorn is one of those brands that I've known about for many a year. It's just not one that's graced my glass much through those years - much to my dismay I found out as we quickly worked our way through this bottle.

Established in 1976, Duckhorn made an early decision to focus on the production of Merlot despite Napa's primary emphasis on Cab Sauv.  At the time, Merlot was primarily seen as a blending grape but co-founders Dan and Margaret Duckhorn thought that valley producers under appreciated Merlot as a varietal wine. The Duckhorns were big fans of wines from St. Emilion and Pomerol and, like the right bank wineries in Bordeaux, they stayed with an emphasis on Merlot. I'm a fan of their viewpoint.

The estate has seven vineyards throughout Napa and, when added to the fruit that the winery buys from independent growers in the Valley, the winery has an abundance of different flavour profiles to work with. Duckhorn produces a number of single vineyard Merlots but this Napa Valley Merlot is a blend of grapes from throughout the valley and is the winery's take on what the valley, as a whole, can do with the Merlot grape. The wine also sees some Cab Sauv (10%) and a touch of Petit Verdot (1%) added to emphasize the depth and structure of the wine.

We certainly see a lot of Merlot emanating from our home vineyards in the Okanagan Valley, but there's no doubt that this was big in comparison - and tasty a one at that. The winery touts "signature flavours of black cherry, plum and spice." I'll just let things rest with that.

Now, I'm far from regretting my choice in wine tonight, but it turns out that I never should have been worried about needing to distract Boo with the wine in the first place. Turns out I could have easily opened a bottle of Two Buck Chuck for dinner and survived any meal proclamations - because even I agreed that these were some damned fine peas.

Now, should the same scenario arise next year, re-creating my peas might be a bit of an issue since I don't know what I did that made them so tasty - but I'm going to take it as a great start to the new year. Fine Peas. Fine wine. Works for me. Here's hoping the rest of 2014 follows suit.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

One Delicious New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve this year was slated to be a simple stay-at-home affair. Boo had to work until 8pm and we figured he'd barely have enough energy for dinner - much less last until midnight for any celebratory treats. When the idea of joining up with Scott and Stephanie Jaeger and The Pear Tree surfaced, we decided to go for it. Why not get pampered by the gang at our favourite restaurant? Turned out that Elzee, Shelback and Chewbacca thought it was a damned fine idea as well - plus Elzee hoped that her cousin, Swiss Miss, could join in. Luckily Scott and Stephanie were able to stretch our reservation for two into six and the night was set.

The ladies came over for a cocktail as we waited for Boo to get home from work and I figured we might as well kick off the evening in the same manner as it would likely end - with bubbles.

1506.  N.V. Bisol - Crede Spumante Brut (Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG - Italy)

I must have been unconsciously saving this bottle for a special occasion because I wouldn't normally have a bottle of Prosecco lying around for a couple of years but I picked up this "rarity" (at least in our market) a couple of years back at the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Bisol was one of the participating wineries in 2012 and their Crede (named after the marine sandstone subsoil found in the nearby countryside) made the cut for bottles that I needed to slip into the "cellar" without Boo noticing.

The good news was that I'd identified a winner back at the Festival. The bad news was that Boo was delayed at work (New Year's Eve or not) and, by the time he'd made it home, we'd needed to head off to the restaurant without him and the Prosecco had long been polished off. Luckily, Boo was able to join us at The Pear Tree before they needed to start serving the fixed menu.

1507.  1999 Pol Roger Brut Extra Cuvée de Réserve (Champagne AOC - France)

Vintage Champagne doesn't often make it into my drinking glass but I'd been given this bottle as a gift and, again, I figured there are only so many special occasions on our calendar, so why not pop the cork with great friends during a gourmet dinner. Boo and I like to take advantage of BYO options when they're available but I figure we should only pull out some of the big guns if we're going to do so. I think vintage Champagne counts. I was aware of the Pol Roger name and brand but I don't recall ever having had a bottle before.

We toasted the evening with the classic biscuit-y wine with our first two courses for the evening: Roasted Celeriac Foam Soup and Cured Rainbow Trout.

1508.  2011 Belle Glos - Clark & Telephone Pinot Noir (Santa Maria Valley - Santa Barbara County - California)

We'd matched the Belle Glos Pinot with our next course of Duck Confit with Baby Pea Risotto. I've got a few favourite dishes - that I can never get enough of - coming out of Scott's kitchen and this combination is right up with the best of them. Every bite was sublime and the Pinot, while rich and expansive by local standards, was a marvellous accompaniment.

Scott could have delivered three servings of this dish and I'd have left wanting more. Here's hoping that the dish doesn't remain a one-off special for New Year's Eve.

1509.  2004 Chateau Kirwan Grand Cru Classé (Margaux AOC - Bordeaux - France)

Keeping up with our theme of top notch wines, we brought out the Kirwan - one of the fourteen wineries categorized as Troisième Crus or Third Growth in the historic Bordeaux Classification of 1855. With only five First Growth and fourteen Second Growth wineries "ahead" of them, I think it's fair to consider the Kirwan to be a little more than a standard Tuesday night wine. Pairing it with Roasted Ribeye, Braised Short Rib and Caramelized Scallops didn't hurt either.

The evening just flew by and we were barely into our cheese course before we needed to pull out the celebratory accoutrements for midnight. We'd somehow managed to polish off the Bordeaux and figured we'd need a little something bubbly to ring in the new year. You might have thought that we should pop the cork on a big gun come midnight but we figured that we were already well into our cups (and our wine budget) and that we might as well grab a simple bottle since we were likely beyond the nuances of fine Champagne.

1510.  N.V. Chandon Brut Classic (California)

Turned out that the restaurant served up a rather nice alternative to Champagne. Domaine Chandon is the California branch of iconic French producer Moët et Chandon and it's certainly fit the bill as a good value bubble to toast the new year.

Some Valrhona Chocolate infused with Earl Grey Tea wasn't the shabbiest of ways to kick in a new year either.

Somehow Boo's and my simple New Year's Eve at home had morphed into a wonderful evening of great friends, laughs and tasty bites. One heckuva fine way to finish off one year and to start another. I can only hope that the rest of 2014 is full of similar good times.

And I need to resolve to get me some more of that duck confit and pea risotto!