leave your inhibitions at the door
It’s that time again. As I mentioned in my previous Wine Cellar Cleaning post, I have a whole bunch of wines I need to drink before they go south. When I started collecting in 2000, I zeroed in on Bordeaux as they typically had good staying power. 2000 was a terrific year for Bordeaux and some of the better ones will get better over the next 10-15 years. But I had my doubts on these…
First, a little Sommelier 101 – A lot of people are intimidated by French (and other Old World) wines simply because of how the wines are labeled. Or, I should say, how they’re NOT labeled. New World wines (e.g. California, Chile, Australia) will tell you exactly what grapes are in the wine – Chardonnay, Shiraz, etc. French wines, by contrast, are organized by appellation, or location. In France, you don’t go into Le Wine Shop and buy a bottle of Merlot or Chardonnay. Instead, you buy wine based on where it’s made – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Languedoc, etc. The French have strict rules on what can be grown in those areas. If you’re in Burgundy drinking a red wine, it can’t be anything but Pinot Noir. In Bordeaux, you’ll know that the wine will contain Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, and/or Carmenere. Producers will use combinations of these to come up with a wine that fits their desired flavor profile.
Confused yet? Whether it’s Old World or New World a good rule of thumb is that the smaller the area, the better the wine. For instance, when you go to Trader Joe’s and buy that crappy Two-buck Chuck, it’ll say “California” on it. For a little more money, you’ll find a wine that says “Central Coast”, which will be better. Then again, horse urine will taste better than Two-buck Chuck. Wines from Napa Valley will be better, and then ones from Howell Mountain or a specific vineyard will be the best. So in France, a label that says “St Emilion” is going to be better than “Bordeaux”.
I tell you all this because the two bottles of wine I opened up were simple “Bordeaux” appellation. Don’t get me wrong, they’re way better than Chuck, but probably wouldn’t be good for too much longer.
What we drank
2000 Chateau Recougne
This had a rich red color to it, with some orange hues that indicated its age. On the nose I got cherry, leather, some cedar and herbs. It was dry, medium-bodied, and a nice restrained mouthfeel (not jammy). Age did catch up with it as the tannins were really light and the finish didn’t linger. This would’ve been better 4-5 years ago.
2000 Chateau Haut La Pereyre
This one was definitely better than the other. The color was deeper and more purplish indicating more concentration of fruit. A quick whiff of this and I got cherries, plum, cedar, leather, and some earthy notes. This was dry, with slightly more body, and well-balanced. The tannins were still firm and the finish lingered a little. I think if I had this 4-5 years ago, I would’ve thought it to be too fruit-forward. It’s drinking well now and will continue to do so for another 2-3 years. Lucky for me, I have a few more bottles.
What we ate
What better to serve with classic French wine, than classic French bistro food – Brandade, Salad, and Steak Frites.
Brandade is made with salt cod, potatoes, and olive oil and served with bread. I couldn’t find any salt cod here, so I used this recipe that calls for smoked trout.
The steak itself was hanger steak, which is probably one of my favorite cuts. Although it’s one of the cheapest, when prepared correctly is one of the most flavorful. The key is to not cook it past medium; anything more and it gets tough. Simply salt and pepper it and cook it in a skillet (preferably cast iron) for about 4-5 minutes on each side for a one-inch thick steak.
For the fries, tradition calls for adding beef suet to the oil or frying in pure duck fat. Suet’s hard to come by and duck fat can be expensive in large quantities. It’s perfectly fine to just use regular canola or peanut oil.
1 – Cut 2 pounds of peeled, russet potatoes into batons (I used a mandoline speed and uniformity).
2 – Soak the cut potatoes in salted water for at least an hour or two to get the starches out. If possible, change the water halfway through.
3 – Drain and pat dry the potatoes and fry in batches in oil heated to 375 degrees.
4 – Remove the fries and let them sit 5- minutes on a paper towel.
5 – lower the heat to 325. Refry for about 2-3 minutes.
6 – Sprinkle with truffle oil and truffle salt. Or you can use just plain salt, but what fun is that?
For the Roquefort sauce, I used a recipe that my buddy Botha made for me a few years ago. You can save a little money by using gorgonzola or another blue cheese, but I prefer the creaminess of Roquefort. Plus it tastes better on its own as a pre-appetizer appetizer or mid-cooking nosh. I’m insanely jealous of Botha, and not just because of his thick fingers. Having gone to culinary school, he can whip together this sauce with his eyes closed, leaving me to figure out measurements.
1 – Chop a shallot and putin a sauce pan with a cup of Madeira. Lightly simmer until reduced in half.
2 – Add a cup of stock and reduce in half.
3 – Add about half a cup of crumbled Roquefort and stir to gently melt it.
4 – Once melted, remove from heat so it’s not overdone – like I did here. Still tasted great.
5 – (Optional) add a tablespoon of butter and gently stir to incorporate. What, after all of the above you’re worried about that extra fat?