It’s Spring Mailer season, and Spring Mailers mean two things: searching the sofa cushions for spare change to afford them (my hope to find a few misplaced fifties is still unfulfilled) and drinking some of previous years’ allocations to make room in the cellar. To be honest, there’s still cellar space. We just use it as another excuse for our friends to come over and drink insane wine.
We’ve done this before with upwards of 20 people. This time, we wanted to try it with 10. We liked the idea of presenting each bottle and food pairing to a small group instead of stationing them and hoping folks figured it out. There ended up being only 9 of us, because one of the group had something come up at the last minute.
The first step was to sit down to figure out what we’d pour. Two of our friends, Dr. Beverly and Matt, are also on the Sea Smoke list, so we decided for two reasons to not pour it. The obvious is that it’s something they already get. For this event, we like to pour what folks normally don’t drink. The second is that over the course of the last year, it had all disappeared. I suspect a sneaky and selective home invasion ring which targets only us and only that section of our cellar.
The first choice was which varietals to pour. We knew we wanted four wines. We knew that Pinot, Cab, and Zin would be among them, so the choice came down to the fourth. Would we try a different Pinot or a different varietal? There was a strong argument to show Pinots from different producers, like one Martinelli and one Kosta Browne. We eventually decided that that would be a better tasting on its own, so we shelved that idea in favor of Syrah. That down, we put together the list.
Among the Pinots and Zins we get from Martinelli Vineyards, we get single vineyard productions of each grape from the same vineyard, the Lolita Ranch. They seemed like nice bookends. We knew the Cab would be from Bressler Vineyards, since 1) it’s fantastic wine and 2) it’s the only Cab allocation we still get (having given up on the Quilceda Creek as out of our budget for now). That left the Syrah, and the choice was easy: Bedrock Wine Company, because Morgan Twain-Peterson is making some of the most exciting Syrah in the country.
Next step was the order. We’d already decided to lead with the Pinot and finish with the Zin. One might normally expect to end with the Cab, but I know the Bressler flavor profile. Its rich fruits and modest tannins mean it doesn’t need to be the last in the lineup. Finishing with Zinfandel also means being able to have chocolate with it as a nice exclamation point to the food. We could have gone either way in the middle, but decided that the food we came up with insisted that the Bressler go third.
2010 Martinelli Pinot Noir Lolita Ranch
California Pinot right out of the gate means not fooling around. The good news about this offering (of which only 470 cases were made) is that it’s sufficiently racy without being too hot. It had all the classic Pinot elements of cherry cola and baking spice, but was remarkably restrained. It wound them around a firm core and didn’t let them unravel. A great way to start.
As far as food goes, nothing says Pinot Noir like salmon. We had recently gotten a gift of smoked salmon from Gretchyn’s sister, so we put it together three ways. The Pink Salmon went on a spoon with a dab of horseradish cream. For the King, we roasted butternut squash and cut it into little disks with a cookie cutter. We drizzled some good balsamic vinegar onto it and then topped it with the salmon. Finally, we made a “bagel” for the Sockeye. We toasted squares of onion rye, covered them with a light layer of cream cheese and a few bits of chive out of the garden, then laid the salmon on top. Of the three preparations, the latter was definitely my favorite.
2010 Bedrock Wine Co. Kick Ranch Syrah
The royal purple color told us how rich it would be, and we were not disappointed. It was thick and mouth-coating without cloying. The flavor profile was simply perfect, from violet and brambly cassis to dense, lush dark fruits, to the long, peppery finish. Astoundingly balanced. Absolutely world-class stuff.
We wanted to pick up the peppery notes for the food, so we made a deconstructed lobster roll, which I’ve posted a recipe for previously. Instead of topping it with biscuits this time, we sliced some wonton wrappers into strips before baking them, giving us little crisps. If I had it to do over again to pair with the Syrah, I would have spiced the lobster with a little bit of Old Bay seasoning, so that both the meat and the remoulade would pick up the pepper. Nonetheless, it was one of the big hits of the night.
2007 Bressler Cabernet Sauvignon
I really can’t find enough superlatives for this wine, so I’ll keep saying what I’ve said all along. It’s cult-level California Cab at a reasonable price. The reason we love it so much is that it’s much more like a classic Bordeaux than the monoliths we tend to see out of Cali. Intense fruit, layer after layer of smoke, tar, vanilla beans, and chocolate-covered cherries. Wonderfully integrated with very sexy tannins.
Steak is the classic thing to serve with Cab, so we riffed off of that, knowing that with the Bressler flavors, we wanted to echo the French countryside. We made a version of Beef Wellington using puff pastry and London Broil, with a mushroom/shallot mixture inside. The full recipe will go up in the next few days. Because we have two non-beef eaters in the group, we made one of them with some grilled portabellas instead. Both versions turned out great.
2010 Martinelli Zinfandel Lolita Ranch
The anchor leg in this relay finished at a sprint, as we suspected it would. It didn’t need too much time out of the bottle to open up. Big, dark, smoky, chocolately, powerful stuff. Black and berry fruits with rich texture and mouthfeel. Undeniable. The biggest surprise for everyone was the 17.4% alcohol. Usually wines at that level come out quite hot, but this one was smooth and rich. Having no clue as to the high alcohol content can be pretty dangerous (or make them unappreciative the next day), but everyone in this crowd as already familiar with the rocket fuel we’ve served them from Martinelli in the past, so they were well prepared.
The food for this was pretty simple: Thomas Keller’s Dark Chocolate Bouchon Corks, an old favorite. The twist we used here was in flavoring the whipped cream. As we were talking about making it, we asked ourselves “what flavors go with chocolate?” We agreed that orange, almond, and hazelnut all work (so we could use Cointreau, Amaretto di Sarono, or Frangelico), but in a moment of inspiration, one of us said “what about berries?” Realizing that it would also pick out the blackberry notes in the Zin, we used Crème de Cassis. It was absolutely perfect.
After the first small taste of each wine (just under 3 ounces, to make a bottle stretch to 9 people) paired with the food, we put the other bottles on the table and let folks go for what they wanted. They all ended up empty, which is always a good sign. We didn’t do any formal tasting notes, but toward the end of the evening I did a quick poll of everyone. Everyone agreed that all four wines were amazing. When pressed for their winner of the night, each one got a vote. The final count was Bressler 3, Zin 3, Bedrock 2, Pinot 1.
We both preferred the more intimate setting for doing the Drink the Allocation event. We’ll probably do it again when the Fall mailers come out, so we’re looking forward to Drink the Allocation 2013, Part 2.