Harvest's Really Over - Or, Picking Bins and a Meal for Cold Nights

Last weekend, we drove up to the Central Coast for the first time since harvest. The mission: to return the picking bins in which our fruit found its first home, and officially close our harvest circle.

Not as bumpy a ride as the reefer. Still a bit rattly on that freeway, though!

Our 1.0345 tons of Grenache and 0.574 tons of Syrah were born, raised and harvested in the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard. However, since Lino Bozzano manages both the SBH and Laetitia Vineyards, we were able to drop off the bins at Laetitia's coastal vineyard/winery in Arroyo Grande -- a much easier drive.

Soon, we'll be able to see out of the back of the truck again.

A friendly German Shepherd greeted us at the shop. Jody unstrapped the three bins from our borrowed truck and set them next to the long stack lined up on the ridge overlooking the vineyard. Our empty bins, with their blue masking-tape labels, rested alongside similarly labeled bins that made up a Who's Who of Central Coast winemakers; McPrice Myers and  were our closest neighbors.

Towers of empty bins, each with a 2009 harvest story to tell.

We also found time for a little lunchtime excursion to our very favorite and very closed-at-the-time vineyard. It involved previously procured bubbles and freshly prepared Thai food. That's all!

This cow saw. But we swore her to secrecy.

The Double-Double Blind Dinner & Wine Pairing

I promised we'd bring this back this week, so here it is. My turn to cook, Jody's turn to bust out a secret wine.

Thinking about the menu, I naturally wanted to let the weather be my guide. I craved hot, savory, nourishing, soul-satisfying. December's the time of year when Winter's icy fingers creep through our beachside paradise.

OK, I'm sure all of you in the northeast -- and elsewhere -- are laughing at me now; but, as a South Florida native, I feel the seasons here in Southern California just about as deeply and meaningfully as someone of my cold-blooded ilk possibly can. (Translation: If you happen to be out at 6 a.m. and see a little woman who appears to be wearing a huge down comforter while walking a pug who's definitely wearing a chenille sweater -- stop and say hey. And it's not technically a comforter. It's a man-sized flannel-lined down jacket. Thanks.)

The Menu

I remember when he was a chef with acatalog. These days, Michael Chiarello's a multimedia food celeb -- but he still has some pretty kick-ass recipes. I picked one that seemed to fit the gloomy day, and which I'd never made before: Super-Tuscan White Bean Soup. Proscuitto? Check. Cannellini beans? Check. Garlic bruschetta (the semantic difference between crostini and bruschetta seems to be rather fluid; anyone know the real deal)? Check. I knew my favorite part was going to be the handfuls of basil sauteed in garlic-chile oil. And it was.

It all turned out rather deliciously. Rarely do we have a meal that everyone actually likes enough to want again. Winner!

The Wine

Jody grabbed an oldie out of the cellar this week -- but I had no idea. All he told me was that it was a blend. He also said, after a sniff and a taste, "I would never get this blind. Good luck."

The color was pure garnet, brilliantly clear, with a nose of vanilla, blackberry, porcini mushrooms, and crushed tomatoes. On the palate, it was suprisingly rich and velvety, brooding and sylphlike. There was a definite note of sweetness upfront, and a good amount of raspberry fruit. From the color, I thought it was young. I didn't have an immediate handle on where in the world it was from, but thought I could at least identify the varieties. So, I guessed.

My guess: 2007/Spain/Syrah-Grenache-Mourvedre

It was:

2005/Paso Robles, CA (Linne Calodo - Nemesis)/85% Syrah-11% Mourvedre-4% Grenache

Jeez. I didn't even peg it as a New World wine -- which is pretty shocking, considering Linne Calodo's typical fruit-forward style. (That style's made the winery quite popular with certain influential critics.) But, honestly, even at 15.1% alcohol, it wasn't a one-dimensional fruit bomb. I've tasted my share of Paso Snickers-bar chocolate-ganache-12-layer-cake-I-just-died fruit bombs. Not my thing. At all. This wine surprised me, especially once I knew what it was. It carried a surpisingly assertive level of balance that seemed directly related to the bottle age. Yet, the color showed no sign of age. Weird.

The Pairing

I'll be brief: This worked. The soup and crusty bread were rustic, earthy, full of flavor but completely void of sweetness. The note of residual sugar in the wine sang with the chili-infused oil, and the mature fruit flavors married nicely with the savory flavors of the proscuitto and white beans in the soup.

The Children

Talia (10) and Elijah (6), sadly, recently were traumatized by the taste of the liberal addition of bourbon to the whipped cream for the Thanksgiving pumpkin pies. 

As a result, they could discern nothing else in this glass of wine. "It smells like ... what is that awful alcohol Daddy put in the whipped cream?" (Lesson learned. Sorry, kids. We hope they'll be back in action next week.)

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