Mediter-Rhone-ean Night -- Or, a Panoply of Olive Love

I have a thing for olives. 

My childhood olive experiences involved delivery pizzas topped with slivers of low-quality, lye-cured black olives that -- even with their gummy texture and chemical aftertaste -- held the promise, each time I nibbled and nibbled again, of something with incredibly delicious potential. 

The fascination only intensified after my 10-year-old self read Beverly Cleary's tween-romantic novel "The Luckiest Girl," in which the lovely East Coast high-schooler Shelley ventures to California, and is tricked by her host family into eating an olive straight off the tree. Everyone laughs good-naturedly as she spits out the bitter fruit. Then they explain how of course olives must be cured before you can eat them, and isn't it silly how our sweet out-of-town rube didn't know?

Olives and grapevines -- and what human hands make of those fruits -- yes, I was always meant to be a Californian.

Olives and Pine Nuts and Feta (oh my!)

Thinking about this week's secret meal, my head was focused on the remaining mixed olives Jody had brought home from the Whole Foods bar a few days earlier. Bright green Castelvetranos; meaty Kalamatas; Cerignolas marinated in blood-orange olive oil and stuffed with pimiento -- as individually scrumptious as I found them, I wanted to turn the rest into a tapenade. The rest of the dinner would have to revolve around that.

Rosemary-Olive Oil Crostini with Mixed-Olive-Blood-Orange Tapenade. 

To make the tapenade, I pitted and blended the olives with olive oil, anchovy, blanched garlic, capers and some freshly squeezed blood-orange and lemon juice. (Pinched a little taste before dinner. Just to make sure it was OK, and all.)

Building on the Mediterranean theme, I picked up some fresh basil-pine nut chicken sausages, and red peppers and onions to sauté.

There also was a salad of mixed baby greens with Greek feta and toasted pine nuts, and honey-champagne vinaigrette.

The crostini passed muster. I decided it was suitable to accompany the meal. Only hoped the whole thing wouldn't be a bust with the wine.

Know When To Hold 'Em

Some friends and we are planning on an eventual game of blind-tasting wine poker. As explained, it's a table full of brown-bagged bottles (hello!), and a pot to which everyone contributes. Whoever gets the closest with their blind-tasting guess wins the pot. I make no claims, nor boasts, as to my accuracy whenever this game actually occurs; but I can only wish there had been money on the table when I made my guess this week.

No money on the table tonight. Just bread and wine. (Can't complain about that.)

Jody's secret bottle took us back to red wine after a few weeks of white. I brought the glass to my face, and thought it smelled like a gorgeous Chateauneuf-du-Pape. A mix of rich fruit and minerality, it brought California spunk on the nose and the palate exactly where a true CdP would have brought French funk. It was a finely made wine; the exceptional fruit quality shone, and you could sense the restraint in the handling of what easily could have become an overextracted fruit bomb. I knew what it was.

Tablas Creek 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Panoplie? That's my guess, and I'm sticking to it.

We've been members of the Tablas Creek Vineyard wine club for several years now. We're big fans of their organic farming methods and commitment to sustainable agriculture; their well made Rhone wines; and their friendly, smart and keenly insightful manager, Jason Haas, whose blog was an early inspiration.

Paso Robles' finest. 68 percent Mourvedre, 27 percent Grenache, 5 percent Syrah. 15% alc.

I hadn't ever tasted a Panoplie, Tablas Creek's highest-end cuvée produced only in the best years. But after a few years in the club, I'm familiar with their style, and this tasted like the most stellar possible example of a Tablas Creek wine. Hence, the guess. (It's kind of fun to get one right on the merits.)

The Lucky Ones

Need I even say how deliciously everything paired together? The wine, which had been decanting for about 90 minutes, continued to unfold during dinner. Its ripe flavors and perfect balance supported the richness of the basil-pine nut chicken sausage; and blended juicily with the salty, moist feta in the salad. 

But what made me the happiest -- the luckiest girl, indeed -- was the blissful relationship, come to fruition at last, between the tapenade and the wine -- the olive and the grape.

Cheers, friends! Do leave a comment if you like.