With the 2009 j.brix vintage bottled, labeled and suitably rested, clearly, the time had come for the final item on the to-do list.
Those of you who've been reading for some time may have forgotten that once upon a meal, Jody and I used to do this almost-trademarked thing called (Double) Double-Blind Food & Wine Pairings, where one of us chose a secret bottle of wine; the other planned and prepared a secret meal; and we put the two together no matter what. We had some stellar successes, some surprises, and one or two just plain awful matches.
Now this pairing was one for the books. (The never-again-as-long-as-we-live books.)
And, while it's still very much the plan to bring the (Double) Double-Blind stories back (keep hope alive!), we decided to plan the official home food-and-wine pairing debut of the 2009 j.brix vintage a little more carefully.
Enter the Rack
The 2010 purchase, and subsequent deep-freeze storage, of half a locally raised blue-ribbon-winning spring lamb has facilitated some interesting meal choices. We quickly went through the sausage, the ground lamb, the chops and riblets. However, the big-deal cuts -- especially, the mighty rack -- remained untouched.
Perhaps because I'd looked the lamb in the eyes, touched its tightly curled grey wool, felt the resolute poignancy of coming face to face with food -- it seemed imperative that this premium feast be properly considered and paired.
We knew Moroccan spices were a must for our first home-cooked pairing, thanks to more than a year of tasting the wine as it developed in barrel, and to the June 2010 recommendation of Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson, who tasted barrel samples of the wine, proclaimed it "luscious" and "delicious," and suggested pairing a Moroccan meal. As the lamb was nearing slaughter by that point, it seemed fitting that we plan to incorporate it, somehow, with our very first home-cooked wine-pairing dinner.
French Lessons (via Morocco)
So, we prepared the rack of lamb in a fashion somewhat akin to this recipe from Food & Wine, making changes here and there to suit our palates, as well as the flavors we knew we wanted to complement in the two wines we'd be opening that evening for a few friends who joined us for the event.
Jody trimmed and frenched the rack, rather expertly. (The unpleasant but necessary behind-the-scenes dirty work, you know.)
The spices, I heated in a dry skillet, until their ethereal fragrances hung heavily in the air, like sacred incense, inspiring reverence, and longing, with each inhalation: coarsely ground black pepper, coriander, cumin seeds, sesame seeds, crushed red pepper, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon stick, clove.
I ground them together. They coated the rack. A sear, then a roast. Brutal wars have been fought, lives lost, fortunes made and squandered, over spices. I understand this in my bones.
All day, we'd slow-poached fingerling potatoes in a butter bath. Jody finished them in the oven after he drained off the butter, browning and crisping the thin skins. Sea salt. Black pepper.
Finally, Tuscan kale, roasted in olive oil and salt until it simply shattered between the teeth; successfully navigating the razor-thin tightrope line between crispy and burned; a savory, earthy component that introduced a welcome note of bitter to the unashamed richness and spice at the table.
Enter the Duo
La Paloma Libresca, our 100-percent Grenache, shone brightly out of the bottle; lithe, high-toned fruit and spice, wrapped around a serious core. Good bones, that wine. It paired with the Moroccan-spiced rack of lamb just about as perfectly as we could have hoped.
La Belle Rêveuse, our blend of 60 percent Syrah and 40 percent Grenache, decanted for an hour beforehand. It presented its usual scrumptiously dreamy black-fruit and licorice notes; it also surprised us with a developing and appealing muscular side that stood toe-to-toe with the rustic aspect of the lamb's flavors, and gives us high hopes for the bottle-aging potential of this wine.
No wallflower, yet never ostentatious...
No matter how wonderfully it may turn out, there's a sense of sadness once a moment you've planned for a long, long time comes and goes. This dinner -- which paired wine, made by our hands, with food raised by the hands of our friends -- arose as a spark of an idea propelled by the original let's-make-wine plan in 2008. It was uncommonly delicious, and rewarding in more ways than I can count.
Not the end, this. Not by a long shot. This is where we begin.