Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Year’s, New Zealand

Welcome to 2012, everyone! May it be an excellent year for us all. This year’s started off with a bang here, thanks to the welcome return of the Naked Vine New Year’s Feast & Festival of Sloth.

For the last couple of years, the Sweet Partner in Crime and I haven’t been able to prepare our usual table. For the uninitiated, we usually pick a theme or region of the world, get a bunch of wine, hunker down, and cook a raft of recipes to pair with them. This year, we decided to do New Zealand. Why?

Well, aside from the whole notion of discovering new cuisine, I’d picked up a couple of relatively high-end New Zealand pinots in my wine-shopping “travels” a year or so ago, and I wanted a good excuse to do a side by side tasting. So, armed with this notion, we took to the reference sources to find foods and to the wine stores to collect other wines. Here they are:

We quickly discovered that New Zealand hasn’t historically been a big contributor to international cuisine. New Zealand is historically known for the “boil-up,” a Maori dish of boiled pork, squash, and whatever else is lying around. Since we both prefer low country style if we’re just going to boil meats and such, we needed to be a little more creative. Thankfully, the invasion of hobbits also brought along some very interesting Asian & Australian fusion cuisine, so we decided to approach it from that angle. (Maybe not completely authentic, but hey…it’ll be tasty…)

New Zealand, of course, is known for sauvignon blanc. They make unique versions. Many of the commonly found ones are from the Marlborough region, although there are more and more available domestically from Hawkes Bay and Wellington. (Together, these latter two are called “East Coast” wines – and they are the “first grapes to see the sun each day” because of their geographic location.)

Another difference this year…the advancing of years first gave us the idea to do our little culinary adventures in the first place and do an all-day feast. The still-advancing years (and our wildly successful “Channiversary” celebration) had us stretch New Year’s Eve into a full weekend’s better-paced gluttony. So, away we go…

Friday – New Year’s Eve Eve

Our first course was a “New Zealand Fish & Chips.” Baked sweet potato fries alongside some mussels, steamed in a red vermouth and garlic sauce. (No real recipes for these. The sweet potatoes were cut into strips, coated with olive oil and tossed with salt, pepper, and garam masala. The mussels were – well – steamed up with the aforementioned sauce.) Next to this little bit of yumminess, we put Cloudy Bay 2011 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. ($20) The Cloudy Bay was a very pleasant, mineral-laden sauvignon blanc with a strong lime-citrus flavor. Just before I served the mussels, I added some parsley to the sauce, and that worked nicely, playing off the traditional New Zealand-y herbal flavors in the wine. We kicked our little adventure off with a bang, to be honest.

Next up was a roasted red pepper soup with seared scallops, paired with Villa Maria 2009 Cellar Selection Marlborough Riesling. ($17) This is the first New Zealand Riesling that I can remember trying. Based on my experiences with the sauvignon blancs, I expected this to be a big, fruity Riesling. I couldn’t have been more off. This is a lean, aromatic wine that really reminded me more of an Alsatian Riesling than anything else – although it had a wee bit of sweetness there. Actually, this became a theme with the non-Sauvignon Blanc wines we tried. Most of them were lean and minerally, regardless of varietal. As for this one, I found lots of lime and lavender on the nose. “Crisp and cool” was my note.

The food pairing note I have was simply “OH MY GOD IS THIS GOOD.” This was easily the best pairing of the whole weekend and was honestly one of the best hand-in-hand food and wine pairings that I’ve had in the last year. I can’t begin to explain why. It just works. Trust me. It’s an easy recipe, too. Try it. Trust me!

Saturday – New Year’s Eve

A lazy New Year’s Eve in front of us, we spent the day relaxing on the couch, watching crappy bowl games, as is our tradition, and we started getting peckish. For Christmas, we’d been given a Hickory Farms-style sampler, and one of the cheeses was something called “Brick Cheese.” Turns out it’s a cross between cheddar and swiss, and one of the recommended pairings is Chardonnay.

I braved the crowds and brought back a bottle of Oyster Bay 2009 Marlborough Chardonnay ($11) from the store to go alongside. This was a really interesting wine. As we were discovering, this wine was full of crisp citrus and mineral flavors, but the oak gave it a little bit of butterscotch. with a little butterscotch from the oak. Again, lime was a major flavor in the mix. We decided that, had it been from anywhere else in the world, we would have thought it to be a sauvignon blanc. It reminded us of Sancerre (a French Sauvignon Blanc) a little. You know, it actually went really nicely with the Brick.

The dinner hour came near, and it was time for what I thought would be the main event, cracking open these two pinot noirs from Pyramid Valley Vineyards. These pinot noirs, called “Earth Smoke” and “Angel Flower” are from adjacent vineyards, one of which faces north – the other facing east. I was curious to see the differences. These were both from the 2008 vintage, so they may have been a little young. Still, I thought it would be tasty. We decided to pair them up with grilled beef medallions with a cauliflower-broccoli hash, but we wanted to try these wines first.

These may have been the two lightest pinot noirs I’ve ever tried. They looked almost watery, but they were fully-formed, although super-delicate wines. I think they were definitely young – probably a couple of years away from full maturity. They were…well, like nothing I’ve ever had. I started with the Angel Flower. My note says, “I have no frame of reference for his wine. Smells like wind blowing across a meadow and pond. Delicate and fascinating. A wine to be drunk rather than paired.” That said, there really wasn’t much else to this wine other than the interesting delicateness. There were some spice and some berry flavors, but nothing overly strong. The SPinC said that the smell reminded her of the “Divinity” dessert from Stuckey’s that she’d long ago sampled on the byways of  the Midwest on the drive to Grandma’s house.

The Earth Smoke had, as implied by the name, a little bit of a smoky, earthy undertone – as well as some strawberry but still, the delicacy of the flavors were hard to catch. The SPinC said that these wines “don’t taste like anything in the world, and I don’t  know if they’d pair with anything in the world.”

Still, we tried. We put together the meal – and, not surprisingly, even something as simple as the grilled beef overwhelmed it. We pulled a random Australian pinot noir from the rack, and it was a better match. I didn’t regret opening the wines at all to assuage my curiosity, but I’m glad I have a couple of other bottles in the cellar to stash for a couple of years.

After that, we had a fire in the backyard, then popped a bottle of bubbly as 2011 came to a close…

Sunday – New Year’s Day

We slowly recovered from our revelries and finally got the energy up to do some exercise. By this point, it was mid-afternoon, so we decided to split our last day’s meals up. We figured we’d be fine with one dish for the day. This time, we went with a Kim Crawford 2008 East Coast Pinot Grigio ($12) to go alongside a spicy ginger ground pork in lettuce wraps. Something a bit lighter, you know. Turned out to be a very nice pairing. The pinot grigio was quite tasty, full of apples and pairs, again with a backbone of that lime and mineral. Cooled down the heat of the pork nicely and just made for a nice little meal.

For that evening, we decided to just have some leftovers and relax. We figured that we’d do the last pairing the next night. Well, you know what they say, “life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

Monday – Black Ice

I had to go to work on Monday. My office doesn’t have windows, so I didn’t realize that while I worked away that afternoon, the roads were slowly becoming covered with a bizarre black ice event. There was a 30 car pileup on the interstate, which I didn’t hear about until after I almost fell on my ass going to my car. On the way home in bumper to bumper traffic, my car overheated. (The mechanic told me later that my radiator had actually exploded -- a “baseball-sized hole” in the top of the radiator qualifies as an explosion in my book.) I was stuck for three hours in 20 degree weather on the side of I-275, waiting for a tow. Needless to say, I didn’t feel much like cooking when I got home. So, we strung things out for another day.

Tuesday – The Finish

I make a killer risotto. And one of the recipes we’d found during our research on New Zealand cuisine was a Mediterranean-inspired risotto with asparagus and mint. Now, this would have been a more appropriate meal for springtime, but hey…it’s summer in New Zealand, right? Since I had feeling in my extremities, I cooked this up for us to enjoy to close out the feast. We had this with the And Co 2009 Sauvignon Blanc – an SB from Hawkes Bay. It had a fascinating top – it was sealed with a beer cap. (Which, honestly, would be the best way to seal any wine for longevity.) We took one sip and just looked at each other for a second. 

It’s unlike any other EnnZedd sauvignon blanc we’ve ever tried. It bills itself as “old world wine in the new world” and it certainly tastes more like a white Bordeaux than a Marlborough sauvignon. The nose is full of almonds and apples. It’s medium bodied, braced with more apple and pear flavors and just a hint of herb. There’s barely a trace of bitterness. Seriously, I felt like the “bitter” taste buds on the back of my tongue were taking a rest. Then came the meal. The asparagus risotto couldn’t have found a better pairing. Since asparagus makes most wine go bitter, the complete lack of bitterness allowed everything to mesh – the creamy risotto flavors and the milder fruit went hand in hand. This was a strong runner up pairingwide to the soup.

Automotive strangeness aside, I’d chalk this up as a success – and I would definitely recommend trying New Zealand whites other than their famous Sauvignon Blancs – especially if you’re a fan of minerally offerings like you’d find in Oregon or France.

Happy New Year, everyone!


Pama Mitchell said...

Very nice posting. I love New Zealand wines, although so far I've just explored pinot noir and (of course) sauvignon blanc. To tell you the truth, I have never been able to appreciate riesling--even higher end ones from Germany -- and I don't care much for pinot grigio (although pinot gris is another story). Well in any case, thanks for the good info!
--Pama Mitchell (www.healthyfoodie.blogspot.com)

The Naked Vine said...

Thanks, Pama. Riesling is an acquired taste (as are all wines) -- but I personally love them as long as there's balance. I probably wouldn't just open and drink one of them -- but with food, they're usually stellar.

As for pinot gris/pinot grigio, well...