Friday, September 21, 2012

MRE Closeout—Two Dozen is the End of the Road

There are only 24 different MRE menus in 2012, twice as many as a decade ago when I was still a young and idealistic officer.  So, yesterday’s entry was our last regular MRE and wine pairing post.  There will be one more notice on this blog after I’ve returned home in short order, but that’s not the end.  Stay tuned for our next blog on pairing food with savory cocktails.  To keep up to date on this and other forthcoming items:

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

MRE Menu 24: Southwest Beef & Black Beans

Today’s recommended red represents another successful immigrant from the Old World.  Tannat, used alone or as the major part of a blend in Basque-influenced parts of southwest France such as Madiran, made the journey to Uruguay in the hands of Basque settlers to become the signature grape of that country.  The same grape has made the journey to the United States and gained a successful foothold in Virginia, where it is used mainly to make single varietal wines.  French versions tend to express red fruits, while black fruits predominate in the New World.  As its name suggests, it has a robust tannic structure, which will complement the seasoned beef in the dish nicely.  It is also prone to a relatively high alcohol content, which should be a welcome relief if you find yourself eating an MRE in the first place.

Why limit yourself to just a single white variety when you can have a mix of 3 to 20?  That’s precisely what you’ll get with Wiener Gemischter Satz, a re-emerging traditional blend from vineyards on the outskirts of Austria’s capital, Vienna.  This is a true “field blend,” because the grapes are not only grown together within the same vineyard, but also harvested and vinified together.  Such a mix of grapes naturally adds complexity and a plethora of aromatics to the wine.  Early ripening grapes provide rich white and golden fruits, while late-ripeners give acidity and freshness.

Complementary Pairing:  Tannat, Virginia, USA
Try:  Chateau O’Brien Tannat Reserve
[]  Howard and Debbie O’Brien believed strongly that the terroir at their Northpoint estate was well-suited for tannat.  Given the quality of their production from vines that are at most a decade old, they have proven themselves correct.   Winemaker Jason Murray uses native yeasts and a maceration lasting three weeks, together with an élevage of 22 months in French oak, to create a powerful yet balanced wine that combines elements of Old World tannic structure and New World dark fruits.

Contrasting Pairing:  Wiener Gemischter Satz
Try:  Wieninger Nussberg Gemischter Satz Alte Reben
[]  From one of the leaders of reviving this style, the vineyards are part of the privileged Nussberg slopes on the northern side of Vienna, adjacent to the left bank of the River Danube.  These biodynamically farmed old vines on a limestone base are a mix of grüner veltliner, neuburger, riesling, rotgipfler, sylvaner, traminer, weissburgunder, welschriesling, and zierfandler.  This wine ages on the lees for a year prior to bottling and releasing flavors of pineapple and citrus together with plenty of minerals and a racy finish.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Deployment Special Edition: Beef Brisket & Imported BBQ Sauce

This final special edition focuses on wine pairing with standard-issue beef brisket from the dining facility, supplemented with a variety of sauces sent by friends and loved ones from the undisputed barbecue capital of the United States, [insert your preferred city/state here].  To match this saucy meat, let us remain domestic for our wine and select a petit verdot from Virginia.  This late-ripening varietal is best known as a minor blending grape in Bordeaux, where a small percentage adds structure and complexity to the cabernet sauvignon-based cuvées of the Médoc.  It is used in a similar manner in red blends throughout much of the wine producing world, but its frequent expression as a mono-varietal wine in the northern hemisphere is unique to Virginia.   It invariably has assertive tannins, as well as dark fruits and elements of leather and tar.

But what white to serve with this red meat and peppery sauce?  Midway between and to the east of the northern and southern Rhône sits a mountainous area called Die.  Here, sparkling wines are the predominant vinous product.  They can be made using the traditional method of a second fermentation in the bottle under the name Crémant de Die, or using a much older technique, the méthode ancestrale.  This latter method involves a slow fermentation at relatively cold temperatures, where the wine is bottled before the process is complete.  Fermentation then continues in the bottle, and terminates before all the sugar has converted to alcohol, leaving some degree of residual sweetness.  This méthode dioise ancestrale produces Clairette de Die, a blend of at least 75% muscat à petits grains, with the balance being clairette, although the wine could be entirely muscat with no clairette at all.  The bit of residual sugar will help to subdue the red pepper heat of the many spicy sauces for the brisket, and the low alcohol and low serving temperature make this a refreshing accompaniment to eating brisket outdoors on a hot day in the desert.

Complementary Pairing:  Petit Verdot, Virginia, USA
Try:  Linden Petit Verdot
[]  Jim Law is one of the modern-day founding fathers of high quality viticulture and winemaking in Virginia.  The petit verdot (and just a dash of cabernet sauvignon) come primarily from his own Hardscrabble estate, with small additions from the nearby cooler Avenius and somewhat warmer Boisseau vineyards.  His efforts in the cellar are decidedly Old World, with a cold soak of twice-triaged and destemmed grapes, followed by fermentation with natural yeasts, when he utilizes both pigeage and remontage, for a total of four weeks.  The wine is transferred to used oak barrels for the malolactic fermentation and aging for more than a year and a half before being bottled without filtration or fining.    Expect aromas of smoke and earth, with black fruits and firm tannins on the palate.  While potentially a bit rustic in its youth, allowing this wine to develop for a few years in the bottle will offer you a truly sublime experience.  Thomas Jefferson would be proud.

Contrasting Pairing:  Clairette de Die, Rhône, France
Try:  Jaillance Clairette de Die Cuvée Impériale
[]  Although there are small independent producers in this rather obscure region, a good place to start is with its largest cooperative, where you have a reasonable chance of encountering the wines as exports.  As this is one of their top cuvées, the best grape selections from over 200 members should find their way into the bottle.  This is a typical formula of 80% muscat, with clairette as the remainder.  Citrus and golden fruits predominate, and the slightly sweet finish will serve to put out the fire of the BBQ sauce.

On the porch of our medical facility, the team is enjoying the brisket with a plethora of sauces sent from home.  Sadly, the beer bottles seen in the foreground represent the non-alcoholic version of that beverage.  Pictured just to the left of center, the author is using his fork to express his sentiments about the absence of wine to accompany the meal.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Deployment Special Edition: Le Plat Principal du Soir - L’escargots

Baked snails in an austere environment.
The aluminum foil “shells” each have the requisite escargot topped with melted butter, dried parsley, and garlic salt, baked at the highest setting in a decrepit toaster oven.

Given that today’s main course is far from a traditional deployment food, I will counter by offering somewhat traditional wine pairings for it, both from Burgundy.  To start, let us find a pinot noir from the heart of the region, where the Côte d’Or offers protean expressions of this varietal.  The snails themselves are rich without being heavy, so finding the appropriate match will be partly dependent upon the garlic-to-butter ratio.  The more garlic present, the greater the need for tannic structure, whereas a high butter content demands equally high acidity for balance.  In this desert setting, the ratio was even and the absolute amounts were small, so a more finessed expression of Burgundy would be fitting.  Described by some as a feminine style, the villages of Chambolle-Musigny in the Côte de Nuits and Volnay in the Côte de Beaune may offer the best options for this style across the board.

Turning to the north of Burgundy takes us to the cooler climate home of chardonnay in Chablis, set off the beaten path mid-way between Champagne and the Côte d’Or. 
Limestone soils in this terroir lead these wines to express such diverse flavors as gun flint and steel, as well as nuts and toast.  With yields kept in check, they can offer precision and depth suitable for a pairing with a variety of foods.  For the escargots, the natural acidity of these wines is a fine foil to the butter.  Without taking a stand here on the merits of using new versus older oak for the élevage, suffice it to say, as above, that an increasing proportion of garlic will require a matching wine of increasing body, however that end might be achieved.

Complementary Pairing:
Try:  Domaine Georges Roumier Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru Les Amoureuses
From a lieu-dit at the southern end of the village and adjacent to the eastern edge of the grand cru Les Musigny, there are those who argue this premier cru should also be elevated to grand cru status.  Yields are kept low by a combination of older vines and ongoing work in the vineyards, with the majority of clusters de-stemmed after a severe triage.  Punching down the cap during fermentation and pumping the wine over afterwards precedes a slow malolactic and aging in barrels, of which a minority are new.  The domaine produces a uniquely perfumed wine from this cru that is both elegant and powerful, but above all else it is expressive of its terroir.

Contrasting Pairing:  Chablis, Bourgogne, France
Try:  Domaine Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos
This comes from the largest of the seven grands crus, which all face southwest looking back over the town of Chablis.  The domaine’s vines in this cru are on average a half-century old, and are harvested entirely by hand.  The wines age in barrels and half-barrels, none of them new, for 18 months.  The Raveneau family consistently offers one of the top expressions of Chablis from each of its vineyard holdings, and Les Clos is no exception.

The author removing the masterpiece from the oven.   

This embroidered logo is our local tribute to Julia Child’s famous Ecole des 3 Gourmandes.  Frequently featured Chef/Dr. Tim Weiner is the leader of the local gourmand wolf pack, with the author as his humble assistant and personal would-be sommelier.  The third gourmand is whoever was kind enough to send us the key ingredients for each of our deployment culinary adventures.  In the case of l’escargots, that was the author’s wonderful wife, Shannan.

Monday, September 17, 2012

MRE Menu 23: Chicken Pesto Pasta

For the chicken pesto pasta, let us seek a white wine from an appellation in the southern Rhône known largely for its red wine production, Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  The terroir here is famous for the galets roulés, or round stones, that retain moisture for the vines as well as heat after the sun sets, which continues to ripen the grapes.  Bourboulenc, clairette, picardan, roussanne, and blanc and gris versions of grenache and piquepoul are the varieties that may make an appearance.  Because of the large number and mixture of varietals permitted, the whites here can take many forms, but they characteristically have floral aromas and pleasing minerality, with varying amounts of structure and acidity.

Friuli, in northeastern Italy, ironically best known for its white wines, offers an interesting red pairing for the chicken pesto in the form of refosco.  It tends to combine uninhibited fruit and racy acidity.  It may be called refosco dal pedunculo rosso in Collio and the Colli Orientali because of the red stem that joins the grape cluster to the vine.  The Carso variety of refosco is known as terrano, which may or my not be a true relative of other types of refosco elsewhere in Friuli.  At least part of terrano’s distinction in this zone, and neighboring Slovenia, is a matter of terroir, as it is grown in terra rossa, red soil which has a high iron content.

Complementary Pairing:  Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Rhône, France
Try:  Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc ‘La Crau’
[]  This characteristic white wine of the region comes from its best-known cru, La Crau, located in the southeastern-most part of the appellation.  It is composed of clairette, grenache blanc, bourboulenc, and roussanne from vines averaging 40 years of age.  The fermentation takes place in an even split of large vats and oak of various sizes, aging for one year in the same vessel before being bottling unfiltered.

Contrasting Pairing:  Refosco, Friuli, Italy
Try:  Kante Terrano
[]  From one of the top producers of Carso, that thin strip of Italy just north of Trieste, surrounded by Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea.  The maceration lasts three weeks, which is followed by three years of aging in large barrels before being bottled unfiltered.  The result is a wine where all the elements are in perfect balance.

For a real glimpse of why my team is here and not in the comfort of home and the loving arms of family, please see this article from Stars and Stripes.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

MRE Menu 22: Asian Beef Strips

For a red wine pairing, turn to Rioja, that famous Spanish region that has seen ups and downs in quality over its history, but is now riding high on at least two decades of success both in the vineyards and cellars.  The reds in this region are based on tempranillo, with garnacha, graciano, maturana tinta, and monastel being permitted in the blend.  As in many other classic wine regions, there is a spectrum between traditional production and the modern viewpoint, the latter emphasizing high degrees of extraction and lots of new oak.  Everyone has their preference on this spectrum, but for the Asian beef I recommend a traditional version, and in particular a reserva.  By the regulations, this means the wine will have aged for a minimum of three years, including at least one year in oak barrels.  This aging regimen will offer complexity and structure while preserving the fruit character of the wine to complement the Asian spices on the beef.

For a contrasting pairing, we will go in what will be an unexpected direction for some.  On the left bank of the Garonne River in the southern part of Bordeaux, a unique golden liquid is produced from sémillon, sauvignon blanc, and a bit of muscadelle affected by the “noble rot,” courtesy of the fungus Botrytis cinerea.  Under the appellations Sauternes and Barsac, these are late-harvested wines that can be high in residual sugar, yet may also have appreciable acidity when young.  Tradition has relegated them to the cheese or dessert course, to be brought out for a special occasion after a couple of decades or more of bottle age.  But that same sweetness can make them excellent foils for spicy appetizers and main dishes, provided they retain their natural acidity.  The best part is that you won’t have to store them in your cellar for countless years, waiting for the next generation to enjoy your purchase.

Complementary Pairing:  Rioja, Spain
Try:  (Granja Nuestra Señora de) Remelluri Rioja Reserva
[]  Vines have been planted on the site of this former monastery at the foot of the Sierra de Cantabria since the fourteenth century.  The tempranillo is joined by small amounts of garnacha and graciano, which are individually fermented with natural yeasts.  Afterwards they spend a year and a half aging in a mixture of new and used French and American oak, the latter comprising roughly a third.  Winemaking has returned to the hands of the owning family, in the form of the renowned Telmo Rodríguez, who produces internationally acclaimed wines all over Spain.

Contrasting Pairing:  Barsac, Bordeaux, France
Try:  Château Coutet Barsac
[]  This Premier Cru Classé property is the largest estate in Barsac, with vines averaging 35 years of age, approximately three-fourths of which are sémillon.  An even larger percentage of sémillon comprises the grand vin, which ages entirely in new oak.  Currently under the care of the Baly family, this château is not only one of the preeminent estates in Barsac, but also a vocal proponent of the versatility of Barsac and Sauternes for pairing with all sorts of foods.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

MRE Menu 21: Lemon Pepper Tuna

While this MRE may bear no resemblance to actual seafood, for the purposes of wine pairing, let’s treat it like it does.  When eating of the sea, it’s best to also drink that which reminds us of the sea, and few white grapes will kindle that memory better than albariño.   A good place to find just such an albariño is Rías Baixas in the southwest corner of Galicia, which itself is in the northwest tip of Spain, adjacent to the border with Portugal.  Albariño in Rías Baixas is planted in loose, sandy soils at low altitudes, adjacent to rivers and the ocean.  A recent increase in quality production at a small group of wineries, as evidenced by wines that show best after 2-3 years of bottle age, has led to an increase in demand, and therefore a substantial increase in plantings.  Choose your producer carefully.

A red wine with naturally high tannins would be a bit much for the tuna, despite its overcooked density and dryness.  A fruity, medium-bodied wine such as one made from barbera would be a better fit.  Although not uncommon throughout much of northern Italy, the Piemonte is where it achieves its most ideal expression, particularly in the area of Monferrato and Asti.  Perhaps it would do just as well or better toward Alba to the west, but the prime vineyard spots there around Barolo and Barbaresco are devoted to nebbiolo.  While disagreement exists with the aforementioned nebbiolo and many other Italian varietals on the merits of aging in small new French oak barrels, few would argue that barbera doesn’t benefit from at least some barrique treatment.  For the tuna, choose a version where the cherry and plum fruit stand front and center, while the oak elements remain in the background.

Complementary Pairing:  Rías Baixas, Galicia, Spain
Try:  Pazo de Señorans Selección de Añada
[]  Located in the Val do Salnés, which is the largest sub-region of Rías Baixas, this house has been at the vanguard of producing quality albariño and encouraging others in the region to do the same.  The Selección is aged in stainless steel tanks on its lees for almost three years, followed by an additional year in the bottle before release.  The nose and palate may variably offer up apple, peach, citrus, olives, and fennel.  There will always be a streak of minerality and a full, textured mouthfeel, with substantial acidity on the finish.

Contrasting Pairing:  Barbera d’Asti, Piemonte, Italy
Try:  Araldica Barbera d’Asti ‘Ceppi Storici’
[]  Araldica Vini Piemontesi is something of a cooperative of cooperatives, having brought together three cantine sociali and now comprising over 200 individual members.  They are proof positive that even large operations can produce quality wines, particularly at the top end of their range, which has the choice of the best fruit from all the vineyards.  The name of this wine is an uncommon way to say ‘old vines,’ with the translation being closer to ‘historic.’  Only a minority is aged in barrique, so the fruit and acidity will remain as the dominant elements.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Deployment Special Edition: Lobster Roll Redux—The Seafood Roll

Behold the Seafood Roll.  This alternative take on the Lobster Roll (see September 9th) combines canned shrimp and crab mixed with chopped celery, mayonnaise, and celery salt, served on a toasted hot dog bun brushed with melted butter.  With the exception of the bread and celery, all other items came via care packages.  Also pictured are the canapés, crackers with a smoked salmon spread, all produced by full-time deployment chef and part-time pediatric surgeon, Dr. Timothy Weiner.

This pairing challenge requires a wine that will complement the delicate seafood components, while also possessing enough acidity to make short work of the mayo.  Consider a “mountain wine” from the region of Savoie, in the French Alps on the border with Switzerland.  White grapes are the most prevalent plantings, represented by such varietals as jacquère, roussanne, altesse, chasselas, and gringet.  Jacquère is the most common of these, and is noted to have distinct aromas of white flowers and wet stone, followed by citrus and white stone fruits on the palate, with sometimes bracing acidity.

For a red wine to accompany the seafood roll, we will travel to Champagne.  A small number of still wines are produced here under the name Coteaux Champenois.  The area most likely to produce still red wines is the same one that specializes in the highest quality pinot noir, namely the Montagne de Reims.  Amongst the villages rated grand cru here, Bouzy has the most examples of still reds, where it is known as Bouzy Rouge.  From Burgundy in the south, pinot noir can deliver some of the most ageworthy and sought after wines in the world, but in the colder climate of Champagne, the wines tend to be lighter and of higher acidity, and destined for early drinking.  This lightness and acidity both make it a great match for the seafood roll.

Complementary Pairing:  Jacquère, Savoie, France
Try:  Domaine Jean Masson Apremont Vieilles Vignes [du Sieclé]
Apremont is the largest of the many appellations within the Savoie region.  Jean Masson has old vine plots high on the slopes of Mont Granier, on a noteworthy terroir of mixed chalk, limestone, and rock rubble from a landslide in the thirteenth century.  This is made entirely from jacquère, which can make a lackluster wine unless it is produced at low yields as it is here.

Contrasting Pairing:  Bouzy Rouge, Coteaux Champenois, France
Try:  Jean Vesselle Bouzy Rouge
[]  This family-run winery represents the latest in three centuries of vignerons in Bouzy.  All of the fruit comes from their estate, making this house a récoltant-manipulant, the sparkling product of which is a so-called “grower Champagne.”  The still red wine is 100% pinot noir from vines of greater than 30 years of age.

The author enjoying the seafood roll so much that he can’t stuff it in his mouth fast enough.  “Could you please send the sommelier over to our table?”

Thursday, September 13, 2012

MRE Menu 20: Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Lovers of Bordeaux have choices that span the globe, as the traditional varietals from here have migrated to every hemisphere, no matter how you slice it.  Since this dish is associated with Italy, that is where we will go to find a matching claret.  To some degree, these same cépages bordelais are ubiquitous throughout Italy in order to satisfy an international market, but today we will focus on the northern Italian region of Trentino.  This cooler climate region will yield wines of less unbridled power and alcohol, and more finesse.  With climate change a dynamic but slow process, a slight overall warming is helping the clarets from this region hit the perfect spot of ripeness, without hints of green or vegetal flavors.

For a white pairing for what most would consider a quintessentially red wine dish, let us consider another variety that has become ubiquitous worldwide—chardonnay.  From its traditional home in Burgundy, it has found success in many places, including California.  It is a grape that is quite capable of expressing its terroir, yet also the will of the winemaker.  Even in the confines of greater Napa and Sonoma, temperatures, altitude, and geology are widely variable.  Likewise, aging regimens range from pure stainless steel that leaves the emphasis on the fruit all the way to 100% new oak that can leave one with the sense of drinking liquid toast.  The best producers have struck a happy medium, growing or sourcing excellent fruit at low yields, and using a meticulous but gentle hand in the cellar.  To stand up to the meat sauce on the spaghetti, look for a California chardonnay that allows the minerality of some of its best growing regions to shine through, with just enough oak to add structure and subtle spice, and a bit of acidity on the finish.  If you close your eyes and can believe you’re drinking Burgundy, you’ve found the right one.

Complementary Pairing:  Claret, Trentino, Italy
Try:  Tenuta San Leonardo ‘San Leonardo’
[]  This claret is the grand vin, and is only produced in good to excellent vintage years.  It is composed of about 2/3 cabernet sauvignon and 1/3 cabernet franc, with merlot as a minor stakeholder.  Each variety is aged separately in a mixture of new and used French barriques in the style of Bordeaux, before being blended and bottled for another year of aging before release.

Contrasting Pairing:  Chardonnay, California, USA
Try:  Ramey Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard
[]  Winemaker David Ramey sources this fruit from 40 year-old vines in the center of the Russian River Valley.  This single-vineyard expression offers up tropical fruits and minerals together with herbs and spices on the finish.  While a substantial portion is aged in new French oak, these flavors are invariably well integrated and balanced with the acidity.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

MRE Menu 19: Sloppy Joe

It scarcely seems fair to name this MRE “Sloppy Joe,” given that the contents of all 24 MREs could easily be called “sloppy.”  Nonetheless, the ground beef in sauce base of the dish lends itself to a red wine of some stature, with those of the southern Rhône being worthy contenders.  These are typically predominantly grenache, with mouvèdre and syrah being common in lesser amounts in the blend, although a host of varieties are authorized.  Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the well-known appellation here, but neighboring Gigondas and Vacqueyras offer a similar style, which is sometimes characterized as more rustic, but at greater value.  The climate achieves a warmth that produces high sugar levels, and thus high alcohol levels, which may be just the thing to help you forget how “sloppy” this MRE happens to be.

In lieu of a white wine for contrast, let’s look to a rosé.  We’ll head south from the Rhône to Provence, which is most well known for its rosé production over whites and reds.  The mix of varieties is similar to its northerly neighbors in the southern Rhône, except that mouvèdre must now comprise the majority of the blend.  It is a warm climate, and the vignerons must watch their grapes closely to ensure they do not become overripe.  In addition to flavors of various red berries, spicy and earthy notes are common.

Complementary Pairing:  Gigondas, Rhône, France
Try:  Domaine La Bouïssiere Gigondas ‘La Font du Tonin’
This is the tête de cuvée for this domaine, made almost entirely of grenache with just a bit of mouvèdre, and grown at their highest sites on the slopes of the Dentelles de Montmirail.  A non-interventionalist approach in the cellar seeks to highlight the fruit with the use of one and two year old barrels, and no fining or filtering.  This wine combines the typical dark fruit, earth, and spice of Gigondas with a bit of finesse from the higher elevation and cooler temperatures.

Contrasting Pairing:  Bandol Rosé, Provence, France
Try:  Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé
[]  This domaine was a pioneer in establishing Bandol as an official appellation, and led the way with replanting mouvèdre in their vineyards.  The blend for the rosé is half mouvèdre, with the balance coming from grenache, cinsault, and a bit of carignan, all grown on clay and limestone soils.