Thursday, April 4, 2013

Vinogirl and I clash

Believe it or not, Vinogirl and I did not get together on our mutual posts, even though they have the same theme.

Recently, thanks to my regular column in a Rochester, NY magazine--yeah, print--I received two emails last week from PR people applauding my column and then asking if I would like to taste some wines that they represent.

As I do with everyone who contacts me with that kind of request, I informed them that I rarely do wine criticism, and when I do it's generally for wine that I have bought at retail. In each case, I was thanked for my honesty and told the wine would be sent nevertheless.

They arrived--two wines form Italy and three from Portugal (they came form a PR agency in NY City). Last night, I opened one of them to have with dinner.

Because I hate wine criticism, especially when the wine is in a vacuum, as a tasting rather than in its true setting, with food, I will do this a different way. I'll tell you what I prepared for dinner and then tell you how the wine did with it.

I had an eggplant that needed to be consumed, but I had grown tired of the usual wok eggplant dish that I prepare every two weeks or so. This time, I decided to do something in an Italian mode to pair with one of the wines from Italy.

We have finished off the last of our tomato sauce from our 2012 crop, so I am reduced to opening a can. I know all about ragu: the long, slow process of cooking a tomato sauce, usually with meat. I don't cook much like that. I decide about an hour or two before dinner what I want to eat, which gives me half an hour to make a sauce. Easy task, as you really don't need a lot of time to make a tasty tomato sauce.

A can of crushed (organic) tomatoes, 1/2 cup sweet wine (Madeira), some chicken stock does the trick.

I take one of my basil ice cubes and melt it--yeah, that's how I preserve basil all winter. At harvest time, I select some bunches and whip them up with olive oil and then pour them into an ice tray. After they freeze, I remove them from the ice tray and dump the basil ice pieces into a plastic bag to store in the freezer.

Drop a basil cube into a 12-inch stainless pan, slice a couple of cloves of garlic thin with a razor and give them a quick saute in the olive oil, pour in the tomato, wine, and 1/2 cup of stock, add a few laurel leaves, and let simmer for half an hour, adding stock if it starts to dry up too much.

Turn on convection oven to 350.

Slice the eggplant into 1/4-inch thick pieces. Dip each into egg, drip and then dredge each piece into breadcrumbs. (I make my own breadcrumbs from the insides of whole grain baguettes that I eat. I drop the insides into a container and store them in the refrigerator so they dry out nicely--then I grind them fine in the food processor and store in a jar in the freezer.)

Lay the breaded eggplant on an oven pan and bake for about 20 minutes on each side.

Put water on to boil for cheese ravioli. When turning the eggplant over for its last 20 minutes baking, drop the ravioli into boiling water and cook until done--eight minutes or so.

Meanwhile, wilt some spinach leaves very briefly--about a minute, tops. Lay the spinach on a salad plate, top with fresh olives and some bean sprouts (we make our own sprouts).

That's the salad.

Chop some parsley for garnishing, and crumble some grana padano cheese into small pieces.

When the ravioli and eggplant are done, put them into separate plates and pour the sauce over them. On top of the eggplant, spread the little pieces of grana padano. Sprinkle parsley over ravioli and eggplant dishes.

That's dinner; now the wine.

Barba's 2009 Montepulciano D'Abruzzo (red). The grapes are grown organically and, based on its opaqueness as well as its gritty/chewy quality, I'd say the wine is not filtered.

It has a truly earthy aroma, but not Brett: elemental, with a black cherry undertone. It doesn't present fruit in the taste; it's on the vinous side. It's got a lot of body and heft to it, and it could not be mistaken for anything but old-style Abruzzo winemaking. In fact, the winery claims old vines.

I liked the wine with the food. The food toned it down a little, which was good, as the wine is quite hefty.

In all, it was a nice experience, but the wine is nothing that I would spend a lot of time seeking.