Master Chef Home Edition - The Revenge
This is the second part of a silly cooking competition between friends whose only true objective is to uncork superb bottles, eat well and have a good time, the first part of which can also be found here.
If on that first occasion Ignacio was the one cooking, it was now Jorge's turn. It wasn't an easy task as the bar had been set quite high. We tend to start our dinner parties with bubbles or Sherry and we often forget other aperitifs, one of my favorite ones being (very old) dry white Port. Fortunately someone had brought a bottle of Niepoort Very Dry, Old. The wine inside was old—the label told us that much—but the bottle itself must have been from the 1960s or early 1970s, so on top of the oxidative character from the oak aging the wine also had the crystal-infused bottle reduction which sharpens the wines and in this case showed very fine aromas and a special texture, really balanced by the alternate oxidative and reductive phases and revealed complex aromas of cardamom, Madras curry, Christmas cake and nuts quite smoky, very dry and very unctuous. The label was tipped to smithereens, but the wine was intact. We must have all been really thirsty as the bottle was downed in a matter of minutes and as I tried to pour myself a little more even the sediment was gone. That's the best scale to measure a wine!
I don't really know (who or) why someone brought an old miniature of Valdespino Jerez-Quina, as there were eight of us. We proceeded to pour the contents of the tiny bottle into a glass and shared it between all of us. In the past there were a lot more aromatized wines, and quinine was one of the main ingredients: there was a category for Porto Quinado or Quina Sherry, the same as there is Barolo Chinato, but while the Italian version continues, the Spanish and Portuguese seem to have vanished, although you can still find old bottles out there. It had aromas of coffee liqueur, caramel, deep and pungent, a different aperitif, a good alternative to vermouth, with quite a lot of complexity and good balance after many years of development. What's fun about these wines is that initially they were conceived as medicines; tónico reconstituyente (restorative tonic) said on the label...
They had called me in a panic quite early in the morning in panic to ask if I had a good bottle of a stout or porter beer. Thank God I had the perfect bottle. All of a sudden they thought about a different match for a foie gras they were cooking in black beer that was going to be served with apple compote. The beer is called Hel & Verdoemenis, meaning Hell & Damnation, an extreme stout, the 0.75 liter bottle that we drank had been brewed in February 2011 and bottled a couple of months later. The De Mollen labels are really geeky, they give you all the small details, not only the dates, but also the color points (308.9 EBC) and the bitterness, 99.9 EBU in this case! In other words, this is a monster of a beer, which needs lots of everything to compensate that bitterness, like for example 10% alcohol, but it didn't feel alcoholic, the alcohol was integrated and in balance, it was just that everything felt very XXL, not unlike some heavyweight wines. The label says that if kept in good conditions it should last for 25 years. This one was certainly very much alive, it felt like licorice juice—great texture combined with notes of coffee, dates and dark chocolate. A huge beer like this was able to stand up to the power and intensity of the dish, a great match and a truly different one for the foie gras which by the way was superb, served at perfect temperature which meant a perfect texture and flavors; if foie is served too cold or too warm it's not the same. But Jorge knows that very well, of course.
The red prawns with curry and cilantro felt very salty and tasty. But hold it, it's not salty, it's umami! It turns out that they had been cooked in pigeon broth! Marine, saline, umami...'rusty nails' came to my head as a descriptor for the 1970 Clos Joliette from Jurançon. It was bittersweet, light and acidic and it reminded me of a dry Château Gillette, a most unusual Sauternes, with citric notes (orange peel) intermixed with hints of pollen and clear reminiscences of honey.
We didn't have that many whites but the 2004 Savigny-Les-Beaune Blanc from Simon Bize seemed perfect for the prawns as the Jurançon vanished in no time. This is classic white Burgundy, it had notes of wet wool, honey and beeswax, fennel and aniseed with touches of mushroom.
The 1984 Richebourg from Jean Grivot was quite light with notes of brick dust, paprika and leather, a little bit too old unfortunately. As we were scratching our heads about the Richebourg the next dish appeared. The somewhat wine-challenging low-temperature egg with ham foam and truffles, which was supple and pungent while the wine showed leafy, a little volatile, low tide, smoked meat, iron, iodine, fish scales and balsam. Weird!
We uncorked a most excellent bottle of red Burgundy for the rice course. It was a 1991 Morey St Denis from Jacky Truchot, a humble village wine that at age 25 was putting some Grand Crus to shame—bright cherry liqueur, spices, curry, bonfire, fresh blood, earthy notes, truffles, a very lively bright ruby red, what old Burgundy is all about, about nuances and subtleness, about balance and elegance. The producer is one of the unknown heroes of Burgundy a vigneron that was never famous or glamorous, who retired in silence and sold his domaine as he had no descendants. One of those I call a "lost vigneron," of a list of names that include Noël Verset, Marius Gentaz-Dervieux, Marcel Juge, Edmon Vatan and, of course, Jacky Truchot.
I'd love to see statistics about it (if they existed!), because my guess is the most commonly cooked dish in Spain's homes for Sunday lunch is paella. At least we did not let this tradition down and had our version of Paella: saffron rice and red prawns. The bottle that was uncorked to go with it showed tannic, hard and a little evolved, like you might expect from a 1995 Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Champ Perdix from Bruno Clair, nothing to write home about unfortunately.
Another classic, this time from the Basque country, kokotxas with green sauce of smoked oil. The cococha (or kokotxa as it's spelled in Basque language) is the chin of a fish, a gelatinous, tender and fishy muscle that is quite small. Each fish only has one cococha, so to cook a dish of cocochas requires many fish. It's a small, fleshy part of the jaw of some fish that is considered a delicacy. They are traditionally from hake, but you can also find them in cod and other fish. They are really gelatinous, and when cooked they release the gelatin which is then emulsified with the oil and creates a gooey texture. The green sauce is nothing other than an emulsion of olive oil and parsley bonded together by the gelatin from the fish. Garlic and chili pepper and a whole lotta shakin' goin' on!
We were not that lucky with our red Burgundies that day, as the highly anticipated 1999 Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru from Hudelot-Noëllat was not on top form either, it showed austere and not very expressive, with a metallic note reminiscent of iron, when the wines are usually fragrant and floral, delicate and subtle.
Next was a 5-kilogram wild turbot that was roasted to perfection in the oven that had to deal with a pristine bottle of 1989 Montrose, a delicious dark wine that felt young for its age, with some marine aromas (no, they didn't come from the turbot!), iodine, tomato vine, a little reduced and mixing leather and smoke with a terse texture; in fact the wine needed a little lifting as it felt slightly hard, very earthy. Flat out great. Turbot and bottle of wine that is!
Someone had brought a bottle of 1988 Bandol Rouge from Domaine Tempier without knowing we could match it with some pigeon; both wine and dish shared the pungent aromas of well-hung game. The pigeon had been marinated in a mixture of Cognac, Porto and coffee with rosemary, thyme and orange, and cooked in a cassoulet with plenty of onion, garlic and shallots. I had scribbled in my little red notebook that the Tempier was mystically elegant (go figure!) and that the pigeon was the perfect pairing for it.
There was an unlabelled bottle of 1960 Dow Vintage Port for the dessert. How do I know it was a 1960 Dow? Well, it was clearly engraved on the thick red wax capsule, which must have acted as the label. It was bright ruby-colored, quite translucent, with aromas of maraschino cherries, spices and blond tobacco. I have some pictures of some unidentified chocolate dessert (well, it was also unlabelled!) but I have no notes and no real recollection of it—the wine clearly overshadowed it. It was perfect, polished and with the complexity of many years in bottle, warm like cherry liqueur, pungently spicy (curry!) with a long-lasting flavor lifted, no doubt by the alcohol which made it heady and intensely persistent. I usually like the Colheitas, but when you hit a good aged bottle of Vintage you see why the category is the king of Port...
More articles from this author
Amics: Friends in Priorat
Get to know this restaurant inside the Buil & Giné winery and hotel.