Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chilly, Chile, Chilly, Chile, Chili, and Chili

An excessive use of homonyms is indeed the evidence that cabin fever's beginning to set in. We've been holed up for 48 hours by this year's edition of the "storm of the century", and- while the stockpile of wine has held up nicely- I'm about to go into kidney failure from the constant consumption of sodium-laden canned soups. I feel like I've been drinking seawater. Progresso has made me crazy; delirious about homonyms. All canned soup and no fresh food makes Joey a dull boy.

Though we rarely see the white stuff on the ground in Georgia, this has been only one of many, many chilly weather episodes over the past 3 months. With such cold comes a desire for red wines, and for appropriate victuals to complement said wines. One such night came back in December, when I had just received a surplus of venison from my father-in-law, who seems to have a particular vendetta against whitetails. Jesting aside, my wife's father is an avid outdoorsman, and I am very appreciative when he supplies me with venison. Can't get reservations at Morton's? Seminole Deer Processing has got your back.

With the food situation (seemingly) tightened up tighter than Archie Bell & the Drells, I turned to wine options, as is my nature. Knowing that Chilean reds (especially ones containing the polarizing Carménère grape) can be quite earthy, I chose a couple bottles [disclosure statement] I received as samples from a PR company touting "Chilean Red Blends". In conversation with wine lovers, we all often get caught up in varietal bottlings, perceiving them as higher in quality. However, some of the world's most sought-after reds are blends, including Bordeaux, Amarone, and up-to-thirteen-graper Châteauneuf-du-Pape ("graper" is a word for this post's purposes). I'm glad to see more and more blends coming to market. It makes sense in quality wine production: taking the best of different grapes to create something marvelous. Would you rather listen to The Beatles, or Ringo Starr by himself?

Or maybe the music of the Spice Girls versus Geri Halliwell solo projects? Actually, they're both pretty bad, but hey, at least they're not Ringo Starr.

I opened the 2008 Bodegas O. Fournier Centauri (45% Carignan, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 25% Merlot from the Maule Valley of Chile, about $20 retail) and the 2004 Haras de Pirque Albis (75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Carménère from the Maipo Valley, about $45 retail), tucking in to make sure they would complement my venison steaks, destined for an au poivre-style preparation.

While the Albis showed a lot of cherry, plum, herbs, and dark fruit found in high-quality fruit-forward Cabs, all this goodness was the Ringo Starr to a John/Paul of Carménère funk: like used coffee grounds, charcoal, burnt green pepper, and a bit of poo was thrown in the bottle with some really good Cab. I was not ready for it on this night (to be continued...). The Centauri, however, was primed for consumption. Carignan (to me) shares a lot of the same properties of Zinfandel, so the 45% stepped up with an always-satisfying nose and flavors of berries and black pepper. I also decided to use a little for the pan sauce. I could already taste my next culinary masterstroke.

Sadly, dinner was an abject failure. Not for lack of potential, but lack of ingredients/technique. I made two distinct mistakes: lightly flouring the chops before searing, and using "light" butter instead of honest-to-goodness butter. It was all I had on hand, and it coated the pan with a disgusting film. Furthermore, when I added my liquid to create the pan sauce (the Centauri in lieu of Brandy), it created a far-too-thick-and-rather-gloppy gravy. Look at this mess:

But there were some bright spots: rather than using crushed black peppercorns to coat the venison chops, I used a spice that was also provided as a sample with the wines. Called "merquén" (pronounced "merkin"...yes, just like a toupée for the nether-regions), this blend of smoked cayenne pepper and other spices was mighty tasty, with a warm heat and great chipotle-like flavor. Furthermore, the wine offered good flavor in the stead of harder spirits. Regardless, I tucked my chef's tail in shame and stoppered the wines to fight another day. A pox on fake butter substitutes!

As it turns out (not surprisingly in December), there was quite a nip in the air the next night, so I had a chance at redemption. I whipped up a batch of chili, which is a notoriously good pairing with Zinfandel (provided it's not too spicy: heat in spices seems to magnify alcohol). Granted, I didn't have Zin, but my similarly-profiled Carignan blend would do just fine. And it did. This would be one of those "complementary" pairings- as opposed to "contrast" matches- where the peppery spice and juiciness of both berry flavor and tomatoes came into harmony, while red meat and tannic structure- likely from the 30% Cabernet Sauvignon- melded nicely.

Even the Albis, after taking a day to blow off its poo-breath, was mighty tasty with the chili. More fruit, less funk. Sort of like when Peter Cetera took over Chicago and made them lame. Except in this case, it was a good thing. How's that for a bad metaphor?

I guess what I'm trying to say is: when the weather got chilly, I scrounged for some red blends from Chile. They were pretty good, even though my food was bad. But then it got chilly again, so I took what was left of my wines from Chile, and successfully paired them with some chili. Which is what you should do, whether you're a novice wine drinker, a seasoned pro, or journeyman designated hitter/outfielder Chili Davis, who isn't originally from Chile, but from Jamaica, where it never gets chilly.

Use real butter.
blog comments powered by Disqus