There are some days when I end up kicking myself for not bringing my camera along with me when I walk out the door. Sunday, May 23, 2010 was one of those days. On this day I had the great pleasure of working with Matias Michelini, winemaker for Finca Sophenia Wines of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Matias was presenting some of his wines and I was tasked with preparing an Argentine lunch for the class.
Originally we were to have Roberto Luka, President and Co-founder of Finca Sophenia, come and discuss his wines. Due to a previous obligation with the Argentine government Mr. Luka was not able to attend. In his place he sent his winemaker, Matias Michelini (he commented that they were in the middle of harvest as he left for Texas). Mr. Michelini presented four of his wines that afternoon: Finca Sophenia Reserve Malbec; Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon; Finca Sophenia Synthesis Malbec; Synthesis "The Blend" (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot).
The Reserve wines are priced at $19.99 and are, in my opinion, very good values. The malbec showed a nice nose of dark berries (blueberry, cherry) which led to a nice dark fruit taste with light tannins. What I liked about this wine was the presence of tannic structure. Many Argentine malbecs (mostly those wines in the $10 price range) show very little tannic structure with a lot of fruit coming through. This makes the wines super smooth and very easy to drink. While it is true that is the appeal of these wines, from a chef's perspective it doesn't make for great food pairing. Sure, you can do some things with them but they can be easily over powered or they can easily over power the food. I find these more generic malbecs best for just sipping. Sophenia, on the other hand, has more balance between the fruit and tannins. There is much more depth to the wine in terms of fruit. I picked up some blueberry, blackberry, dark cherry, a little chocolate. The tannic structure of the wine brought out some woody notes (oak? cedar?), and something slightly herbaceous (rosemary?). The finish on the wine lasted a nice long time, allowing me to observe the changing aromas and flavors. I think that if this wine were a French Bordeaux it would have been priced at $40 or more. This malbec received a score of 90 points from Robert Parker.
The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon had a definite nose of wood (rosemary or cedar) along with some wet stone, blackberries, and raisins. Again, a wine of this complexity for $20 is a steal. There is enough tannic structure to allow this wine to age for several more years, probably through 2015. The palate offered an abundance of sweet and spicy dark fruit flavors, definite notes of cedar, and something like mild green pepper lurking around on the finish. I found that last note really interesting and Mr. Michelini commented that sometimes when grapes are grown at high elevations (4,000 ft.) you can sometimes find these green pepper notes in red wines. This is due to the drastic differences in the night and day temperatures.
Both of these wines were served with a small picada plate (Argentine appetizer or antipasti) of carrots with salsa criolla (puréed onions, bell peppers, vinegar, salt and pepper), cured and aged ham, olive bread, and black olives. This is a typical way to start a meal in Argentina; sit down and enjoy some wine and little bites of food before moving on to the larger courses.
Now it was time to taste the big wines. First up was the Synthesis Malbec. As I stated earlier about the structure of value malbec wines versus the Sophenia Reserve, well, the Synthesis took malbec to a whole different level for the Argentine
style (granted there are other Argentine wines that do this: Luca, Nostros, to name a couple). This wine is a dark, inky purple that seductively comes to you. On the nose you are hit with a wonderful amount of dark fruits and violets. The tannins are very well integrated with the fruit and provide a wonderfully long finish that shows this wine can easily age for another decade or so. It reminded me immediately of some of the wines of Cahors, France, often considered the birthplace of the malbec grape. Though it wasn't quite as strong as a good Cahors it definitely paid homage to it's ancestors. This was a malbec with balls. At $35 it is still a good deal because you get a lot of wine for this price. The wine garnered a 90 point rating from Robert Parker.
I paired this wine with a Pastel de Papas, or potato and meat pie. This is a very common dish in Argentina. It is basically a shepherd's pie (meat filling topped with mashed potatoes and baked). The Patagonia region of Argentina has a lot of Welsh immigrant history. It is thought that the Welsh brought shepherd's pie with them when they immigrated to Argentina and the dish assimilated into the local culture. The Argentine version of this dish is made with ground meat, onions, spices, raisins, olive, and boiled eggs. The filling is topped with mashed potatoes and then the dish is baked. This is where I got one of the biggest compliments of my career. Mr. Michelni was thrilled to have something so authentic and unexpected. He took one bite and exclaimed to the class, "This dish is called Pastel de Papas!" He looked over at me and gave me a big thumbs-up. Then he walked over and looked at the rib eye roast we were going to serve next and said, "You are a great chef." When you can impress the natives then you know that you have hit the mark. I said to him, "And you are a great winemaker. It is a pleasure to work with you."
Then last wine was the Synthesis "The Blend". This wine is a blend of malbec, cabernet sauvignon, and merlot. This is, essentially, a Bordeaux style blend (in Bordeaux the five grapes used are cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, and petit verdot). In the case of the Synthesis Mr. Michelini uses more malbec than cabernet sauvignon or merlot. His blending style showed how these grapes can really temper each other to make for a softer, more elegant wine. While the 100% malbec wine had a certain roughness to it this wine proved to be more gentlemanly. The blend is 45% malbec, 35% cabernet sauvignon, and 20% merlot. It was aged for 14 months in 100% new French oak barrels. The nose was complex, offering aromas of toast, mineral, earth, and black fruit. On the palate the wine was incredibly opulent, delivering loads of dark fruit flavors and well integrated tannins that gave a long smooth finish. Yes, the wine is $55 but would make any special occasion a grand occasion. I think that if this wine were French it would cost closer to $100. The wine garnered a 93 point rating from Robert Parker.
If you didn't know in Argentina they eat 145 pounds of beef per capita annually. That's a lot of beef. It averages out to about 1/2 pound every day. So of course I served a whole rib eye roast with this wine. And, of course, it was served with a side of chimichurri. You just can't go wrong with that. Once again Mr. Michelini was very happy with the pairing. He liked the beef so much that he asked me what I seasoned it with. When I told him it was just salt and pepper he smiled a knowing smile that said, "When you have good meat don't mess it up with fancy seasonings. Let the beef shine." We seemed to be on the same page. Of course for dessert I served alfajores, a traditional Argentine dessert of shortbread cookies sandwiching dulce de leche. Yum.
If you live near a Central Market in Texas you should be able to find the wines there. If not, check your local wine shop and see if they can procure them for you. You won't regret it. These are good wines.
And just so you don't leave hungry I have provided the recipe for Pastel de Papas. Enjoy!
Pastel de Papas
4 large Russet Potatoes
Salt to taste
3 tbsp. Butter
½ -1 cup Milk
4 large Onions, chopped
3 Tbsp. Grape Seed Oil
1 lb. Ground Beef, lean
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. ground Cumin
4 Hard-Boiled Eggs, sliced
1 cup Black Olives
1 cup Raisins
12 Chicken Thighs, boneless and skinless, browned
Pepper and Cumin
Boil the potatoes whole in a large pot of salted water. When they are easily pierced with a fork drain, cool, and peel them. Add the butter and mash them. Add the milk little by little, stirring constantly until the mixture is still thick but can be spread easily. Season with salt and pepper and leave to one side while you prepare the meat filling. Fry the onions in oil until transparent, add the ground meat and stir to brown. Season with salt, pepper and ground cumin. To prepare
the pie use an oven-proof dish that you can take to the table. Spread over the bottom of the dish the onion-ground meat mixture. Arrange over this the hard boiled egg slices, olives and raisins. Put the chicken pieces on Top. Cover the filling with the potatoes. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Serve immediately.
Serves 8 - 10
25 May 2010
02 May 2010
Sometimes you just hit one out of the park. I'm not really sure what prompted the idea. Maybe it was just me thinking of anything that I could to with venison that was just different. It may have already been done before but I had certainly never tried it. So I just started thinking about the flavors, putting them together in my head. "This just has to work", I thought.
As I have stated before I like to shoot some of the smaller deer as they tend to yield a sweeter meat. Every trophy buck I have ever eaten had a very strong game flavor to it. I'm okay with that but most people I talk with tend to say that flavor steers them away from venison. So this meat I have on hand is from mostly younger doe. And. It. Is. Sweet. So what else can I do with this? Carpaccio!
Carpaccio is an Italian dish that is typically made with beef (tenderloin cuts work well). The beef is cut into thin pieces or medallions and pounded very, very thin. Then the meat is simply dressed with flavors and eaten raw. Carpaccio is similar to beef tartare, a preparation that calls for cutting the meat into a small dice, mixing it with aromatics, and eating it raw.
Some people freak out a little bit at the idea of eating meat raw. But I'm okay with it. Try this recipe with venison or beef. I bet you'll like it.
I started with some venison back strap. I simply cut small medallions from the loin and arranged them on a piece of plastic wrap.
I then took a meat tenderizing mallet and flattened the medallions in to a large disk. You have to do this gently or you will tear the meat to shreds. Also, be sure the when you put the medallions on the plastic wrap that you overlap them so that they will meld together as you pound them thin.
Now gently unfold the wrapping and invert the disk of meat onto a plate large enough to hold it. At this point you simply dress the meat with whatever flavors you want. I used salt, pepper, EVOO, balsamic reduction (balsamic vinegar that has been reduced to a syrup), lemon zest, shallots, capers, grated asiago cheese, and a little arugula.
After consulting with my colleague Michael McGovern (wine steward) I paired two wines with the carpaccio: Chateau Beauchene Chateuaneuf du Pape, and a Minervios (the exact name eludes me right now). Both went exceptionally well with the carpaccio. The CdP brought the game flavor to the fore while the Minervios seemed to "elevate" the same flavor. We ended up agreeing that the Minervios was the better wine with the venison. Any other wine from the Languedoc would probably work just as well: Fitou, Cahor, etc. For whatever reason these wines really stood up to the acidic flavors on the meat. Rather than the acidity killing the wine it just ran parallel to it. A wonderful compliment.
Before I took the first bite my esteemed colleague, Chef Paul Schunder came into the kitchen. I asked him if he would like a taste. He wasn't going to turn it down so we both dug in together. After savoring that bite for a moment Paul looked at me and said, "We'll add this to the list of things that don't suck." That about says it all.