1999 RIDGE California Lytton Estate Grenache: Tasting Via Tasting -or- Food As Analytic -or- How A Dish Can Show A Wine’s Other Side

OK, a fairly long-winded title, to say the least. So here’s the gist: Essentially, rather than assessing this particular wine via a more “standard” tasting MO (i.e. tasting notes in the traditional sense), I thought I’d try to explain it in the context of what it was paired with at our table tonight.

Because my missus and I have a five-month baby girl at home (Miss Clara Bay), dinners aren’t quite the same as they used to be; they’re rather more rushed, and we’re often eating quite different meals from one another. Tonight, because Lil’ Miss fell asleep somewhat sooner than she’s been prone to of late, we were able to indulge in a comparatively more relaxed pace, but we definitely had different dishes on our plates. That the ’99 Lytton Estate Grenache performed magnificently, if quite differently, in its assigned role with each meal, is testament to its complexity and flexibility.

Amy (my lovely missus, and, might I say, a possessor of a quite refined palate, admittedly in recovery from the hormonal spoilages of pregnancy!) had the following:

A Mole Burrito in a whole wheat tortilla, with pinto beans, jack and white cheddar cheeses, sour cream, red pepper, and grilled potatoes. (For the purposes of this analysis, we’ll consider this the more “muscular” of the two dishes).

As to myself, I had the following:

Steamed broccoli and cremini mushrooms tossed with olive oil and sprinkled with Sale Alle Erbe Delle Marlunghe (a favorite Italian herb salt), stirred into pre-steamed tofu marinated in Bragg’s Amino Acids, topped with fresh avocado, and served over short grain brown rice. (This, for the same purpose outlined above, shall be deemed the more “elegant” of the two dishes.)

Cutting right to the chase, here’s the amazing thing; contrary to what one would seemingly expect, the “muscular” dish made the wine seem more muscular, and the “elegant” dish drew out the more elegant characteristics! Totally counter-intuitive! Rather than some sort of expected counter-balancing effect at work, the wine somehow performed high-wire acts of culinary empathy; morphing to support and engage the dishes, rather than offset them. Quite wild to experience, actually …

With Amy’s dish, given that there was alot of smoky umami-ish-ness on offer courtesy of the mole sauce, we were hoping for some degree of acidity from the wine, particularly given that we also had sour cream, potatoes, and beans to contend with. And while the acids certainly did their job, it wasn’t what one noticed about the wine. Rather, the Grenache was just flat out charitable with even more umami-ish-ness! It was just one big, savory happy family! It was as if the mole sauce (admittedly crafted elsewhere) had in fact been made with this wine!

With my dish, there were earthy notes from the mushrooms certainly, but for the most part, what came up off my plate with a more grainy (brown rice), green (broccoli & avocado), slightly sweet (steamed tofu), and slightly tangy (Bragg’s) array of notes. And what did the wine up and do? It went all floral and elegant! Tons of beautiful dried jasmine and lavender notes, everywhere! And tons of herbality, granularity, and gently sweet and tangy fruit! Stunning!

In short, this is just a ridiculously complex, and wickedly flexible culinary companion.

And on another note, it’s yet another example of how conservative our winemaker’s projections of longevity can often be. According  to Paul Draper’s label notes from 2001, this wine should have been at its best between 2002 and 2007! I think it’s safe to say that, as far as Amy and I were concerned, this wine, in ’09, was perfect, tonight!

Categories: Food & Wine Pairing, Grenache, Lytton, Tasting Notes

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