Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Paired Up: Primitivo and Leg of Lamb

In our Paired Up posts, we review a wine and the food we wisely (or foolishly) paired it with. 

The Wine

2007 Michael Florentino Cellars Primitivo (Columbia Valley)

Still Buzzing (oh the puns!) from our latest successful food and wine pairing, we went for something ambitious: leg of lamb. Since this was Katy's first time cooking it, we weren't quite sure what to pick out to pair with it. In stepped this Primitivo from Michael Florentino Cellars. Primitivo is the Italian name for Zinfandel, which is typically a very flexible food wine that can go with most anything. We picked up this bottle during St. Nicholas Day Open House. It rested in our wine fridge for the past few months, then we decanted it for about an hour before dinner.

The Food

This one was all Katy - the only thing Hunter helped with was the eating. In the chef's words:

Lamb has always seemed a little "way-out" for my culinary forays. It seems a little too "grown-up" and, to be honest, a little too... potentially disastrous. Well, I am here to tell you not to believe the hype! I stumbled across a seemingly bullet proof recipe early one Saturday morning, and decided to go all in and make it. It was a breeze. I bought the smallest leg of lamb that we could find (cooking for 2 and drinking loads of wine to boot presents a lot of "scale" issues, so I try to combat the battle of the bulge with small proportions, when applicable...)
We decided to try and make a traditional, New Zealand-esque Sunday Roast and subsequent feast. We paired the Lego Lamb with some baked brussels sprouts and a different sort of baked potatoes.

First things first: the scary-expensive lamb.

Again, I am big on the prep work... So to begin with, coarsely chop up a medium white onion, and just put them in the bottom of the Crockpot. Next, slice up around 4 cloves of garlic, and deflower a few sprigs of rosemary, again very coarsely chopping them, just enough really to get the aroma and the flavor flowing. Next, take a small paring knife and make several small incisions all over the roast; taking time to place one of the slices of garlic into each hole. You want to make sure that you get the garlic in as deep as possible. Alright, now get a medium pan on the stove top, and heating up (med-high), and on to the sexy part!

Drizzle EVOO onto your lamb, and rub it in really good... don't be shy, just get in there and rub-a-dub-dub it! This is important, for proper browning and to begin the process of making sure that you don't dry it out. Now rub on the rosemary, and have your kitchen partner (hopefully he without EVOO on his hands) sprinkle on some cracked pepper and coarse sea salt and pop the meat slab into the hot pan. Brown all sides evenly, about 2 min/side and move to the Crockpot, atop the onions.

To finish, I used nearly an entire carton of beef broth, and added nearly 1/2 cup of chicken broth (just to temper the sometimes "tinny" taste that beef broth can have) and around 1/4 cup of low-sodium soy sauce. Salt'n'Peppa the lamb to your heart's content. If the broth does not completely cover your roast, fear not, just remember to turn it at least once while it cooks. Put the lid on, and start the Crockpot. We did about 10 hours because we had time to kill, but it really would have been done in 6-8 as well, just not as "fall off the bone" ready. A little note from hind-sight: I would have added a bit more salt. No, make that a lot more salt. I was worried that it would be too salty, but with 10 hours cooking, most of the residual sodium in the broth really dissipated.

Next, for the sides: brussels sprouts. Super simple. Heat your oven to 350. Cut about 1/2-1/4" off the bottom of your sprouts, and then halve them. Put into a baking dish, drizzle with EVOO, salt and pepper, toss around to coat evenly, and put into the oven for about 20 min. These will end up cooked through, and crispy on the outside, comparable to a crispy potato chip, but without the guilt! Yay!

The spin-off baked potato was not really my brightest kitchen moment. The idea was this: Take a whole potato and boil it (1 per person) until it is easily pierced with a fork. (That took FOREVER! If you're going to attempt this, make sure you have sufficient time for this to boil through... around 40 min...) Once it gets soft, take it out and place on a cookie sheet sprayed with Pam, and then TRY to smash the potato flat - think of a crab cake consistency - and then you can top it with what ever you like... salt, pepper, cheese, etc. Place in the oven (350) for about 15-20 min... and there you have a new take on the baked potato.

I FAILED at this. when I tried to smash it down flat, I just ended up with a mess of flakey potato. So I took about 1 minute to glare at the pile, then decided to make mashed potatoes! 

Hunter's Gatherings

It pours a ruby-red with medium depth and nice clarity. The aroma is moderately intense, with game meat, blackberry and char the main initial components along with something I can't quite put my finger on - maybe oil smoke (in a good way!)? As the glass opened up, cherries came along to join in. The taste is again moderate - not weak by any means, but not terribly strong either. The taste is a savory and sweet blend of jerk-like dry spice and blackberry pie, with a hint of Red Vines. It attacks from tongue to throat and dries the palate as it finishes. 88

The lamb and potato paired only decently with this wine. They had a nice effect of pushing the aromas of the wine back out through the nose, which intensified the flavor. Other than that, there just wasn't much to write home about with the pairing (though the lamb itself was wonderful!). Brussels sprouts were a different story. They were slightly charred on the outside, which played up that element of the wine, and grounded it with their flavor. Brussels sprouts: great! Lamb and potato: meh.

Katy's Take 

It was a medium ruby red, which looked very clear and appealing. The bouquet was aromatic and youthful, showcasing a lot of fruity-floral scents in a most delicate, feminine way. With little hints of toasted coconut and vanilla, and an almost fleeting sweet tobacco/fresh baked pastry that all spoke towards the oak. After a while, the fruit whiffs seemed to all but disappear from the nose. The flavor was slightly right of light, and very crisp/lively, to the near point of being tart. The initial attack was pure cherry, which crested to an apple overload, which in turn peaked back up to cherry again, before rounding out to a toothy, peppery, sometimes meaty finish that wants to burst thorough the sinus and out the nose again. Overall, it wasn't a pallet melter, but it was rather pleasant. 89 

Hmm. The lamb was excellent (although a little light on the salty side), the sides were great, the wine was decent... but overall, nothing particularly stood out! To be fair, it was better than having to decide that NONE of it went together, and therefore calling it a fail; so I suppose there's a silver lining! It did pair exceedingly well with the brussels sprouts, as the salt in that dish seemed to bring forth more pepper to the taste, which really helped to balance out the sweet-tart fruitiness of the wine. I do suppose that there was some interest that the wine brought to the lamb in the way that it seemed to bring out a more gamey, exotic flavor in the otherwise humble meat. Oh, and have I mentioned my theory that Garlic + Red Wine = Magic? It's true, and I think I will try and test this theory further with every new red wine! Overall, I think that a stronger, brighter, perhaps more apple driven, wine would have paired a little more appropriately with the entire feast.

The Conclusion

Roasting a leg of lamb was a pretty adventurous move for the meal, so we opted to play it safe with the Primitivo. What resulted was a pairing that didn't clash, but also didn't shine. Though the brussels sprouts gave us a great spark, the rest of the meal just simply didn't need this wine to play it up. This is a case of a fantastic meal and a perfectly nice wine that just weren't meant to be. It's nobody's fault... these things happen sometimes. Friends?

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