Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Paired Up: Merlot/Cabernet Franc Blend and Chipotle Steak

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

The Wine

2007 Fjellene Cellars The North Col Blend

We picked this bottle up at the winery during Spring Release Weekend in Walla Walla. Our wine group had not been to Fjellene and wanted to check it out this time around. We all came away very impressed by the array of smooth, fruity wines on offer. We have found that we are suckers for Merlot-Cabernet Franc blends, so we grabbed a bottle of this 50-50 mix. Having had success with this type of blend paired with steak before, we selected this one to partner with a different style of steak. It was on our rack for a few weeks before we tabbed it for this meal. It decanted while the meal was prepared - so, not very long - but didn't show any tightness on the nose.

The Food

Hunter stayed out of the kitchen once again. In Katy's words:

Having recently been turned on to the awesome power of spicy foods, and knowing now how potentially palate-blowing spices and wine can be paired up, I have been on the hunt for sweat-inducing dishes. I came across this nearly bulletproof dish in the June 2011 issue of Cooking Light magazine. It turned out so well that I ended up making it again... 2 days later. Seriously. It was THAT good.

The main dish was a 1 lb flank steak, rubbed down with 1 tsp of chipotle powder (my new obsession...), paprika and a 1/4 tsp of salt. Place it on a broiler pan, and broil it (on High) for about 5 minutes per side. Take it out and tent it with Aluminum foil for around 5 minutes before slicing as thin as you can get it. On its own... how freaking more simple can making a steak with an amazing smoky-spicy flavor get? But, if you want to get super fancy-shmancy, then you can make an equally amazing and mind-blowing cheese sauce to top it off with (Which, although Hunter loathes me to say, CAN be a simple endeavor. Just read the directions first, and prep all the ingredients beforehand!):

Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add to it 2 tbsp of minced shallots (this is about one whole small shallot), and 1-2 garlic cloves, also minced, depending on your specific NEED for garlic (as in, I NEED to have as much garlic in as many of my meals as possible...). Cook these for about 1 minute, then add in 1 tsp of flour (I know... it seems weird, but it's necessary), cook and stir constantly for 30 seconds. Add in 2/3 cup milk (low fat if you're counting calories and would like an extra glass of wine...) and cook until reduced down to around half. Remove from heat and add in 1/4 cup of crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (We always splurge on the best quality cheese that we find in the Metropolitan Market cheese case, and I would always recommend this one tip over nearly any other I have under my chef's hat. We used an import that was in wedge form, and I had to manually crumble it.), 1/4 tsp butter, and 1 tsp dried parsley. When all the cheese globs have melted down, go ahead and pour this over the flank steak strips, and be sure to stand back for the smack of awesomeness you're about to witness and taste!

For sides, I did our standby of quinoa - to which I added a dash of chipotle to kick up the flavor intensity of the entire meal - and some wilted spinach to round out the plate. Wilting spinach is pretty basic, but to share... I heat up a very large pan over med-high heat. I like to buy a single bunch of spinach (1 bunch wilts WAY down and is perfect for 2 people), rinse the leaves, then I prefer to just tear the stems off and throw the whole lot into the frying pan, stirring around with a wooden spoon until it resembles a more appetizing version of something that Popeye would suck out of a can. Add a dash of pepper and garlic salt... done in about 2-3 minutes!

SIDE NOTE: We had left over cheese sauce, and we decided to dip some crackers and baby carrots into it, and when we ran out of those... Well, we MAY have just dipped our fingers in it... I can't remember exactly, but it was pretty damn delicious, and such a heartbreak to have had to waste!

Hunter's Gatherings

The wine pours a deep ruby. The nose is heavy with anise and juicy plums. There is some sort of earthy pepper subtlety in the background as well. On tasting, the fruit floods in and stays for the long haul - from the attack through the very long finish the wine is plum fantastic! The mid-palate introduces the pepper, which also holds on through the finish. Throughout the taste, there is a companion of licorice. 90

The chipotle steak did wonders! The spice and juiciness of the steak picked up on the similar profile of the wine and smoothed everything into one glorious mouthful of flavor. The quinoa - heavy with chipotle smokiness - mixed in well with the pepper tones of the wine, while the spinach turned into a surprising delicious pairing; its saltiness really accented the fruit and let this pairing shine!

Katy's Take

A deep dark ruby-red pour, with a nose of black fruits, earthy spices, and equally deep vanilla tones. There was a smooth almost blossoming quality to the bouquet that became more complex with every intake, until it petered out into a chalky scent, which signaled the time to taste. The attack was of ripened sour cherries, with a mid-palate and finish that had transitioned more into a dark and masculine black berry flavor. Overall the wine was fatty and smooth. Very well balanced and mouth coating. 90

This wine became more complex and tantalizing with every paired up mouthful! The salt and spice in the steak rub really brightened up the balance of the wine, bringing forward a more focused and cleaner fruit structure to the palate, while the earthy nutty flavors of the quinoa and spinach helped to further balance out the fruit to really nicely round all the tastes together. Definitely a worthy pairing!

The Conclusion

The meal was so good that we had to revisit it a couple days later. (In case you're curious, it also did very well with a smooth 2006 Wapato Point Vineyards Syrah that Katy's dad brought over to share.) The smoky, salty yet juicy flavor profile of the meat melded delightfully with this Merlot-Cab Franc blend. The sides played their own game with the palate. And the cheese sauce - great on the steak - is certainly flavorful enough on its own to be a dip. This is one meal that will definitely work its way into the regular rotation!

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