Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Perfect Foil for Old Man Winter

By Kitty Maloney
Originally published January 2011

On an early January evening, as a cold winter wind tussled around objects not secured, a hardy meal with a delicious red wine was needed to soothe the soul and take the chill off. The thought of toiling with the outdoor grill sounded both inviting and insane, as it was 24 degrees out (not factoring in the wind chill). But undaunted, I braved old man winter’s temper tantrum and headed out on the patio to start the charcoal grill. Why? you may ask, because of a wonderful bottle of Petit Verdot from Pollack Vineyards and the lovely London broil that had been marinating for the better part of the day. Oh and I still believe you can grill year round (file that under you can take the girl out of California but you can not take California out of the girl.)

Petit Verdot is one of the five “Nobel” black varietals allowed planted in Bordeaux is often thought of as more of a blending grape than a stand alone varietals. It is the late bloomer of the classic Bordeaux blends ripening quite late, sometimes as late as early autumn. In addition to the late ripening, Petit Verdot can be an inconsistent in producing fruit and can be affected by seasonal conditions more than other varietals. For these reasons, and in particular the  late ripening, lead to Petit Verdot falling out of favor in Bordeaux and by the 1960’s many of the vines were either abandoned or routinely replaced for Cabernet Sauvignon. However with the advancement of viticulture technology and techniques, Petit Verdot is enjoying the beginning of a comeback in its home region. In the New World Petit Verdot is much more successful, especially in the warmer growing regions such as Austrialia, California and Chile. The region with most total acreage planted of Petit Verdot is Australia. Planted in suitable growing regions and careful cultivation Petit Verdot produces fruit that is dark red to black berries with think skins in clusters that develop in small and loose clusters. Today in Virginia, Petit Verdot is growing in popularity and dare I say becoming “trendy”. Before someone scoffs at the comment, I should note, I really enjoy Petit Verdot and its current moderate price…

Petit Verdot, while notably a blending grape because of its strong flavors and tannins thus adding structure to most blends, is enjoying some growth as a stand alone varietal. Although stand alone bottling of Petit Verdot is on the rare side, each year there is a growing number of vineyards producing it in small quantities. The main reason is a little Petit Verdot goes along way; winemaker generally use only 3 to 6 percent of Petit Verdot when they blending it with other wines How does one translate this to the a single bottling of the wine, Petit Verdot is an extremely robust, big tannin big flavor profile red,. Most stand alone bottlings of this varietal can easily sit on your wine racks for years. Should you open while this wine is still on the young side, decanting will mellow out the tannins.     

Pollack Vineyards is a small family-owned vineyard just west of Charlottesville, Virginia on the Monticello Wine Trail. Founded in 2003, Pollack Vineyards released 320 cases of a Meritage blend in 2005. Today Pollack Vineyards produces approximately 5000 cases of wine. All of Pollack’s wine are grown on the estate in five distinct vineyards on the property. All grapes are hand harvested into lugs, sorted and cooled before crushing. Pollack makes several wines in small lots in order to bring out the unique qualities from the vineyard it was grown. 2008 saw the addition of a beautiful and large tasting room that opens on to a beautiful patio that allows visitors to enjoy their wine while taking in some of Virginia’s spectacular wine country.  

The wine selected was a 2007 Petit Verdot. Before decanting a small sampling of this wine was in order. The aroma was herbaceous and at first taste you were met with the heavy tannins you would expect from a Petit Verdot. On the palate, this was a big robust make your taste buds take notice wine. One could detect dark berries with a hint of cocoa in the wine. The finish, as expected was long due to the wine’s structure and tannins. I knew this wine would be an excellent pairing with menu of the evening. After the initial tasting, the wine was decanted and left to breathe for approximately an hour, while I braved the January winds to start the grill and prepare the rest of the meal.

1) Grilled Marinated London Broil
2)  Chipotles en adobo Mashed Potatoes and Steamed Broccoli

Given Petit Verdot robust nature and structure, it naturally pairs with tasty read meat (think steak), plus the wine can stand up to most marinades. This was a plus as I had a marinade recipe that I wanted to test out. Chipotle in Adobo sauce is another flavor that can be tricky to pair with due it strong flavor profile and the heat generated by the seeds (note: in preparing this side dish most seeds were removed.) The broccoli was seasoned with an herb mixture (mainly oregano and thyme) and steamed.

The first bite was the Chipotle en Adobo mashed potatoes and the pairing with the wine was spectacular. The herbaceous notes of the wine paired well with the smokiness of the potatoes. Since the wine was decanted the tannins were softer than the initial tasting. The now softer wine had a velvety texture with a long, lingering finish with still enough structure to hold up against the creaminess of the potatoes. There were earthy notes to the wine that were not as noticeable until paired with the potatoes.

Now to taste the wine with the London Broil. The London Broil look glorious coming off the grill, so I knew my decision to brave the elements was the right one. The Petit Verdot hit all the herb notes and nicely pulled out while tempering the sweetness of the marinade. The velvety texture of the wine complimented the smooth texture of London Broil. The Petit Verdot was well matched for the flavor profile of this meal, nicely comparing, contrasting and highlighting subtle flavors while having the structure to stand up to the heavier texture of the meal. This meal was definitely a very delightful pairing (that must be repeated).

As most of the country is engulfed by very unseasonable cold (and I mean downright cold) weather, this is the perfect opportunity to snuggle up under a cozy blanket in front of the fireplace with a nice glass of red wine, the Petit Verdot (after decanting) would be a worthy selection to be in that glass.