A Hedonistic Evening
Every now and again you are entitled to a treat. I had one the other night with my friend, Peter Young. Some months ago, Peter brought me a bottle of Penfolds Grange 1999 when he came up from Dover (where he lives) for an overnight stay in London with me. I had already opened other bottles at the time so I put the Grange away for another time.
Well, on Friday, Peter came up to London again, so that other time came around,and of course I decided to trot out the Grange for that occasion. It was more significant since Sonia was away in Paris which meant that the cooking would be left to me and naturally this meant that it was plain cooking (because I can’t do any of that fancy stuff that Sonia cooks) which is perfect with a great wine because you don’t want the wine to be upstaged by the food.
So I scrabbled around the ‘fridge and found a couple of avocados to start with, just plainly filled with a vinaigrette that Sonia had made with herbs, yoghurt, oil, mustard and balsamic vinegar. (For the recipe, click on the Food Ideas/Yogurt Vinaigrette button on the left). Now DON’T PANIC! We didn’t have any wine with it, but the vinaigrette certainly stimulated the palate ready for the great Grange which I had decanted into a Claret jug about an hour previously.
Sonia had bought some featherblade steak a couple of days earlier which I deemed would be a perfect accompaniment to the Grange. If you are not familiar with featherblade, this is the bargain cut of beef that everyone should be looking out for in these days of austerity. It’s as soft as prime sirloin, but it is usually sold as braising steak on account of the large streak of fat and nerve that goes straight down the middle of the cut, which is hard to remove whilst raw and can be very tough if overcooked. Nevertheless, it is normally sold at half the price (or even less) than sirloin which makes it an incredible bargain. The pieces that Sonia had bought were well marbled and after tenderising them with a mallet, turned out to be one of the best I had ever tasted – even if I say so myself! The secret is not to cook them too long. Two minutes each side maximum and five or so minutes to rest is all you need. This was accompanied by some sliced boiled potatoes (I was thinking of making a gratin dauphinois, but gave it up as being too time consuming) and some sliced runner beans.
The Grange was delicious. The first impression was of smoothness and unctuousness rather than vibrancy – tight black leather without the whip. There was still plenty of body in it to allow it to age gracefully, but the lack of grip would say that it will finish up in crinoline rather than a pencil skirt! This vintage was said to be the first Grange to be 100% Shiraz, but for me it lacked that bit of tarryness that typifies the varietal, and a bit of complexity on the finish. Nevertheless, it was hugely enjoyable with the plain steak. I would rate it around 92 on the 100 point scale or five stars in the Wine Behind The Label ratings. Not the best Grange I have ever tasted (and I have to admit that I haven’t tasted many – the 1978 stands out in my mind, though) but a very nice bevvy indeed. Still, at between £150 and £400 a bottle it should be. (Funny how the most expensive listings were from Australian merchants!).
Dessert. Well, I thought that the best thing here was to bring out some of Patrick Baudouin’s 1997 Maria Juby Côteaux du Layon. Parker gave this 97 at the time. Didn’t need to match it with anything – very much a dessert in itself! Thick, honeyed and unctuous, it had taken on a rather dark hue with a taste of sticky toffee (although it was not very sticky itself) and caramel – reminded me of the French Carambar or possibly an aged Tokay Essensia from Hungary. Nectar of the gods we thought – a lot different from when we first tasted it ten or more years ago and we wondered just how long it would last before it became over madeirised. A great way to finish the evening, just sipping it slowly and letting it permeate one’s whole insides. At £53.50 a half litre from Four Walls Wine Company it must still be worth a punt.
The whole evening was accompanied by Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck. Pure hedonism!