I was going to got to my 20th reunion in Providence, but it didn’t work out. So instead some dear friends from Boston (one of whom predates college) came for a couple of nights, and festivities were in order. I didn’t have time to do multi-course extravaganzas, so I concentrated instead on making single-plate meals of high quality and opening serious wine to wash them down. It’s not the worst strategy.
I did have enough lead time to finally make that confit I’ve been threatening to get around to for ages, and it was in fact succulently, bone-releasingly wonderful just in time for dinner on Saturday. Since I put it in later than intended, I had bumped the oven up to 200˚ to get it cooked in less than the 10 hours I like to give it, and the resulting near-loss of integrity of the duck legs made for excellent skin-crisping; instead of a curved surface requiring some diligent angling, the loose skin made almost complete contact with the iron skillet and resulted in a gorgeous, crackling flatness atop each shreddy leg.
I had dug a nice bunch of Yukon gold potatoes, and cut and steamed them into submission, so I mashed them hard with an egg or two and a spill of flour to make a loose-ish gnocchi batter. I piped 1″ segments into simmering water using the pastry bag and a paring knife. Once done, I removed them to bowls and topped them with quickly sautéed mirepoix and minced guanciale, then added a big spoon of warmed sauerkraut from the most recent batch. I gingerly placed a duck leg on each pile, then quickly crisped leeks in the hot fat that shimmered in the skillet.
And we ate it. To drink, well, a real nerd might have seen that little band of pink at the base of the capsule in the first photo and figured out already that it was something Italian. And it was. We actually began with the bottle of prosecco that they had brought, for which I made little crostini with slices of homemade baguette topped with a sort of tomato jam made from shallots, an ancho chili (that’s a pobalano that actually ripened to bright red) and a yellow brandywine tomato all simmered together with a splash of the monk’s raspberry vinegar until all melty. And then we started in on the 2006 Priorat they brought, which was lovely but which bottle has already been picked up by the garbage and recycling truck so I can’t give you a name. Kind of a Bordelais profile at first, but with those wonderful feral Spanish qualities creeping in around the edges. It was a lovely counterpart to the 1999 Potazzine Gorelli Brunello that we concluded with; the 99s are still killing and it was a famous match for this plate’s mixture of decadence and simplicity. Like a velvet jacket that goes with everything.
The next night, another couple joined us, and the poultry theme continued because they loves them my smoked chickens. Two such birds, local polenta, more kraut, green mash, and some braised burdock and shiitake thing that I had made the night before and plumb forgot about until too late. Very simple, but a most handsome array of flavors and textures.
I figured that the Tuscan wine had been so well received the night before that I’d keep the Italian theme going, at least with the reds. We began with Sine Qua Non’s 2006 “Autrement Dit” Grenache/Syrah rosé, which is a saturated pink with plenty of jammy fruit and over 15% alcohol. I debated opening this, since it was a gift and I sold most of my SQN last year. I like their whites, especially old, so I thought to keep this longer, but then caved since I knew it would be a hit. It needed to be cold, since the alcohol started to escape as the glass warmed, but as long as it stayed chilled it was pleasant enough, with that nice sharp Grenachey tang. For the 70 bucks or whatever it cost I would most definitely get three bottles of something else pink.
Then we opened a 2001 Serpico, which is 100% Aglianico grown in Campania. I have several of these, and have been patiently waiting to get to them since they were so thick and tannic on release. This one was quite drinkable, especially with bites of chicken, and showed some finesse along with copious dark fruit and some of that intricate earthiness that makes Italian wines so definitively more interesting than their Californian equivalents. It’s almost as if the archaeology of the region flavors the wines; their dirt is just more complex. Last, we opened a 2001 Lamborghini Campoleone, which I hadn’t tried before. It’s not quite ready, with pretty firm tannins, but with food it was superb. More elegant and luxe than the Serpico, it had that seamless middle palate that sets a superior wine apart. It’s roughly similar in price–all three of these bottles are in the same range–and made in Umbria from Sangiovese and Merlot. Now the Serpico has gotten much more press and hype, and it may be that it needs more time to come into its own, while the Campoleone is closer to its peak. They’re both interesting alternatives to the overpriced Super Tuscans for sure. Further study down the road is needed. Maybe I can get a grant.