Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Petite Sirah with Lentils and Sausage

The old year rolled into the new one, a syrah ran headfirst into a petite sirah, and four friends rung in the New Year with art & alcohol in Portland, Maine. We had dinner in the Old Port district and played high-low-jack in a barroom.  Back in the hotel we kicked off the new year celebrations by opening two bottles of California wines for an informal tasting. 

Rubicon Estate RC Reserve Syrah (2004)
In 2007, Meghan returned from a girls weekend of California wine-tasting with several (read: many) lovely bottles of wine.   We've drank a few and stashed the rest in the cellar, and until now hadn't touched them. For my money, red wine and cold weather go together like ladies and leather, and with winter in full force in the great but oft-frozen city of Portland, we were excited to open Rubicon Estate's 2004 RC Reserve Syrah with our friends Dan and Rachel.  Rubicon Estate is known for their red Bordeaux blends (and for being Francis Ford Coppola's winery), but they also make a small amount of syrah at the Rutherford Estate.  The wine had a hint of spice (maybe cloves) on the nose, a deep red hue, and tasted of cherry, vanilla, and slate.  The tannins were mild, suggesting to me that there was no need to wait to drink this wine any longer than we had.  This was a fantastic bottle of wine, and it was Rachel's favorite of the two.  Under normal circumstances we all would be shouting from the rooftops about this bottle, but paired up against a  high-caliber petite sirah (a close second to my favorite grape) it wasn't a fair fight.

Rubicon Estate RC Reserve Syrah (2004)
Napa Valley, CA

Vincent Arroyo Rattlesnake Petite Sirah (2005)
Enter Vincent Arroyo's Rattlesnake Acres Petite Sirah.  Meghan and I spent a few hours at Vincent Arroyo's vineyard in 2007 and came away with quite a few bottles of their petite sirahs, but not this special one.  On a recent trip out west, our friends Dan and Rachel visited Vincent Arroyo and were kind enough to share this bottle with us. The vibrant complexity of the nose was immediately apparent.  There was a strong and pleasant musk that followed us from the first scent through the last sip.  The strong tannins are front-and-center and I have no doubt this vintage could easily cellar for five, ten, or fifteen years. The blood-red wine was quite dry and had very little fruit. The revelatory insight came from Meghan who aptly pointed out the strong pepper flavor in the body of the wine.  This notion opened up (and relieved) my palate the way hearing right answer for a crossword puzzle might do to your mind.  Forgive my dramatics, but this was probably the best bottle of wine I've had in over a year or more.  It's earthy, dusty character brought me right back to Napa Valley.  Simply put: PS I Love You.  

Vincent Arroyo Petite Sirah, Rattlesnake Acres (2005)
Napa Valley, California

After the tasting we went to Paciarino where they prepared a special New Year's Eve menu which included a traditional Italian New Year's Eve dish: Cotechino con Lenticchie (Lentils with Cotechino sausage).  The dish was incredible and the only regret I had was not having the Vincent Arroyo Petite Sirah alongside it.  The robust, peppery wine would have complimented the earthy lentils dish perfectly.  We decided to try cooking the dish ourselves, and with some adaptations on the original idea we ended up with a stunning, unique meal.  
We replaced the traditional sausage with a spicy Italian sausage and with a little inspiration from Jamie Oliver we made it into a tomato based sauce to go along with the lentils.  What resulted was a surprising balance of tangy sweetness, spice, and sophistication.  The cinnamon added an exotic warmth, and the lentils are simple enough to be the base for a variety of recipes.  While we initially sought out to replicate the great dinner we had at Paciarino's, what we ended up with had a bit more Spanish flair than Italian tradition.  The lentils and sausage were a welcome new flavor profile, and a dish that can be cooked a dozen different ways.  It's sure to be a new favorite in our household. Enjoy!

Lentils & Sausage
Adapted from Epicurious & Alta Cucina Inc.

For the lentils:
  • 8 oz ounces of lenticchie di Castelluccio or Puy lentils or green lentils
  • 3 whole garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
For the salsa:
  • 1 link spicy Italian sausage
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2-3 dried chili peppers (or 1-2 tsp red pepper flakes)
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
Boil about 6 cups of water, then add salt, garlic, and lentils and cook at a rolling boil for 30 minutes. While the lentils are cooking, begin preparing the salsa by frying the the sausage in a small saucepan. Add the red onion and garlic and sauté for 6 minutes, then add the cinnamon, dried chilies, and red wine vinegar and sauté for an additional 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and salt to the sausage and simmer for 20 minutes. While the sauce finishes getting its flavor on, strain the water from the lentils, add the lentils to a bowl and add the olive oil and red wine vinegar.

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