TN: Another terrific No. 9 Park tasting menu

A tasting menu at No. 9 Park…28 August 2006.

Roederer Champagne “Brut Premier” (Champagne) – Intellectual, earth-driven but satiny stone fruit (minus most the fruit) with a gentle, yet inexorable persistence. Very thoughtful bubbly. Served with: ultra-thin-sliced smoked lobster sashimi with grapefruit, avocado and cilantro. The wine and the food stand essentially apart here.

Cusamano 2005 Sicilia Rosato (Sicily) – Made from nerello mascalese. Big, broad-shouldered raspberry and maraschino cherry fruit with a keening, fresh flower aroma. It’s simple alone, but with food it almost explodes with additional complexities. This is an inspired match. Served with: seared yellowfin tuna (about as pure and wonderful as this fish could ever be) with a brilliant marmalade of heirloom tomatoes lent smokiness by chorizo, which infuses the marmalade and adds a textural counterpoint in little crisp bits perched atop the cubes of fish.

Schrock 2005 Ried Vogelsang (Neusiedlersee) – A blend that’s a bit at war with itself, showing lots of interesting characteristics that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with each other: crisp acidity, juicy/lemony sprightliness, herbal grassiness, spicy headiness…it’s a bunch of smart people, all talking past each other. Served with: day boat scallops on a purée of curried cauliflower (possibly the single best expression of this vegetable I’ve ever tasted) and crispy little bursts of fried tapioca. This isn’t much of a marriage, though the wine does no actual harm to the food.

Faiveley 2003 Bourgogne Rouge (Burgundy) – Cranky, rough, ungenerous and difficult, with wan suggestions of something that might once have been red fruit buried under clumsy, off-putting tannin. A last-minute replacement due to a chef deglazing with red wine rather than the intended white, and not a very successful one. Served with: handmade orechiette, flawlessly pressed and cooked, with a Burgundian snail ragout that works rich, earthy wonders on the palate. A better red Burgundy would be magical here.

Lustau Almacenista Palo Cortado Sherry “Vides” 1/50 (Jerez) – Dark, fire-roasted nuts that consistently suggest sweetness, but never quite achieve it, settling instead for an intense, warming richness. The alcohol is a little more intrusive than normal, and it negatively affects the food pairing. Served with: seared La Belle Farms foie gras with golden raisins, almond praline and balsamic vinegar. The dish is flawless, but the wine only goes well with the accompaniments; the alcohol buries the delicacy of the foie gras. It’s an adventurous notion, but ultimately an unsuccessful one.

Vajra 2004 Dolcetto d’Alba Coste & Fossati (Piedmont) – Delicious. Sneaks up quietly at first, with light blackberry dust and a slightly exuberant structure, but soon fills out with gorgeous mixed bouquets of freshly-picked wildflowers and an earthy, morel-infused bottom end. Very, very agile with food. Served with: softly-seared Pekin dust breast with “melted” strawberries, honey, and perfectly bitter counterpoints of red shiso. This is an inspired match.

Les Pallières 2003 Gigondas (Rhône) – A heavy, ponderous stew of garrigue, leather and dark, smoky fruit overladen with tannin. The wine is chewy, and that’s not a compliment. It’s one of the better 2003 Rhônes I’ve tasted, though that’s certainly faint praise at best. Still, there are terrific raw materials underneath the sludge, and it’s possible that a few centuries of aging will resolve matters. Or, more likely, not. Served with: roasted lamb loin with a truffle “fondue” and leeks, dusted with thyme. The food actually helps tame some of the glue-like tannin in the wine, but the price paid is a diminution of the elegant earthiness found in the truffles.

A palate-cleansing celery sorbet is audaciously magnificent.

Pieropan 2001 Recioto di Soave Classico Le Colombare (Veneto) – A stunning wine, full of concentrated peach, orange rind and iron shot through with flowers and perfumes from some mythical Orient. Powerfully sweet, but with flawless balancing acidity, and as long as one would ever wish a wine to be. Majestic. Served with: blueberry and crème fraîche soup with a carrot “confit,” white chocolate, and anise hyssop garnish. The dish doesn’t sound like it should work, but in fact it’s some sort of revelatory symphony of summer flavors; and the wine, which also doesn’t seem like it should work with this mélange, soars above the music in perfect harmony. There’s real genius behind this pairing.

Garitina 2005 Brachetto d’Acqui “Niades” (Piedmont) – The usual bright red fruit, frothed (though so lightly as to be almost unnoticeably effervescent) and given just a touch of late-palate bitterness. Simple fun. Served with: a warm chocolate tart with chocolate sorbet and “wilted” grapes. The latter seem superfluous, like a half-hearted nod towards molecular gastronomy, but everything else on the plate is superb and properly undersweetened, which helps the wine dance around the edges. Of all the wines alleged to pair well with chocolate, I think brachetto may be the only one that really does so.

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