My friend Margaret emailed me after receiving the June 30, 2009, Wine Spectator, excited about Josh Silvers’ Zinfandel menu, which I had written up. She and her husband, Mike, live in Basalt, just 20 minutes down the valley from Aspen, and they wanted to invite us to lunch. I would bring the Zinfandel, and she would cook the menu.
I liked the food when Josh cooked it and we tasted various Zins with it to select what to put on the menu. His sumac-scented marinade made the lamb taste great then, and the meat made the claret-style Zinfandels wake up beautifully.
I immediately accepted Margaret’s invitation. Aside from the fact she is a good, adventurous cook, it’s always great when something you write gets someone motivated to act on it. And, it’s always fascinating to see how published recipes come out in the hands of someone who is trying them for the first time.
And finally, they invited our mutual friends Eileen and Mark, who have an extensive wine cellar. Mark, who is also a cooking whiz, brought a Martinelli Zinfandel Russian River Valley Giuseppe and Luisa 2006 to compare with my choice. Local stores did not have the Zin in the published menu, Seghesio 2006, but I did find Quivira Dry Creek Valley 2006, which I had listed as an alternate.
Margaret called me in a panic a few days before the lunch. She could not find any whole squid for the first course, or sumac to season the lamb marinade. Here in the Rocky Mountains we are far from any local squid. But we have lots of local lamb, and it’s great lamb. I told her not to worry about the squid salad, just make any salad for us to eat as a first course while the whole lamb racks rest off the grill. The local gourmet shop, Epicurious, ordered a package of sumac in plenty of time.
With that settled, we showed up to sip on Peter Lehmann Riesling Eden Valley 2008 from Australia while we all helped finish the cooking. Margaret had already made the cherry relish with fresh mint from her garden, and the lamb and zucchini had happily marinated overnight. She finished the salad, literally plucked from her garden that morning, while Mark and Mike grilled lamb and vegetables. I tended the fresh corn polenta.
Everything came out great, and to my relief almost exactly the way it did when Josh cooked it. The lamb racks were bigger, so we only served a pair of single chops instead of the double chops he specified.
Good thing I brought two bottles of the Quivira. The first one was ever-so-slightly corked, the worst kind of cork taint, which doesn’t taste awful but just takes the heart out of the wine. It’s the kind that, if you didn’t already know the wine, you’d think it was a good bottle but not such a great wine. Fortunately, the backup bottle was perfect.
And it matched up with the lamb just as the Seghesio did when Josh and I tasted it. The meat seemed to enrich the wine, bringing out more fruit and mineral notes, and the wine’s medium weight made the lamb better and played off the cherry-mint relish. The Martinelli, a big bruiser at 16 percent-plus alcohol, tasted jammy and complex by itself, but got very rustic with the lamb. I decided I would rather drink it with a chunk of aged sheep’s milk cheese or Parmigianio-Reggiano.
Mike had a surprise wine to serve with the homemade buttermilk ice cream and blueberry compote dessert. He had opened a bottle of David Bruce Late Harvest Zinfandel 1971 that he had been moving from residence to residence for more than 35 years. It looked brown and smelled oxidized, but it had a lovely sweetness, spiciness and silkiness. It faded quickly, however, and the last sips weren’t nearly as nice.
The compote, however, tasted great.