A Tale of Two Temps … or so
I’m quite the advocate (Wine Advocate … get it?) of cooler temperatures for red wines than what we’re used to. We Americans tend to think that “room temperature” equals “warm.” Kind of how many Americans tend to think that “Chihuahua” equals “cute.” The terms don’t necessarily go together.
I enjoyed a bottle of 2007 Martin Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley, and went through a roller coaster of tastes. I purchased this wine at Total Wines and knew that I liked it when I tasted it. A daily drinker or casual family wine, I knew it would pair perfectly with my marinated grilled flank steak. I just didn’t know it’d take a little while to get there!
I took the bottle out of the wine cooler (the large cooler, not the nightstand one) and popped and poured it immediately. A quick sip had me backing away from the glass. What?!?
My nose in the glass found … nothing. The sip had a sharp note of eucalyptus, and I knew that this was not characteristic of either Petite Sirah or of this particular wine. I also realized it was quite cold. Time to adjust the thermostat!
I let the glass sit while I chopped up my salad (romaine, green onions, parsley, heirloom tomatoes, garlic, squeeze of lemon, EVOO, and a grinding of Himalayan pink salt – yum) so that it could air a little in the glass and warm up just a bit.
I hadn’t planned for flank steak drama.
I took my flank steak out of the plastic bag where it had been sitting in a mixture of EVOO (that’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil for you non-Rachel Ray fans), fresh ground pepper, red wine vinegar, garlic, onions, touch of kosher salt, and a bit of lemon juice, patted it dry, and set it on a plate to come up to room temperature.
I fired up the grill – thankfully the deluges we’d been experiencing had passed – and waited for it to get hot enough to throw the steak on. Flank steak is a funny beast. You either sear it at a high temperature very quickly or braise it for hours. Anything in between results in lovely flank steak flavored leather.
When the grill was hot enough, I threw the steak on it and closed the lid. I went inside to finish tossing the salad, and about four minutes later went to check on my steak.
Where’s the flame?
How did my propane run out so suddenly, quickly, and completely? And then I remembered.
After the recent death of my smoker, I started experimenting with smoking with the grill. Um…it doesn’t work. At least not as well as a “real” smoker. So I burned up a lot of propane learning that lesson. Unfortunately, the result was that my planned, Petite Sirah-friendly meal was in danger of imploding.
I quickly removed the steak from the dead grill and took it inside where I heated up the the old faithful cast-iron pan and finished it there. Here’s the upshot.
The steak, while still pinkish inside, was just a little more done than it needed to be. It was, in a word, *chewy.* Even being chewy, it was still very flavorful. (Note to self: fill up both tanks asap)
Now it was time to taste the wine and see how well it went with the steak. Well, with all of these adventures, the glass of wine had gotten a little warm. So it went from sharp and stringent to dirty and flabby. Ew.
All was not lost, however. I had left the bottle out on the counter, so I grabbed a clean glass and poured the wine in it. A few quick swirles, a quick sniff, and finally. Now *that’s* what I’m talkin’ about!
Like most quality Petite Sirahs, (spellings are all over the map) it is big on fruit, medium on earth, and relatively low in acidity. Which is why a lean meat such as a flank steak is ideal for this wine. The Petite Sirah can’t cut through fat the way a well-made Cab can, but it brings fruit and power to the lean meat table.
Once I’d gotten the air and temperature issues out the way, I was treated to the type of wine I’d been expecting: full of berries and plums, with just a touch of what I call Dry Creek Dirt. It seems that every wine I’ve had from the Dry Creek area – from Zins to Cabs and now Petite Sirah – all seem to have a little bit of a dirty/earthy character to them. I happen to like it since it reminds me a bit of old world wines, but I can’t recall seeing that description anywhere else.
The wine has a certain meatiness to it as well as hints of pepper and bacon. That sharp eucalyptus character I’d gotten when it was still cold had faded way into the background and was now just another supporting cast member. As it turned out, my first instinct was correct; it was perfect with the lean, if by now somewhat chewy, flank steak.
So here’s the upshot with this particular wine: it has to have time to evolve in the glass, or it has to be decanted. The temperature has to be just slightly cooler than what we think of as “room temperature”; say, somewhere about 60-65F/15-18C. Take the time to get these things just right, and this low-cost Petite Sirah will surprise you with its flavor, and give more complexity than you’d expect of ~$15.00 wine. In a word, nice.
Martin Family Vineyards is now under the umbrella of Truet Hurst Winery of Sonoma, a well-known pioneer in sustainable/biodynamic/organic winemaking. That’s just up my alley.
Gotta love it.