Even Dwarves Started Small: Alex’s Ultramarathon, a 1990 Riesling, and Herzog’s New Movie “Bad Lieutenant”

24 Nov

As I had mentioned in my previous post, my roommate Alex ran the JFK 50 Miler on Saturday, finishing 41st out of 1050 competitors.  As per our custom, to celebrate and to help him recuperate I cook a “fancy” protein-filled dinner for him a day or two afterwards.

This particular meal, however, would be extra-special.

I had purchased a case of wine from the excellent MacArthur Beverages in Georgetown a few months ago, ostensibly for the purpose of hosting various wine tastings (including the Spanish tasting, the notes from which you can read here, and the outstanding Burgundy tasting, the write-up of which will be coming out later this week).  While there I came across this bottle:

It was the 1990 Weingut Max Ferd. Richter Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese from the Mosel region of Germany (seen on the label as Mosel-Saar-Ruwer).

I was intrigued.  Law students don’t come across 19-year-old bottles of wine very often; one comes across old white wines even less frequently.  The price was right, too, at around $35-$40.  Phil, one of the wine stewards, saw that I was getting a few off-the-beaten-path-type wines like the 1999 Viña Gravonia Crianza and recommended the wine, saying that it was still very much alive and well though with some of the characteristic oxidation found in aged whites.  To seal the deal, the wine was apparently stored at the winery in perfect conditions until only a few months prior.  I couldn’t resist.

After the Burgundy tasting a few weeks ago, this was the last wine from my memorable trip to MacArthur Beverages.  But it was soon to join its noble brethren, as I had plans to open it for Alex’s celebratory meal.

For dinner, we invited the always engaging (and fellow Golden Bear) Waiching, who brought fresh blueberries and blackberries for dessert.  I can’t really describe what I cooked–it’s a recipe I made up some time ago and never bothered to write down.  I guess it could loosely be named lemon-mushroom chicken.  For my own purposes (I forgot what ingredients I needed while I was shopping for the meal at Trader Joe’s) I will list the recipe here:

6 chicken thighs (for total lack of options, I purchased boneless skinless thighs from TJ’s, which are actually pretty decent)
1 carton of white button mushrooms, sliced into 1/8-inch thick slices
2 lemons
1 Vidalia onion, halved then sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
8-10 cloves of garlic (we love garlic!), minced
4-5 sprigs of flat leaf parsley, minced
1/2 cup of white wine (I use Charles Shaw’s sauv blanc for this)
1/2 cup crème fraîche
A few spoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

I brined my chicken thighs in a solution of brown sugar and salt for about an hour beforehand, but this step can be skipped–I found it DOES make the chicken more tender, though.

Brown but do not caramelize onion in a hot pan for about 5-10 minutes. Reserve. Lightly cook garlic in more olive oil in same pan for a few minutes, reserve. Add yet more oil, turn up heat, and add chicken thighs. Brown on each side, about 2-3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of white wine. Let boil off a bit. Add mushrooms and red bell pepper, then add onion and garlic. Cover and reduce heat to low-medium for about 20 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside. Squeeze juice from a lemon into pan, add parsley. There should be a lot of liquid in the pan at this point; turn up heat and reduce liquid for about 5 minutes. Add crème fraîche, salt, and pepper, and more lemon juice is needed. Return chicken to pan, cover, and heat over low-medium for another 5 or so minutes. It’s pretty much done by this point. Serve with mashed potatoes or wild rice.

This is what the final product looks like:

We even had the proper wine glasses in which to serve the wine: Riedel Riesling grand cru glasses, which you can see at right.  We also had a “backup” bottle, a 2007 Dr. Loosen Alex brought back from Germany last semester.

So how was everything?

The meal itself was, I think (and Alex agrees), delicious!  A pleasant bit of tart freshness from the lemon and parsley, with flavorful mushrooms and sweet, still somewhat-crisp cubes of red bell peppers swimming in a creamy sauce.  Dessert, too, was good: Greek yogurt with crushed marcona almonds, honey, and blueberries.  But this is a wine blog, right?

The 1990 riesling was something else.  The nose was extremely interesting, initially with honey and lychee but, as the wine opened up, with a scent reminiscent of charcoal.  I realized after a bit that the wine smelled like shoe polish, which impression Alex immediately affirmed.  Waiching, as the only (official) female at the dinner, declared that no, the wine smelled like nail polish.  (Actually, I had initially said nail polish but later revised my opinion, though she stuck with that description.  Interesting–a “battle of the sexes”?)

The wine was extremely tart at first, with Waiching opining it tasted like a Pink Lady apple, then a Fuji.  There was definitely something apple-y about it, with a hint of spice.  Honey, too, green fruits.  Definitely a good deal of sweetness.  There was subtle oxidation, surprisingly little for a 19-year-old wine (the Viña Gravonia mentioned earlier seemed much more oxidized though it was 10 years younger).  The mouthfeel seemed a bit limp, unfortunately, and the finish, while it did last, wasn’t too memorable.

The cork held up pretty well for nearly 20 years:

Overall, it was a good wine and one I am glad to have tried.  It was worth $35-$40 in my book, though I’m not sure I would go out of my way to seek this particular bottle out.  I think we were expecting some more pyrotechnics, something more… absurd.

Which is what we got at a 9:40 showing of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Werner Herzog’s latest offering (Alex is a huge Herzog fan, forcing–I mean convincing–me to watch a few of his movies).  Nicolas Cage is the title character, a police hero who spirals into drug addiction for a back he injured saving someone’s life during Hurricane Katrina.  This is an excellent, excellent movie, one of the best I’ve seen all year, a gem of a black comedy featuring a surprisingly restrained Val Kilmer, imaginary iguanas, break-dancing souls, and Johnny Adam’s rendition of “Release Me”–the soul version of what Engelbert Humperdinck made famous in 1966.  Be prepared to want a lucky crack pipe.


3 Responses to “Even Dwarves Started Small: Alex’s Ultramarathon, a 1990 Riesling, and Herzog’s New Movie “Bad Lieutenant””

  1. Shea November 24, 2009 at 3:12 am #

    Old rieslings are hit and miss unless from an exceptional producer. However, they are usually fairly priced and enjoyable. I’m not surprised at the apple, that’s typical for riesling. Also, the oxidation levels in the heredia wines is atypical for old whites as I think the extreme oak aging tends to bring out a more extreme oxidative effect in those wines.

    • vinicultured November 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

      Hey Shea: yeah, I could imagine your first observation being true just from this experience. It wasn’t bad, it was actually quite good–BUT it wasn’t transcendent. I would take the Heredia over this riesling on any given day!

  2. Shea November 27, 2009 at 1:52 am #

    Don’t get me wrong, a great old riesling is transcendent!

    Graduating tomorrow!


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