On a recent visit to New Orleans, my family and I decided on a whim to dine at Dante's Kitchen in the Riverbend area. One of my customers from years ago and always one of our favorite laid back fine dining bets. Emmanuel Loubier, E-man, has serious chops in the kitchen. He came from Commander's Palace, but never quite seemed spit and polished enough for that operation. He has it all when it comes to cooking, it's just that he always looks a bit disheveled and has more of a 'take me as I am' approach to the world that works better in his own place than a Brennan restaurant. My favorite way of expressing my love of Peristyle when Anne Kearney was still in the kitchen was that I would recommend the chicken. I never eat chicken in fine dining restaurants, why bother, you can cook good versions at home. I ate Peristyle's chicken nearly every time I went there. It was the only restaurant in town where I ordered chicken. Peristyle still exists, but Anne Kearney is no longer in New Orleans, and now the only chicken I'll order in New Orleans when fine dining is at Dante's, cooked under a brick (yes, really) by E-man.
The crowd was a bit older and perhaps more sophisticated than I remembered. Although someone at teh table behind us apparently ate a head of a shrimp, so maybe I jumped to conclusions prematurely. Neil McClure greeted us at the door, and took a minute to register who I was. Can't blame him really, it had been a few years and my beard has been reduced to a goatee. He kindly fit us in on a Saturday night with no reservations and decided we were a great excuse to open a bottle of Turley Zinfandel 2006, I think the Dusi Ranch from Paso Robles. Neil poured us some and its juicy, heady aroma leaped from the glass and he reminisced about his time in Portland, Oregon. E-man joined us for a few minutes and we also spent time talking about his relatively recent visit to the Rose City. He brought back a passion for sourcing ingredients locally and even lists the local products available that night on a blackboard. Lovely to see more 'localvore' mentality about vegetables and greens, not just seafood, in New Orleans.
We used to drink a lot of Turley when I worked for Wines Unlimited and the wines were more reasonably priced. They are completely over the top, nearly distilled essence of berries, high alcohol (although they usually carry it well), and enough extraction to completely overwhelm most food. But damn they're awfully fun with blue cheese and ribs! Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.
When my appetizer (could have been a meal) arrived, the Prince Edward mussels in a dark beer and Stilton broth, we tried the Turley with it. Certainly a serviceable match, but even that intense dish was dominated by the incredibly ripe intensity of the wine. I am not positive it was the Dusi Ranch, but it matters not. Turley wines all have the same profile, some nuance from appellation to appellation, and vintage variation, but the thick richness and super-ripe fruit, bordering on sweetness, remain constant.
I liked the idea of Zinfandel with mussels and the broth, so I ordered a glass of Ridge Three Valleys 2006. Blended with some Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Grenache, this is Ridge's most reasonably priced Zinfandel and a relatively new addition to their portfolio (first vintage 2001). Ridge always shows balance, restraint (admittedly relative when discussing Zinfandel) and some structure. The pairing was fantastic! Dark fruit with hints of wildness showed its Zinfandel nature and the expression of that fruit seemed more freshly picked than the jammy Turley. Just enough dryness on the back end to keep it honest and the saltiness of the Stilton played nicely with this wine.
The broth clearly determined the match, I do not generally recommend Zinfandel with mussels, or any other shellfish for that matter. It was a happy discovery and a reminder of the general uselessness of Turley wines at table. The Ridge carried through wonderfully with my pork shoulder (no chicken that night) with green peppercorns while the Turley still stomped on the dish. I suppose if you're eating food you don't like very much Turley might be just the ticket. Maybe we should have had some on Salisbury steak day in school.
Do try a Turley wine some day, they are the prototypical hedonistic wine experience, just don't expect it to go with your dinner. Unfortunately, due to their small production, high ratings, and the winery's bizarre insistence that a high percentage of the wine go to restaurants, the wines can be hard to find and many retailers put punitive prices on them because they can. The 2006 Dusi Ranch on an Internet search was available for prices ranging from $45-$120! Ridiculous. Try to find the Old Vines version of Turley Zin, usually more reasonably priced at $30ish.
The lovely Ridge example should be available for $18-$22, although the 2007 is released at the winery, so the 2006 might not last much longer. I have not had the 2007 yet. This style of wine can pair with pork, beef, especially stir fry (that soy works wonders with Zin), and all sorts of mushrooms and meat off the grill.
If you live in, or visit, Dayton Ohio, got see Anne Kearney and Tom Sands at Rue Dumaine. The bar is a nearly exact reprodution of Peristyle's and the menu takes me back to happy times spent in Tom's genial hospitality with Anne's subtle, magical creations. I think it's the first time I have envied anyone on Ohio... http://www.ruedumainerestaurant.com/