This year Rona was sick, so mom-in-law flew over to help take care, and I headed for a few hours to my grandma's in San Francisco to have dinner with my folks, whom slowly over the past several years I've been bringing into the world of fine wine. I suppose decades ago they brought me into the world of not-so-fine Ukraine, so it's only fair that I do something for them now. Even my 87 year-old grandma (and doing fine, thank you very much), who treated alcoholics for 30 years as a doctor in Odessa, and has given me many a raised eyebrow when hearing me talk about wine, doesn't mind sipping on some fine Barbaresco herself anymore. What's the world coming to!!!
Russian-Jewish meals always have an appetizer course, family-style, with lots of dishes overwhelming the table. Marinated herring is a staple, in addition to lots of veggie dishes, home-made pickled cabbage, salads, cold cuts, etc. By the time one is done with the appetizers, there is really no room to eat any more. That's when the eating begins in earnest.
It always thrills me to introduce new things into a culture. We moved to America 22 years ago. That's 2/3rds of my life, but for my folks the age-old ways of the old country are in their veins, including eating and drinking habits. Fine wine drinking isn't part of the repertoire. Russians tend to drink hard liquor - cognac, tequila, vodka (none of which I drink). So in the past few years as I got them to enjoy and understand more about wine, it's been a satisfying development.
The appetizer course is usually the toughest for wine pairings - I mean - what goes with marinated herring, for god's sakes?! I tend to resort to crisp whites, such as Sauvignon Blanc. This time, however, I chose Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis 2008, that I wrote about recently, and that I am still having a love affair with. That still wine is so minerally (as in mineral water), you literally see bubbles in the glass!
For the second course, my mom made central-asian Pilaf with lamb on a bone. Sweet pungent aroma and chewy texture is tamed perfectly by the classic pairing (that I'd written about before) with a Napa Merlot, with all of its mouth-coating "creamy cassis meets chocolate" opulence.
For the third course, it was "melt-in-your-mouth" tender veal on a bone. I uncorked the much anticipated 2000 Barbaresco Brin Balin from Moccagatta. This was the second time I had the wine - the first time it didn't show very well, but this time, it was a perfect match, just entering maturity, with aromatics that my family had never experienced in a wine (I think this was the first Barbaresco they'd ever had, so you can imagine) - faded flowers, sour cherries with a hint of plums, medium weight and refreshing acidity, and just pure intoxicating deliciousness that bridged us to the next course.
For the first time in the history of my family, I wedged in a cheese platter before dessert. Russians tend to think of cheese in a sandwich, or maybe grated over macaroni, but not as its own thing, and certainly not as dessert! But for me, Barbaresco with cheese is a mind-boggling pleasure, especially the slightly tangy sheep-based cheeses from Italy - soft young Pecorino, Boschetto al Tartufo (truffle cheese), and a wonderful mild semi-soft cheese whose name escapes me, and finally Idiazabal from Spain, all paired delectably with the Barbaresco. I would cut off a piece of each cheese slab and hand it to folks one by one with a few words of explanation. It's remarkable how slowing things down a bit and focusing someone's attention on a dish or an ingredient elevates the gastronomic experience to a whole new height. The mood, the food, and the wine must have been all right - as the cheese board was a huge hit.
We finally sailed through to grandma's wonderful apple cake with Russian tea. And then it was time to run back home to see how Rona was doing.