Our Wine of the Week, <strong>Shafer 2010 Napa Valley Relentless</strong> ($72), is a beauty, a deep luscious syrah with an alluring intensity and seductive finish full of rich dark spice and a coy flourish of pretty acidity.
Aromas rise from the glass in swirls of cinnamon and clove, allspice and sweet anise, roses and violets, with flavors of juicy plums spiked with white peppercorn splashing over the palate on first sip. Black pepper lingers deliciously, pulsing like a fading vibrato at the end of beloved aria.
The wine has an edge of danger, too, with alcohol inching close to 16 percent. Enjoy this wine at home or make sure you have a driver.
The wine's fleshy mouthfeel will have you thinking of game with your first sip, especially wild duck and venison. And although you can enjoy this wine with winter squash, parsnips, sweet potatoes, grilled eggplant and roasted sweet peppers, it is really a carnivore's wine. With my first sip, I found myself longing for an extraordinary steak I had a decade ago at the Millennium Steakhouse in Chicago. That steak, which was rare, juicy and threaded with seductive smoke, would be a stellar match with this wine, as would braised lamb and beef shanks, braised short ribs and slow-roasted pork shoulder.
Because the wine is so intensely — relentlessly — concentrated, it is an excellent choice with skirt steak, which has the most concentrated flavor of all cuts of beef. All you need to do is season skirt steak with salt and good pepper, sear it for a minute or two on both sides, slice it and serve it with farro, mashed potatoes, roasted beets or wilted spinach.
For a more elaborate meal, which this wine's elegance and price warrant, go traditional with steak au poivre blanc. The wine will blossom with this rich yet simple dish, especially if you serve wilted spinach and parsnip puree alongside. (You'll find a recipe for parsnip puree at Eat This Now at <a href="http://pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com" target="_blank">pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com</a>.)
<strong>Steak au Poivre Blanc</strong>
<em> Makes 2 servings</em>
2 thick steaks, preferably grass-fed bone-in ribeye
— Kosher salt
2 tablespoons white peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed
1/3 cup Marsala wine
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup half-and-half
Set the steaks on a clean work surface and season generously all over with salt.
Combine the white and black peppercorns in a small bowl. Cover one side of the steaks with the mixture and use your fingers to press the peppercorns into the meat. Turn and repeat on the other side. Press the remaining peppercorns into the sides of the steaks, so that they are completely covered.
Set the steaks on a plate that will hold them in a single layer. Cover lightly — do not press down — with wax paper and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and as long as 8 to 10 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 to 40 minutes before cooking.
To finish, preheat the oven to 175 degrees.
Set a heavy skillet — cast iron is best — over high heat and when it begins to smoke add the steaks. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, turn and cook 3 to 4 minutes longer for rare and 6 minutes longer for medium rare (for corn-fed beef, cook 1 to 2 minutes longer per side). Transfer the steaks to individual plates and set in the oven.