Our Wine of the Week, Balletto 2007 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($24) is a beauty that is a tad on the shy side. In a pinot noir, this is a very good thing; a pinot should always beckon, not bludgeon. The varietal is a coquette, not a trollop.
Visually, the wine is all rubies and garnets, translucent as this varietal should be and with none of the inky or purple qualities that would suggest the wine has spent too much time on the skins or has been over extracted.
When it comes to aromas, there is a pretty hint of violets mingling with warm spices. The first physical impression the wine leaves is a silky texture, so light and pretty and delicate on the palate. This is one of the most important qualities in a pinot noir because it is key to pairing the wine with food; when you don't have to mitigate for rough tannins, possibilities expand deliciously.
Rising above the engaging texture are subtle spices and herbs, especially cardamom, Szechuan peppercorns and the slightest hint of anise. There's a suggestion of mint -- cool and refreshing -- that makes you think of cedar as it mingles with the spices. The highest notes suggest red raspberries, not-quite-ripe Ranier cherries and a bit of cola.
Weaving through all these flavors and textures is a lovely smokey quality, at times reminiscent of tobacco, with fleeting moments of a distant barbecue and the scent of frying bacon on a chilly morning.
This wine is excellent with a huge array of foods, from macaroni and cheese to rare rack of lamb. It is ideal with the season's ripe juicy tomatoes, astonishingly good with just about any type of duck and perfect with king salmon. For the ideal match, though, I suggest something smokey. Indeed, since tasting the wine I cannot get a smoked prime rib -- still juicy and rare -- that I had years ago at Millennium Steak House in Chicago out of my mind. But I'm not in Chicago and so I have turned instead to the smoked sturgeon from Dave Legros at the Sebastopol farmers' market. If you let the sturgeon warm to room temperature and serve it with a little toasted hearth bread, you have an irresistible match. You can crumble the sturgeon and mix it with minced red onion, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and some old-fashioned cream cheese for a delicious spread that works equally well with Paul's Smoked Salmon, a long-time favorite.
For today's recipe, I'm revising a favorite sandwich from "The BLT Cookbook" (Morrow, 2003). With both smoked sturgeon and smoked salmon in the frig, how can I resist?
SFBLT (Smoked Fish BLT)
Makes 2 servings
6 bacon slices, cut in half crosswise
4 slices sourdough hearth bread
4 to 6 tablespoons best-quality mayonnaise, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon best-quality balsamic vinegar
1 to 2 medium ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into 3/8-inch slices
-- Kosher salt
-- Black pepper in a mill
4 to 6 ounces smoked sturgeon or smoked salmon, at room temperature
1 handful oak-leaf lettuce
Fry the bacon in a heavy skillet until it is brown and crisp; transfer to absorbent paper to drain.
Meanwhile, toast the bread lightly, so that it has just a bit of color.