The first thing you notice about our Wine of the Week, Edna Valley Vineyard Central Coast 2012 Pinot Noir ($20), is that pinot aroma that rises from the glass to greet you.
This almost indescribable quality, something that for years I've called "pin-essence," is, to my thinking anyway, the raison d'etre for this varietal. It's sultry, earthy, ethereal, elusive and addicting. Without it, a pinot noir may or may not be good, but it won't soar or take your breath away.
With it, the wine has a very good chance of being extraordinary. Think of it as a promise that is delivered quickly, with your first sip.
After that first tantalizing scent, this wine's flavors unfold on the palate in engaging layers. There's a hint of rhubarb, a flourish of pomegranate, a flash of fresh cherry and a finish that is sweet, delicate and ribboned through with smoky oak.
I notice little bursts of cardamom, allspice and clove, too.
Some of the perception of sweetness comes from the wine's alcohol, which hovers a bit above 14 percent.
This is probably the most important characteristic to consider when pairing the wine at the table; it will be best with something fatty to mitigate that alcoholic heat.
Seared duck breast is always a great choice with pinot noir, as are wild mushrooms, porchetta, bacon, wild Pacific king salmon, fresh tuna and pasta dishes such as classic Spaghetti Carbonara.
Pinot noir loves to walk hand-in-hand with black pepper.
For today's recipe, I'm inspired by cherry season. This dish is both elegant and simple to prepare but it is essential to use the best ingredients you can find.
Add potato puree alongside and you'll have an extraordinary meal for a special occasion. You can find that recipe at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
<b>Rack of Lamb with Cherries and Spring Onions</b>
Serves 2, easily doubled
<i>1/2 (4 ribs) Frenched rack of lamb, preferably from Williams Ranches
—Black pepper in a mill
6 small spring onions, trimmed
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 small shallot, minced
1 cup firm-ripe Bing cherries
1/4 cup dry red wine, preferably pinot noir
2 teaspoons minced chives
—Chive flowers, for garnish</i>
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Set the lamb on a clean work surface and season it all over with salt. Grind black pepper over it and press the pepper into the fleshy parts. Set aside briefly.
Put the trimmed onions in a small bowl, add the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Set a cast iron skillet over high heat and, when it is very hot, sear the skin side of the rack. Turn the lamb skin side up, add the onions to the skillet and transfer to the oven.
Cook for 20 minutes, during which time the meat should reach an internal temperature of about 100 degrees. Cook another 15 minutes, check to be certain it has reached 120 degrees and remove from the oven.
Transfer the skillet to the stove top over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and, when it is melted, add the shallots and saute until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the cherries and the wine, toss and cook until the wine is nearly completely reduced. Season with several generous turns of black pepper, add the remaining tablespoon of butter and swirl the pan until it melts. Remove from the heat.