An Unexpected Treat

We're visiting my grandparents in Naples, Florida this week. These trips tend to turn into a sort of sadistic competition for who can be the bestest, sweetest, caringest family member with the most holiday spirit. On the food front (one of the primary judging categories), Oren and I are holding strong this year with our preparation of Santa Barbara Sole and baked apples on Monday night, several delicious odds and ends, and red beans and rice tonight. My mom entered the race strong last night with grilled lamb with a fantastic English mint jelly. Best of all though may be what my grandparents themselves brought to the table this year (with some strong suggestion): a bottle of 1990 Opus One.We went through my grandparents' wine cellar a few years ago and were thrilled to find a few dozen bottles of old French wine. Too old, it turned out. In one of the single greatest holiday tragedies in a family that looks to wine not only for enjoyment but for medication of the crazy going around, every single one of them was well past drinkable. We feared the same for this bottle of Opus One, which they received as a gift not long after release and apparently just kept forgetting to drink.I had always thought of Opus One as overrated and over-priced. It may be both, but this was still an impressive bottle that modeled everything that is ever right with California wine. Of course, in my mind that means it's something like a French wine, but that's somewhat tied into the vineyard's provenance and purpose. This bottle was at its ideal drinking age, though Wine Spectator gives it through 2010. Wonderfully fine tannins, a berry nose with some earthiness, vanilla, and anise, plus a complex finish. Wine Spectator originally gave this wine 92 points in 1993 and upped their rating to 96 points during a vertical tasting in 2000. This bottle originally sold for $65 and now seems to go for $150 at auction to $225. I wouldn't buy this wine--there are wines better suited to my palate for less money--but all in all this wine was better than I expected and one I would be more than happy to drink again.I have been working for some time on learning to eat meat. This wine was a delicious enabler of big steps forward in this regard. We had not expected it to be opened during our visit and I had not prepared a remotely suitable vegetarian complement, so Oren fixed me many small bites of my mom's delicious grilled lamb. Wine definitely make it go down easier, and this was a much milder meat than most lamb I have tasted in the last few months. My efforts also appeased my grandfather, who has never quite understood why I wouldn't eat the animals on the table. I have fond memories of mint jelly from early childhood (I became a vegetarian at six) and the gourmet English variety now sold at Whole Foods (the jar is already gone, but this kind isn't actually green or too sweet), was the perfect accompaniment. For anyone looking for a simple and winning preparation for lamb, here's my mother's recipe:

  1. Squeeze lemon juice over the meat.
  2. Mix together several tablespoons of mustard, 6-10 cloves of pressed garlic, some horseradish, a little olive oil, and more lemon juice.
  3. Marinate for a few hours to a day.
  4. Sear all around on high heat on the grill, then move to indirect heat (still on the grill) until desired doneness.
  5. Slice and serve with gourmet English mint jelly.

Some day I'll post my father's Persian lamb recipe. For years after he became a vegetarian, my sister begged him to make it at Christmas every year until finally he taught her how to prepare it herself. Soon it may be my turn.