09 December 2009

2007 Montevina Merlot

Even though I rarely follow recipes precisely and have a cavalier attitude towards measuring ingredients, I think it's always a good idea to read recipes for new flavor combinations. Thus I discovered anchovy butter as a topping for steak. It's a great savory mix of butter, fish, and garlic, but I didn't like the recipe as written. I tripled the garlic, doubled the anchovies, and didn't rinse the little fishes. Why waste any of that great flavor?

Making the butter was easy, I just used a firm spoon and a bowl. Partway through the process it smells like the dumpster behind a cheap seafood joint, but keep mixing and it settles down. I broiled a couple of Delmonico steaks* and served a healthy knob of the anchovy butter on each one.

It tastes great, but of the various compound butters I've made and tried over the years, I think sage butter and red wine butter are better candidates. Yes, this had a salty/savory/umami quality to it, but it's harder to make than the other compound butters and I can't see it being a successful menu item anywhere. Plus you end up with a good bit of leftover anchovy butter, and it's difficult to find other uses before it goes south.

With the steak I served the 2007 Montevina Merlot from California, $12, 13.7% abv. Touches of coffee and spice on the nose, with flavors of black cherry, jam, medium tannins. A pretty basic and drinkable California red wine.

I've included a closeup here, because this is a gorgeous label that evokes old stock certificates, currency, and California fruit crate labeling. But it has a fatal flaw: the date (click the picture to enlarge). Many wineries use "shells": loads of label sheets printed and then later overstamped with the vintage as needed. You see this a lot in French wines, with the year in red. I'm not against the practice, but two things made it difficult here. For one, you're printing on top of other ink, which is always problematic, and two, the designer made an ornate but painfully small target for the printer to hit. Even under the best conditions this would be hard to pull off properly, and you can see the result here. The ink has bled, the registration is off, and the end result looks like the sloppy application of a hand stamp.

I'm not assessing blame to one specific group here, though having worked as both a designer and a press operator I'm going to say that the pressmen probably did the best they could under the circumstances. The design would have been unified if the year could have been printed in brown along with the rest of the label, perhaps with a few separate runs to cover the next few years. Or it would have been easy enough to fill up that corner with the script text or simply leave it blank, and save the vintage to go along with the grape name on the separate lower label. "2007 Merlot" would have been elegant and informative in reversed white text.

At some point a compromise was reached and the result is a flawed label.

It wouldn't have bothered me if this were just another mediocre label, but I really love this design. Someone obviously worked very hard to create this look and feel, with the kind of engraving that was more common a century ago. It is otherwise perfect... It pains me that the only people who will really appreciate the layout are likewise going to notice the scarred vintage.

*There are many definitions of the Delmonico steak, but this one was a ribeye from the portion near the chuck roast. My local Schnuck's carries them occasionally, and always at a dollar less per pound than the ribeyes. It's difficult to tell the difference just from looking. The shape on this one is a bit odd as I'd trimmed off a third for The Roommate, who just wanted a small steak without anchovy butter.

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