Unti and Braised Beef

I first heard about Unti Vineyards at the Kermit Lynch shop in Berkeley. I had just read Lynch’s book, Adventures on the Wine Route, and I was talking to a salesman about wines that exemplified Lynch’s feelings regarding the way wine ought to be made—unfiltered, with a minimum of industrial intervention and a maximum obeisance to terroir. (See both my post on Lynch and, for a far better introduction to the man, Eric Asimov’s recent profile of him in the New York Times.) And I asked offhand for California winemakers working in the same tradition. Unti was the first name the fellow offered, and he mentioned also that I could find the wines at the Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco. He couldn’t have known that the Bi-Rite is my favorite market on Earth, and that this cemented the recommendation, both because I trust the owner, Sammy, whom I consider a friend, and because his store is the first place I spend food and wine money when I’ve got it to spend.

And so, the next time I was there, buying a goose, veal demi, and 30 pieces of duck confit for our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners (like I said, I trust Sammy, and that means I trust him to make fantastic basic preparations, like veal demi and duck confit), I grabbed the first Unti I saw: the Dry Creek Valley Segromigno 2005. The timing wasn’t perfect, in that the bottle had no relation to the meals I was putting together, but I found my way to drinking it nevertheless.

It happened like this: I am suddenly and entirely smitten by Richard Olney’s classic Simple French Food—I feel that I am beginning a long and important phase of study under Olney’s posthumous tutelage—and so even in the middle of all this holiday over-the-top cooking, I had defrosted and marinated a pound of stew meat from the grass-fed cow we bought earlier this year. The idea was to try his master recipe for a braise, so as to study its elemental lessons. At some level, this was a ridiculous thing to be doing when I have to make a living and be a father and husband and also prepare two enormous holiday meals; what I was thinking, in spending time on an entirely recreational, just-for-curiosity’s-sake beef braise when I didn’t even have a night open for eating it, I can’t say.

But, one thing led to another, L and the girls went to a holiday party without me so that I could surf a few hours in the cold and then finish up poaching the goose (part of a several-step process), and suddenly I was at home, tired and at peace, tending to various pots on the stove, with exactly one easy option for a solo dinner in my quiet home: the Unti Segromigno and the Olney braise. Moments like that go a long way toward reaffirming my commitment to the pleasures of the table. The braise, a simple French beef stew with reduced red wine, was rich and dark and complex and soothing, everything you hope such a stew could be (reminding me of the sensational beef stew recipe in Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook). I ate it alone at my dining table, with the room full of cooking smells from the goose in a huge pot on the stove and the lights down low, and then I settled into the Segromigno. I can’t claim it was the perfect pairing; the truth is that this dish wanted something bigger and more on the bass end of the vino-musical scale. But it struck me as a very well-crafted and interesting wine. My tasting notes are below.

2005 Unti Dry Creek Valley Segromigno
The Lowdown:
Grapes: 89 percent Sangiovese, 7 percent Syrah, 4 percent Barbera
Wood: 11 months in French oak, 25 percent new
Alcohol: 14.4 percent
Cases Produced: 1,325
Additional Winemaker Info that I Appreciate: The winemaker’s notes explain that the new French oak is a way of adding “complexity and some tannin,” that the Syrah “adds color and body,” while the Barbera adds “fruitiness and acidity”
Price: I bought this wine for $19.99

Tasting Notes:
I got aromas of tree bark and peppermint—a sort of cool forest quality. The wine struck me as being of medium body, with bright acid and soft tannins and a trace of bitterness that would go well with olives or any salty food. Not especially dark in color. A good wine that would make a lovely companion to roast chicken.