Majella 2001 Coonawarra shiraz: a puzzle

summer means salmon

Last winter I proclaimed that when fresh, wild Alaskan salmon came in season, especially Copper River salmon, that we should have it every night that we possibly could.

This June, we have followed through on my proclamation by enjoying salmon several nights a week. The first night we had Copper River salmon, I almost swooned I was in so much ecstasy: this salmon is sweet and rich: it’s like candy and you just can’t get enough of it. It has all the best, classic characteristics that come to mind when you think salmon, or even salmon sushi, combined with the flavor of fresh caught wild trout.

I understand the flavor of the fish has to do with the quality of the river–Copper River in Alaska is super cold, rugged, and glacial fed. While regularly we buy fish, prawns and lobster locally right off the boats in the harbor here, I am grateful we can get Alaskan salmon in a local grocery store four days after it’s been pulled out of the water.

We can find Copper River salmon from around Memorial Day in late May to Father’s Day in mid-June; after that it’s King and Coho. Both are exceptional when fresh, but they’re not even close to the Copper River.

The Big Monkey is a master of the barbecue universe, and he is particularly adept at salmon, which makes it even more pleasurable. My job is to prepare the sides–rice, salads, vegetables–and choose the wine.

The obvious choice with salmon is chardonnay, and we’ve about drunk all the Trevor Jones Virgin chardonnay I snatched up at the last two Grateful Palate warehouse sales. It’s cool, refreshing, and food friendly marrying nicely with the rich fatty fish grilled simply with lemon and olive oil. Over the years, we’ve also enjoyed a pinot or two, and this year, on my Aussie wine kick, we loved it with the Majella sparkling shiraz one night last week and the Paringa on another.

So what to drink tonight? I agonized over the choices–what would work best with salmon on this hot summer night in Ojai? I was leaning toward the RBJ theologicum, thinking it had some pinot like characteristics, but then I thought about how much we’d enjoyed the Chris Ringland Barossa Valley 2006 Ebenezer Shiraz and packed up a Majella Coonawarra 2001 shiraz with a relatively low alcohol (13.5% at least compared to other recent Aussie wines I’ve enjoyed).

Charles guided me through Turbo Tax 2007 while the Big Monkey barbecued asparagus and prepared salmon and Myr set the table and watched our going-into-kindergarteners play. Once we had the Fed taxes done, Myr and the Big Monkey shared the tail end of last night’s Loan 2005 Semillon from Barossa Valley which hadn’t impressed me with our barbecued beer butt lemon rosemary garlic chicken–the semillon was too light, delicate and subtle for all that flavor, and while I enjoyed it, I was disappointed. (Hey I thought every Aussie wine goes with BBQ–isn’t that a national motto or something?)

Tonight the Loan semillon was perfect before dinner as we toasted getting so much of our hard earned money back from the government. In fact, the Big Monkey, who often says all wine’s the same except for price, told me how good it was, and asked repeatedly if there was more (no honey, in fact when I showed you the bottle after I bought it, you said semillon? what’s that?) The Majella shiraz was good but a bit odd and I thought maybe it needed to breathe a little or be shared with food so I set it aside as we got back to work getting the state taxes done.

Well, the taxes are all done, but I am still puzzling over that Majella. Maybe as my palate develops I will know what to drink with that other bottle of Majella coonawarra (don’t you just love that name–coonawarra!) Cellar it longer? It was a bit tannic… Have it with rack of lamb? Or maybe I just flat out prefer shiraz from the Barossa Valley. So much to try! So much to learn!

And here I thought poetry could be difficult and complicated…wine is even more peculiar.

Maybe by next year’s run of Copper River salmon, I will have figured out which wine to drink with it!

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