My family and I spent most of July in Vermont. I grew up there, and each year we try to go back and give our kids the chance to discover the streams and forests, fields and ponds I spent my childhood exploring. My sister and her family make their home next door, and my mom still spends half the year there, in the house I grew up in. I know that the setting hasn't changed much in the last 50 years. It probably hasn't changed much in a century:
When we go back, we're a group of nine, five adults and (this year) kids aged 18, 15, 13, and 9. Everyone likes to eat, and a many of our most memorable moments of each trip are spent around the table. To keep it from being too much of a burden on any one person, we share out the tasks of cooking, setting, and washing each evening, and always designate a few people each evening to be Riley (think "life of...") so they can relax without guilt. If you're in a rut on your vacation meal planning, I highly recommend this system.
As our time in Vermont wound down, my mom and I were signed up to cook one night, and we decided to make a meal that would allow us to explore some of the treasures my dad accumulated in the wine cellar there. Earlier in the trip we'd opened some old Burgundies and a few old Tablas Creeks, but this time decided to dive into the stash of Beaucastel. That stash included two of my favorite vintages: 1981 and 1989. To pair with the wines, we decided on racks of lamb (sadly, not Tablas Creek, since we were on the other coast, but delicious racks from the local co-op grocery). My mom cooked them according to this favorite David Tanis recipe in the New York Times, where the racks are rubbed with a blend of mustard, garlic, anchovy, salt, pepper, and herbs. These racks are then roasted over par-cooked potatoes, which have been boiled then crushed. As everything roasts in the oven, the potatoes absorb the juices and flavors of the lamb and its rub. As a side dish I made a variation on roasted tomatoes from a favorite Barbara Kafka recipe, where small tomatoes are rubbed in olive oil and salt, then roasted whole at high temperature with peeled cloves of garlic scattered around. When they're removed from the oven, you scatter some strips of basil over the top. A few photos, starting with the lamb, which turned out perfectly:
The potatoes were meltingly delicious:
I love roasted tomatoes with lamb, because their brightness helps cut the richness of the meat. The garlic pieces are great for spreading on crusty bread.
And finally, the wines, which were definitely worthy of all this fuss. The cool, damp underground cellar where the wines have spent the last four decades is great for the wines' evolution, but (as you can see) less than ideal for their labels:
As for the two wines that night, both were excellent, and the 1989 truly outstanding. My sense was that the 1981 was a little past its peak, and starting a graceful decline, while the 1989 is still at the top of its game:
- 1981 Beaucastel. A nose of truffle and balsamic, sage, graphite, leather and a little juniper. On the older side but still quite present and intense. On the palate, still intense and firm, with good acids, flavors of meat drippings and plum skin, coffee grounds and pencil shavings. The finish is still persistent.
- 1989 Beaucastel. Plusher and more powerful on the nose, aromas of mocha, black cherry, mint chocolate, and soy marinade. The mouth is fully mature but still has lovely fruit: cherry and currant fruit, new leather, meat drippings, sweet baking spices, and chocolate covered cherries. Long and luscious but still somehow weightless.
It was a fitting conclusion to a wonderful three weeks. And I couldn't help thinking that my dad must have been smiling down at us all witnessing it.