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Revisiting a Great Home Cooked Meal: My Attempt at Wine Monday

Every so often, maybe more often then not, I'm inspired to prepare a gourmet meal at home. This weekend, inspiration struck while I was visiting the Burlington Farmer's Market, when I realized that I had never prepared rabbit at home. As I'm constantly searching for new challenges, and new things to try, I purchased a half rabbit from the Tangletown Farm booth. When the heat from the weekend subsided yesterday, I set about searching for a means of preparing it. In a way, the meal felt somewhat akin to a Wine Monday event, as I was determined to enjoy a wine from my cellar with the rabbit. Admittedly, my culinary talents don't even begin to compare to those of Frank McClelland, and L'Espalier's Wine Monday events consist of a five-course tasting menu as opposed to a simple home cooked meal, but I felt that both events shared a similar spirit. 

If you're unfamiliar with what constitutes a "half rabbit" (as I was), I'll let you know that it consists of a front leg, a hind leg, and one loin. The good folks at Tangletown Farm had done a fantastic job of preparing the rabbit to be cooked, but as it was fresh rabbit, I still encountered bones and blood as I prepared the pieces of rabbit to be marinated and baked. I had decided that I wanted to use a simple recipe for the rabbit, firstly because it was a Monday night, and secondly, because I wanted to experience the unadulterated flavor of the rabbit meat to the greatest extent possible.

I ultimately decided on a Panko and Mustard Crusted Rabbit recipe from Epicurious.com. Out of all of my cookbooks, ironically only my Wine Mondays cookbook contained a recipe for rabbit, and it was characterized as a recipe best suited for the fall. Not wanting to relinquish my summer just yet, I decided the Panko and Mustard Crusted Rabbit from Epicurious would suit me just fine, from both a seasonal and time requirement perspective. 

After marinating and breading the rabbit, I excitedly marched down to the cellar as the rabbit cooked in the oven. Based on my evaluation of the meat, and what I had read about the flavor and consistency of rabbit, I wanted either a rich, full-bodied white, or a lighter bodied red. I considered indulging in one of the nicer Chardonnays in my collection, but I was dissuaded by the fact that I would be enjoying some Chardonnay in Thursday's inaugural panel tasting, and by the fact that there was going to be a sale on lobster at the grocery store. In my opinion, nothing pairs better with lobster than Chardonnay, so I decided that I would leave the Chardonnay for that meal.

Ultimately, I decided on a 2004 Vincent Girardin Maranges Premier Cru "La Fussière." This premier cru Burgundy is from the Maranges appellation in the Cote de Beaune. The vineyard is on a hillside slope with brown limestone soils. I figured that the aged Burgundy would not overwhelm the subtle Dijon mustard and butter marinade that the rabbit was coated in, and also would be a welcome companion for the rabbit's delicate meat. I also was hopeful that a Burgundian wine would achieve some synergy with the Dijon mustard that is another hallmark of the Burgundy region.

Ultimately, the pairing was a terrific success. The rabbit displayed the character of a rich, succulent chicken. It was similar to poultry, but with a touch more sweetness, a hint of gaminess, and a juicier, more robust texture. The 2004 Vincent Girardin Maranges Premier Cru "La Fussière" was a wonderful match, slightly earthly with floral aromas, and subdued red fruits on the palate. Had it been consumed in its youth, it might have dominated this dish, but as an 8-year old wine, it was just passing peak maturity, and offered many subtle, nuanced, secondary flavors that were a perfect compliment to the rabbit dish. When combined with a fresh zucchini and summer squash medley (wonderfully prepared by my girlfriend), and a bed of fresh greens with fresh cherry tomatoes, it was just about the finest midsummer meal one could ask for.

It may not have approached L'Espalier's Wine Mondays in terms of size, scale, or culinary prowess, but it was a lovingly prepared meal, shared with good friends, and accentuated by good wine. And really, at the end of the day, isn't that what matters?

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