Aglianico meets Vermont Local New Year’s Eve Dinner


It’s the first winter I’ve spent back in Vermont for 15 years now… but a couple of nights of howling wind brought it all right back: it gets COLD here! Fortunately, our enormous Vermont Castings ‘Defiant’ wood stove heats the whole house, except around the edges on the windiest nights.  New Years’ Eve was setting up to be one of those nights (after a day of snowfall), and we were glad we had no plans except to sit by the fire and listen to the silence on the baby monitor.

Dinner wasn’t going to be anything fabulous until about mid-day, when our neighbor Dan stopped in. Dan is an experienced and accomplished hunter. He loves the time in the woods alone, and he and his wife enjoy eating the fruits of his fall hobby all winter and spring. This year he’d been lucky enough to bag both a buck, during rifle season, and then a doe, during the muzzle-loader season.

Jason has expressed an interest in going out hunting next year (meat doesn’t get any more local than that, after all) but he’d never eaten what city slickers refer to as ‘venison’ (around here we just call it deer). So Dan brought us some really choice cuts as an introduction. There were two packages: medallions of tenderloin as well as some nice thinly sliced steaks (this was definitely the best return on a plate of Christmas cookies I’ve ever gotten!).  We opted for the medallions for our New Year’s Eve feast.

This cut is incredibly simple to prepare – just pan-sear the meat on both sides, then take it out and start braising some onions in the pan. De-glaze with some red wine, pop the meat back on top for a minute to finish cooking, and it’s done.  Wild deer meat can take some cooking – I like it medium (warm through but still pink in the center). For side dishes, we had  on hand some of the inevitable local winter fare – gilfeather turnips (which I wrote about here) and potatoes. I decided to roast the turnips with herbes de provence to bring out their sweetness, and we’d throw some extra butter in the potatoes to ramp up the richness a tad.

Meanwhile, Carla had just called to suggest Aglianico as the wine of the month for January, and I happened to have two bottles of Ocone’s Taburno Aglianico in the cellar.  The wine pairing was a cinch as well. This was a wine that could handle the deep richness of the meat (wild venison has an almost liver-like quality) and balance the earthy sweetness of the roasted turnips to boot. I love the Ocone for its balance of power and lightness – it is dark and focused, but still has a vibrant acidity and enough restraint that it would marry with, rather than fight the flavors on the table. I can’t think of a better wine pairing for Jason’s first taste of deer than a nice old-school Aglianico like this….

This was one of those meals that just came together with what was on hand (or brought by a generous neighbor). All in all, it was the perfect New Year’s Eve at home!

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