Smoky Tea-Brined Pork Loin Roast with Fennel and Plums
It seems like all summer long our guest room has a revolving door for visiting friends, family, and wine-industry folks, often people we’ve met on the road when I join my partner, Tom Monroe, on sales trips for his winery, Division Winemaking Company. Planning the menu for casual suppers with these guests—when we’ll be sharing our table with those who, like us, appreciate the pleasure of a meal that lasts late into the evening—is a favorite practice of mine. I love it when the wine, and ensuing conversation, never stops flowing.In my earlier years of entertaining, I used to go big, cooking such elaborate feasts that I was hardly able to enjoy the time with friends. (It’s a common mistake for young cooks looking to impress.) It took more than a few of these over-the-top performances to realize what’s truly impressive is a one-pan showstopper that can mostly be prepped ahead and is perfectly comfortable hanging out on its own as you hang out with arriving guests, cocktail in hand.A rack of pork loin is one such dish. It’s a relatively affordable piece of meat that’s festive in appearance. And it’s as delicious at room temperature in the summertime as it is hot from the oven. I always brine pork loin to keep the lean cut juicy, and it’s fun to infuse with unexpected flavor. Lapsang souchong is a Chinese black tea that is smoked over pinewood. When steeped into this wet brine, it imparts a subtle, smoky flavor reminiscent of a campfire without having to actually smoke the meat.The wines on the table all made sense with pork and fruit and summertime patio parties, in theory—a bottle of Tom’s Oregon Pinot noir, cru Beaujolais, and a few rosés on the richer side. As we stabbed bites of the smoky pork smeared with sticky plums and meltingly tender fennel and swished around small pours of each wine, we noted that, surprisingly, none of them were giving that holy pairing we were expecting.Tom and one of our guests left the table and scurried to the basement to rummage through haphazardly stacked wine boxes next to the washing machine, aka our wine cellar. They emerged in eager anticipation to pop yet another cork: a 2006 Petterino Gattinara, Nebbiolo from an underappreciated area of Piedmont where the grape grows at the base of the Alps in a region known as Alto Piemonte. It was at once floral and earthy, luscious and tart, with tannins just mellow enough and the allusion of sweet cherries and dried plums. It was just what we needed—the perfect wine to keep the conversation and good times flowing late into the evening.