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Friday, November 03, 2006

A pair of aces
The old adage of white wine w/ fish and red wine w/ meats will definitely get you out of a bind, but it is just about as tiresome as watching 'Days of Our Lives' re-runs. While pairing wines w/ foods is no exact science, there are some basic principles that should help demystify the artform. Salt neutralizes acids, tannins cut through fat. My favorite of the bunch has got to be the notion of pairing like with like.

There are, of course, the classics. Buttered popcorn w/ buttered chardonnay, herbacious sauvignon blanc w/ herbacious greens and dessert wines w/...well, dessert. It makes logical sense that big, burly wines will suffocate subtle dishes, just as softer wines are smothered by richly flavored foods. The perfect matches occur when food and wine share an attribute, and bringing those attributes together makes each one shine brighter than they ever could have alone. Sometimes the elements that wine and food share are obvious, and other times they sneak up on you when you least expect it.

My pair of aces begins w/ a relatively run of the mill weekday night. A make shift pesto was thrown together w/ various odds and ends, including goat cheese cauliflower and sundried tomatoes. My initial choice, a 2004 Jean Louis Chave Cotes du Rhone, was corked. After I screamed bloody murder, I settled for a bottle of 2004 Morgante Nero d'Avola on a whim. C'mon it's from Sicily, all Italian wines go beautifully w/ pasta, don't they? Well, it wasn't much of a stretch for a Wednesday night.

As it so happens, the pairing was actually quite lame. Not to say the two clashed, but it tasted like food, and wine. No sparks, no romance, just a slurp and sip session w/ no real synergy (god I feel so corporate when I use that word). Then something interesting happened. The lingering flavor of a stray sundried tomato met a welcoming splash of the Sicilian red wine so sharply that I could feel my toes curl inwards. Perhaps a hair or two on the back of my neck tingled. Hell, it was full blown goose bumps! Like a traffic cop w/ his morning krispy kreme and cup of joe, I was compelled to dunk each tomato right into that glass. The sparks were flying as my toad of a pesto had become a prince from a lovely sundried kiss.

As it turns out, the Nero d'avola's flavors, in addition to it's fascinating nose of blueberry pie crust, had a predominantly dried fruit character that completely resembled that of the tomatoes. The earthy, dried plum of the Nero d'Avola and the sweetness of the sundried tomatoes had such an attraction for one another that it completely atoned for the otherwise botched pairing experiment. I guess this 'pair like w/ like' stuff works, huh?

Now the other food and wine experience will leave me eating a big old humble pie. As you can tell from previous posts, I've slammed high octane wines that push the envelope well over 15% and dissmissmed them as being completely impractical at the dinner table. Well I put my big mouth to the test, using the 'like complements like' principle. It was somewhat of a heavyweight fight between the big bruisers of the food and wine leagues, respectively.

In this corner, weighing in at 15.5 percent alcohol, an up and comer from Jumilla, Spain. With 70 plus percent Monastrell grapes (also known as Mourvedre), the Bodegas El Nido Clio 2003 was ready to pack a monster punch. The conservative old world side of me would have panned that wine from the get go, w/ sheer statistics alone. Then there is the liberal underdog in me that wanted to prove the odds makers wrong. There could be magic, there could be a match made in heaven for this big bruiser of a wine.

Let me tell you something, I found it. Three words, BRAISED SHORT RIBS. My fiance and I actually filmed her trimming the fat off these puppies (after they had already been meticulously trimmed at the deli) and it was a sight to be seen. I'd almost liken it to a Discovery Channel episode that allows the viewer an in-depth view at liposuction up close, from a very, very hefty customer. Anyways, these ribs were fit for the challenge. My fiancee slow cooked them for nearly half the day (now this was on a Sunday, a much more adventurous dining evening than that of a bland Wednesday) until they would literally melted right off the bone.

The pairing was absolutely ridiculous, and completely in line w/ American notions of excess. The rich, blackberry ganache flavored tannins of the Clio sliced right through the tender fat of the ribs like a samurai warrior. It was a battle of heavyweight wrestlers in which both competitors won. The succulence and generosity of the savory ribs was only heightened by the plush, mouth filling Spanish red, leaving me sweating from the intensities of flavor.

Now the only problem I had was that so much decadence has it's price, unless you have the endurance of a champion (a sport in which I unfortunately am relegated to junior varsity status). There were plenty of left overs filling the kitchen, and about a quarter bottle of wine to burn...I was left gasping, feeling as heavy as the trimmed fat that lay in the kitchen garbage. Then an idea of how to punctuate the evening hit me like a 10th round knockout blow. Cigars!

Considering I'm becoming nearly as much a cigar aficionado as I am a wine nazi, I've been turned on to the marriage of port and smoke after dinner. Now the Clio wasn't quite port, but it was damn close! Sweet, unctuously textured and full-bodied to the brim as it stood up quite well to the maduro wrapper of the Padron 3000. The smoke and pepper characteristics of the wine were heightened by the nutmeg-like spice of the tobacco, w/ sweet black currant jam still shining through beautifully. I smoked and drank on my Brooklyn stoop like a champion that night.

Not only was the Clio a perfect sparring partner for the meal, it's performance w/ the after dinner cigar really transcended the concept of a wine's paring versatility. These pair of aces really taught me a valuable lesson. When it comes playing with high alcohol wines, I better work on my poker face.

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