Here's a case study in following and not following wine recommendations for specific recipes. You know those little wine notes at the bottom of recipes? You've seen them, used them, maybe even liked them and heeded them regularly. You know those? Those are typically good things, tried and true linkages that take into account a food's body, acid level and impression and match it up with a wine to complement or contrast, making everything taste better, which is the ultimate goal, yes? Good is good but better is better.
If you have the energy, time and money, you could get all fussy and go for the perfect pairing, incorporating a flurry of ingredients into a dish that match up oh-so perfectly with a particular wine. That first part - energy - wasn't in us yesterday. So when the recipe called for the exact wine - not just the style or region, the EXACT wine - and we oddly had in the house, well, you do that. Too easy not to.
When you don't have the style of wine on hand, don't want the ones you do or don't have the energy to go out into the world and get it, you approximate, heeding the recommended style (cherry-rich, medium-bodied, good-acid red) and throw a dart in the general vicinity of that side of the board and see what happens. You'll probably be just fine.
Lunch: Gigante bean and white anchovy salad with 2005 Jean-Claude Berrouet Herri Mina Irouleguy ($20 - Wine Discount Center)
Recipe from Pintxos, an exploration into Basque tapas and small plates that has gotten decent amount of mileage in our house. Good book. Get that. Original flavors galore. Gigante beans, white anchovies and potatoes (to large-plate it up) in a red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing, topped basil, mint, parsley, chives and two hard-broiled eggs for me. Mâche salad on the side. Omitted the piquillo, using a bit of the tomato dressing that came with the gigante beans as a sub.
Delicious (as it was last time as a lunch with cold melon shooters, serrano ham chips and pan con tomate), substantial enough for lunch and flat-out perfect stuff with the recommended wine.
We were a little shocked we had this one in the house. Like the exact one. Bought it years ago and just never drank it. Good for us because this was fantastic nine-year-old white wine that came off like López de Heredia, Jurançon and Retsina had a baby. Nuts, pears, pine resin, apricots, olive oil, gassy in a good way, medium-bodied, enough acidity, entirely interesting and unique stuff all around. Buying more if I see it. A Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu and Petit Manseng blend. Same grapes as used in the Jurançon AOC, which is a stone's throw to the east of Irouleguy. Irouleguy is in the French Basque region and this is Basque food. Learn it, know it, love it - they make wine to go with food made nearby. If you don't give a crap about wine and don't want to take the time to learn stuff about it, follow just that rule and you'll be just fine.
Big pairing success here, as olive oil and similarity in weight provided a sturdy linkage between the food and wine to allow every other flavor in both to wake up and expand beautifully. Just perfect stuff.
Dinner: Anne Burrell Chicken Sparpariello with 2010 Bernard Baudry Les Granges Chinon ($20 - Wine Discount Center)
Good food, wouldn't do it again. Recipe here. Chicken thighs, Trader Joe's Italian sausages, leftover tomatillo salsa marinade for the chicken and then brushed off before searing. It's a chicken-sausage-peppers-onions-Italian slightly-dried stew. That has huge merit and could even be tweaked a bit to make it a thousand different regional and micro-regional cuisines. Sort of a clean slate in ways and not the battle of the true authenticity of something like Amatriciana sauce (everyone in my TV and physical world is weirdly talking this right now...) . It's chicken, sausage, peppers and onions. It's borderline weeknight food at its base that can be fancified a bit. That's about the crux of it.
And the wine played a part in its like...age. No Chianti was in the house that we wanted to drink. Unlike other meals made for the first time, we pretty much knew exactly what this was going to be. It's chicken, sausage, peppers and onions (have I said that?). Chicken? Pretty neutral for the most part. Sausage? Well...amp up the weight of a red wine just a touch. Maybe something a touch younger or slightly more full. Onions? No huge worry here, just nothing too delicate. Peppers? Here's the interesting one. A carmenère might be nice, offering a earth and bell pepper note that would have taken this in an entirely different direction. A lighter, grenache-heavy GSM from Gigondas might have been quite good overall.
Our play was a French cabernet franc from a great producer, going a touch young on the vintage and decanting for an hour to take a little off the tannic and tight-fruited top. Worked. The best part came in the perfect match in the weight of the food and the weight of the wine while both keeping the larger part of themselves on the whole. Only touches of real enhancement but the weight similarity REALLY stood out. Pretty and sturdy licorice, plum and tobacco notes in the wine (cherry was buried over some nice earth with all that buried under its youth) that never came off big. Quite light on its feet while giving most of all it had to give. As a wine by itself, it was still too young, missing that gloriously leafy and mysterious vegetal quality that great Loire cab franc gives, offering even more weightlessness, beauty and mystery. Five years out from a good Chinon vintage seems to be the sweet spot in my burgeoning love for this utterly delicious appellation. I've said it before and I'll say it again. If I could have only one region of wine that offered both whites and reds for the rest of my life, that region would be the Loire. And it's not even close (well...maybe the Douro.).
Nice pairing overall, though not in any way spectacular. Never felt like we blew a good bottle of wine by opening it too soon. One, because it's great to see the progression of a wine you love, and two, it's $20. Loire reds and whites are easily the best bargains on the planet, bar none. Nothing plays so above its price tag.
Would switch up and try something else here though, just for funnsies.
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