Monday, November 30, 2009

Bold Foods and Bold Wines

Recently Jane Butel, the queen of Southwestern cuisine, and me launched a new blog talk radio program called; Bold Foods and Bold Wines. The format entails Jane discussing foods and dinner menus while I pair wines with each course she covers. Jane includes food tips on preparation and economical ideas for keeping costs down. I cover wine care and handling tips, wine bargains, and wines that deliver without busting anyone’s budget.

She recently created a birthday dinner for my wife and we thought it’d be cool to cover it on one of our Wednesday afternoon shows. That was followed on Friday, November 20 by the dinner she put on, paired with my wine selections. Theory and practice within days of each other! Yes, it was a great success.

When presented with a dinner menu, particularly one with a cornucopia of flavors, I usually consider which wines go best with each course. However, not everyone can afford to offer a different wine with each course, not to mention the number of glasses needed. And we definitely don’t want to mention how many crystal glasses need to be washed and dried by hand.

Therefore, I consider the commonalities of the wines and try to find two or three that would go well with all the courses. For the preparation of the courses below you’ll need to pick up one of Jane’s cookbooks, such as Hotter Than Hell. Yes that is a cookbook title, not a new horror novel. Under each course Jane selected, I discuss what wines will go well with that course.

Keep in mind, many wines can pair with a dish, but for matches made in heaven (and we’re talking food and wine here) some wines work better than others. Here are some things to consider:
• What are the dominant flavors?
• What type of wines do you like? A perfect pairing with wine you don’t like can be a problem, although well-paired, it may surprise you and become a new favorite.
• Stick with food-friendly wines for a more successful pairing, less alcohol, less oak with whites, good acidity, and balance in the wine.

Barbara’s Southwestern Birthday Dinner

Guacamole with Tostados
Freshly made Guacamole pairs well with crisp white wines and sparklers with a fine mousse. The mousse comes from fine bubbles created using Method Champenoise and one of best domestic practitioners of this art is Gruet in New Mexico. The mouth feel is luscious and rich, and the tart apple notes of the Gruet Brut and Blancs de Noirs sparkling wines awaken the flavors of avocado and tomato. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Alsace Pinot Blanc, and French-style Chardonnay all work here as well.

Chipotle Cheddar with assorted crackers and Salted Mixed Nuts
Salty dishes often call for red wine, and cheddars, particularly sharp cheddars do as well. Tannic dry reds work well here including Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Merlot, and Petite Sirah. If this is an appetizer, however, start with the more modest Sangiovese or even a medium-bodied Zinfandel or Primitivo wine. Primitivo is the Italian clone of the Croatian grape that was also the parent of our Zinfandel grape, as DNA tests confirmed.

Roast Loin of Pork with a chorizo-pinon stuffing and Jalapeño Glaze
Pork is one of the most versatile meats because it will take on the flavors of whatever sauces and spices you prepare with it. The spices here need a sturdy white with good acidity and a bit of sweetness, but a red wine would go better. Spanish Rioja made with Temperanillo, and wines of northern Spain that use the Garnacha grape, which are now more popular, pair well. As a bonus, these are often well-priced for their quality. The French name for Garnacha is Grenache, a key Cotes du Rhone grape along with Mourvèdre and Syrah. Mourvèdre also makes vibrant fruit-forward wines.

A big Sangiovese, such as a Chianti Reserva, or Brunello de Montalcino also pair, but these can be pricey. A domestic Barbera would work better than the subtler Piedmont, Italy versions and also keep the cost down. A Luna Rossa Barbera, Temperanillo, or Sangiovese are good choices in New Mexico, and well-priced.

Tequila Teased Sweet Potatoes
This is another challenging pairing, trust Jane to not make it easy for me. I’ve been teased by tequila, too, but with results not as good as this dish. Complement with sweeter wines, Muscat or German-styled Riesling, contrast with a lighter-bodied Sangiovese or Beaujolais. Sparkling wines also work here.

Winter Salad with Honey Lemon Dressing
So is a winter salad one you serve in winter or with seasonal fixings? In any case, it is best to avoid too much vinegar unless you use balsamic as this can clash with many wines. Complement this salad with fruity, acidic whites, but a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc may be too acidic for some palates. A dry honeyed Muscat would also work well here.

Birthday Cake with Apple Spice
How you do like this, Jane even puts spice in the dessert! Depending on the frosting, a late harvest Riesling, or a Muscat Canelli will complement the cake. If you have any of the sparkling wine left, it should go here as well.

Consolidating the Wines
Now that we have a list of wines, how do we pair down – pun intended - to two or three choices? First we have some clear red and white wine choices, so at least one of each would be best. A Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or sparkling wine would handle the widest range of choices, but if you favor Chardonnay, make sure it’s more in the French style. A Spanish or Italian dry red, Sangiovese or Garnacha will handle the cheese and pork. A third wine for the dessert is also practical. Many dessert wines are in half-bottles so there’s less chance of waste. Waste? That might be at your house, but not mine. Salut!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Back to Basics: Holiday Wines and Food

Now that the taste of mini-Snickers and gummy bears no longer invade our palates, it’s time to think about holiday wine and food pairings. As the title suggests, this is about applying basic pairing rules to your holiday feasts. Just remember, rules can be broken, but have a valid reason. Some examples of shaky reasoning follow.

I like the label: Fine, but make the bottle part of your table decoration if the flavors are at odds with the meal.

I always drink this wine: Why not put a little adventure in your meal and try something different? Alternately, find out what foods go best with your wine and plan the meal around that.

My guest brought it: This is a tough one if you don’t want to offend. Tactful: “This will go great with a meal I’m planning for Saturday.” Alternately, serve it with appetizers if it will clash with dinner. Tactless: “Have you no food sense, this will clash horribly with the smoked ham!”

First some basic basics: Food friendly wines work best. These will be lower in alcohol, not over-oaked, particularly whites, have good acidity, and not be overly dry or tannic. If your favorite wine is a big red wine with enough oak to produce splinters, enough tannin to require re-hydration, and enough alcohol to put great aunt Mildred to sleep in her chair, you might want to save it for the cheese plate.

Traditional holiday fare, such as turkey and ham will be hard to match with heavy, tannic reds. A lighter red, such as Pinot Noir or Beaujolais will work much better. Save the bigger reds for steaks and heavier grilled meats. Beef Wellington, an English holiday treat, will pair wonderfully with Cabernet Sauvignon. If the meat is smoked, however, more red wine choices open up. A dry rosé will also work well here.

What are the overall flavors of your dinner? If they tend to include yams mottled with marshmallows, cranberry sauce, and a candied ham, you’ll do better with a white wine with good acidity, fruit-forward, less oak, and off-dry or slightly sweet. Riesling and Gewürztraminer will work well here, German, Alsace, or domestic depending on your preference. Turkey with root vegetables and fewer sweet sides will also work with Viognier, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris white wines. Chardonnay should be more in the French style with subtle oak and good fruit that does not require 100% malolactic fermentation. Milagro Vineyards & Winery make an excellent Chardonnay that meets this criteria.

If the turkey is smoked, or has a spicy stuffing or sides, try Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Barbera, Nebbiolo and other Spanish and Italian wines. These wines were made to pair with local cuisines which offer flavors similar to southwest cuisine. Many New Mexico wines feature these grapes including Luna Rossa, which specializes in Italian varietals that pair well with spicy offerings. It is a basic rule that wines often go well with a local cuisine if it has a defined one. California cuisine, on the other hand, is not well defined. My experience with it suggests that it’s whatever you’re eating in California.

The easiest choice is a sparkling wine, as many of these can go with everything but chocolate cake. In New Mexico that’s almost a no-brainer as Gruet is also a best buy. Gruet Brut will harmonize better than Gruet Demi Sec which is an off-dry sparkler. Gruet Blanc de Noirs, which also uses the Pinot Noir grape, works with many holiday meals. Sparkling Rosé is another good choice, but make sure it is a true rosé, such as Gruet makes, and not pink champagne, which can be overly sweet. Too much sweetness will clash with most palates, at the other end of the spectrum from a too-dry wine.

If you go to a wine store and ask what wines should go with your dinner and they reply with “whatever you like” realize that this is not an answer. Otherwise, why were you asking in the first place? A good wine shop should at least have ideas and suggestions for you to consider.

Another possibility is the Shotgun approach. This doesn’t require the use of firearms, but buying a mix of wines and discovering which ones go best with the meal. You can even make a game of it, asking your guests to vote for their favorite pairing. You’ll learn more about your palate, food pairing, and what your guests like or don’t like.

What about dessert? At this point your guests will be so overloaded with food and wine they probably won’t care what you serve, but here are a few more rules, just in case. Fruit-based desserts will work with sparklers and white dessert wines. Muscat wines, such as the Corrales Winery Muscat Canelli, are wonderful here. Chocolate and butter cream-based desserts are best with big red wines, Port or sweet Sherries. If that big Cab is still waiting for a pairing partner to dance with, that chocolate cake is perfect. Salut!