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!