Monday, November 15, 2010

Bold Commentaries: Cancun, Mexico, November 2010

This time I’m way south of the border, down Mexico way, Aye, aye, aye aye . . . as the song goes. We’re staying at the Grand Mayan in Riviera Maya, which is midway between Cancun and Playa del Carmen, a lovely town that my wife and I visit several times each trip to this area. The town boasts several good restaurants, including one in a complex of caves that must be seen to be believed, with alcoves hosting small bars, and stalagmites illuminated with a myriad of colored lights.

My wine recommendations here are from Chile and Argentina, which are well represented in the local supermarkets. The prices are very good and offer good value, whereas the U.S. wines come at a premium. What better time to learn more about the wines of Chile and Argentina?

Jane Butel once again is focused on eating healthy over the holidays, which is a challenge for most of us. All the recipes she shared during this program are from her Quick and Easy Cookbook, which I highly recommend. Wine does add to your calorie-count, but is non-fat unless you serve it with a dollop of cream. When I count calories – OK, if I did count calories, I wouldn’t add in the wine, because it might limit my intake, and I don’t want that!

Jane’s first recipe is Chicken Tortilla Chowder, a good nourishing soup that is also easy on the calories and very tasty the way Jane prepares it. This hearty, filling soup is only 326 calories for a ½ recipe and is low in cholesterol and sodium.

As it happens, Tortilla soup is a staple in Mexico. An Argentinean Torronteś would be a good choice. Argentina’s most popular white wine is gaining a following in the U.S. It is medium-bodied with good fruit and a range of flavors from citrus to melon with good complexity. The nose is often flowery and redolent with tropical flavors and good acidity. It also pairs with a very broad range of foods making it quite versatile.

Other options would be Chilean Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. Unlike California, many Chilean Chards embrace the concept of food-friendly, and pack good fruit, good acidity, and don’t bludgeon the grape with too much oak. I just tried, a 2010 Concha y Toro Sauvignon Blanc Reservado from the Valle Central, or Central Valley. One would hardly consider this wine too old, huh? To paraphrase Paul Masson: “We will sell no wine before its time. OK, it’s ready.”

Concha y Toro was established in 1883, if I corrected deciphered the script on the bottle, and has a good reputation for value and quality. This wine has good tropical fruit, Granny Smith apple, crisp acidity on top of a very inviting nose. At under $7 I rate this one a best buy, and will be back for more.

Next up, Jane went with a Chicken and rice dish featuring a Jalapeno Lime Crème Dressing and Romaine lettuce leaves and chiles, cumin and garlic spices. Chicken and rice always seem to go well together, and with green chile and lime the whites should still prevail.

Many Chilean wine regions focus on the best grapes for that region, which is why the Casablanca region is famous for their Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The local Wal-Mart was not too helpful there, but I should have known that. Later I picked up a Torronteś at the local Mega store, which trumps Wal-Mart for food and wine.

Next Jane discussed Guaymas Shrimp, which in Mexico are called camarones. I’ve had them many ways here, but chile and garlic should always be included in my estimation. I could go either way as far as wine, but how about Rosé for a change of pace? You’ll want to insure it is a dry Rosé rather than a sweet blush wine. Both Chile and Argentina offer a variety of dry versions using different grapes. As in Europe, they know the value of dry rose and serve them as aperitif or just for easy drinking throughout the evening. They go with many types of food, or standalone, making them very versatile.

Pork, as Jane often mentions is a good nutritional and economical choice. It also is a chameleon in that it adapts to the cooking method, sauces and spices with which it is prepared. Her Chile Sage Pork Chops are a case in point, and she serves it with Black-eyed Pea Salsa and Chipotle Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Her last dish is Flank Steak Soft Tacos, which is flank steak marinated in red wine vinegar with fresh garlic and caribe chile. This dish packs more calories but works as a casual meal or as a tapas entrée.

Both these dishes call for a number of red wines choices. The flank steak can take a heavier-bodied wine than the pork, but a good spicy Merlot would work with either. The lower tannin hit and more approachable flavors of this grape make it very popular, in spite of the rude hit the grape took after the movie Sideways. Remember folks, Paul Giamatti is a beer drinker; don’t let him dictate your wine palate. Besides one of the most costly and highly-regarded red wines in the world is Chateau Petrus, and its 100% Merlot.

Merlot can go from a very soft, almost innocuous wine to a red powerhouse with tons of flavor, silky tannins, spicy red berry flavors, and a complex finish. This is also a popular grape in Chile/Argentina, as is Carmenere, which at one time was mistaken for the Merlot grape, and it also has wonderful spice.

If you prefer a Cab, the Chilean versions are closer to their European cousins than North American varieties. I grabbed a Santa Rita 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva from the Maipo Valley, which is a great wine region for this grape. Clocking in at the typical 13.5 % of a French Cab, it will go nicely with that flank steak and even better with prime rib. Salud!

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