Sunday, February 28, 2010

Pairing by Instinct

There is only one rule that I follow when pairing wine with food: when drinking an old wine, eat something simple that will allow the complexities of the wine to come forth. Other than that, I think it's best to follow one's instincts when it comes to pairings, even if it means doing things that fall outside of the normal comfort zones, things that simply don't sound right on paper.

Last week, two opportunities arose for me to throw caution to the wind and make an outside-the-box wine pairing, and I succeeded once. The other time I second guessed myself and was punished by the higher powers (who apparently have nothing better to do than to preside over my wine pairing attempts).

The first opportunity involved radishes. I love radishes, all kinds of radishes. I've been buying these big green winter radishes lately, pretty spicy ones, and I'm trying to figure out more ways to eat them raw - they're so good for you.

I could make kim chi radish, but I don't know how to make kim chi. I could take paper-thin slices and toss them with green salad, but there is no good lettuce at my markets this time of year. I've been grating the radishes, and drizzling them with a bit of sesame oil and a few drops of good soy sauce. I'm the only one in the house who likes this dish, but I think it's delicious. Anyway, the other night I was alone in the house with the sleeping kids and I made this dish.

I don't know that there is a table wine that makes sense for this dish. I wanted sake, but I never seem to have any in the house. The idea of dry sherry flickered across my mind and I just went with it. I opened a bottle of La Cigarerra Manzanilla en Rama, $13.50 (375 ml), De Maison Selections. The "En Rama" designation means that the wine is barely filtered, a rarity in Sherries that are shipped overseas. This wine was deeply golden with a fresh smelling nose of walnuts and ripe orchard fruit. There are other Manzanillas that I prefer at this point, wines that show more of the sea, but this was satisfying - very rich, and also somewhat delicate on the palate, it was great with the radish dish. Doubt if you like, but give it a shot yourself, and see. Don't be afraid of the stern-looking woman on the label.

A few nights later we were going to eat my version of osso buco, made with beef shank instead of veal and braised with fennel, onions, and carrots.

My gut told me to open a white wine from Friuli that's made mostly of Tocai Friuilano, as I imagined its fennel aromas, its full bodied rich texture, and its vibrant acidity being a perfect foil for our hearty dinner. "But a white wine," I thought..."with braised beef?" Oh, how I wish I had just followed my gut - I bet it would have been a great match. Instead I opened a young Sangiovese, the 2008 Montesecondo Rosso Toscana IGT, $18, Louis/Dressner Selections. I've been enjoying Sangiovese lately, and on paper this should have been a great wine - great importer, careful vineyard and cellar work, etc. But I didn't care for the wine, the alcohol was loud and the wine was imbalanced, blocky. The aromas were pure, with cool cherry fruit, but the whole package just wasn't working for me, the fruit on the palate verged on jammy.

Clearly the wine gods were reminding me to follow my instincts.


Burgundiva said...

one word: leftovers! then you can eat with that Friuli. :) might try the ossobuco, but i think i might do oxtail over the shank/veal...

Ryan said...

True that - it would be great if we could all just follow our instincts when pairing food and wine. I have to say - radishes?? - sounds like a real challenge and one you were up for. Nice job!

I may just grab some rutabaga and see if I can fare as well:)