The more I study and learn about wine, the more I find that I totally dig creating food and wine parings. This is why people love me – I give them wine and I give them food! In addition to doing events for various groups, I host an annual pairing for Thing 1’s school as part of a major fundraiser. It’s a great deal of fun and I get to give back while doing something I love. #Winning. As I find in most of the tastings, people can have some strong opinions when they don’t like something. All good though, because that’s how your learn your palate. So for the 2017 edition, I chose seven wines from seven countries paired with seven small bites.
Wine: Graham Beck Brut, South Africa NV ($16)
Food: Truffle Parmesan Popcorn
Why the Pairing: Sparkling wine loves fat and salt. It is high in acidity which cuts through the fat and salt. Acidity generally makes you want “another one” as the bubbles act as a palate cleanser.
FYI: Only the very northern and southern tips of the African continent are suitable for grape growing, none more famous than South Africa. Most wine regions are found near the coastal Cape area to take advantage of the cooling winds and current of the Southern Ocean. This quality bubbly is made using the same method as French Champagne and the same grapes (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir), but at a fraction of the price. Truly amazing quality at this price point.
Wine: Pierre Archambault Sancerre, France 2015 ($20)
Food: Caramelized Pear, Goat Cheese & Walnut Salad
Why the Pairing: You can never go wrong pairing based on locality. As they say – what goes together grows together. Goat cheese originated in France’s Loire Valley, which is also home to our wine. The goat cheese and the wine match each other in acidity and intensity which is why the French have had this paring for ages.
FYI: Sauvignon Blanc is one of those wines that can be quite polarizing. Many people love it or hate it. And while it’s grown around the globe, France’s Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume regions in the Loire Valley are two of the most prestigious regions for the grape and generally regarded as the best in the world. The soils are famous for their chalk and limestone which results in dry wines with bracing acidity. Wet stone anyone?
Wine: Piattelli Torrontes, Cafayete Valley, Argentina 2015 ($15)
Food: Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce & Thai Style Fried Rice
Why the Pairing: Offering up floral aromatic characteristics similar to Gewurztraminer and Riesling, but not quite as sweet, this is a classic match for Asian food. Wines of this profile are known to tame the spice and flavors of both Asian and Indian cuisines. (I also love it with Cool Ranch Doritos!) But don’t be fooled – while it smells sweet, Torrontes is usually made in a dry style.
FYI: Indigenous, and pretty much exclusive to Argentina, Torrontes shines in the Cafayete region of Salta. Argentina is home to some of the highest altitude vineyards in the world, none higher than Salta. High elevations can be magical for wines due to direct, intense sunlight, widely dramatic temperature shifts, and great drainage.
I must disclose that this was definitely the least favorite wine for the group.
Wine: Santa Ema Reserve Merlot, Maipo Valley, Chile 2013 ($15)
Food: Sun-Dried Tomato & Italian Sausage Flatbread
Why the Pairing: Merlot is an easy paring wine partner due to the fact that it falls in the middle of the red wine spectrum. It really is one of the more versatile wines. And the bold, ripe fruit on this one is not overwhelmed by strong flavors.
FYI: Santa Ema has been recognized by Wine Spectator as one of the Top 20 World’s Finest Value Brands. Like many wines from Chile, this one is a bargain and is definitely one of the more fruit-forward Merlot wines. Quite a contrast to a Merlot you’d get from Bordeaux’s Right Bank. In addition to its fruit forward style, Chilean Merlot tends to be smoother, less tannic and a bit lower alcohol. And even with the hit Merlot took when 2004’s Sideways movie came out, it’s generally back in good graces with the wine crowd. Of course for some, it never fell out of favor as one of the world’s most expensive wines – Right Bank Bordeaux’s Chateau Petrus – is primarily Merlot. The 2015 Futures Pre-Sale price was around $3,000!
This was probably the favorite wine for the group.
Wine: Sordo Rocche di Castiglione Riserva Barolo, Italy 2008 ($100)
Food: Truffle & Mushroom Tagliatelle
Why the Pairing: As with the Sancerre, when in doubt, pair the foods of the region with the wines of the region. Truffles are famed delicacies in Piedmont and are often served simply with local egg noodle pastas. So what better pairing for truffle pasta than the wine for which the region is known? Of course, I’d have this with a hamburger too.
FYI: Rarely found anywhere outside of Italy’s Piedmont region, Nebbiolo is truly a chameleon. When you look at it and smell it, you mentally prepare for a lighter, fruitier, more floral (roses are a hallmark of Nebbiolo) style of wine similar to maybe Pinot Noir or Sangiovese. But then you taste it and get smacked around by the tannins and tar and all that acid. But these are all good things and why the best made versions are some of the most coveted wines in the world. While Barolo and Barbaresco are known as the king and queen of Nebbiolo and often command prices in excess of $50 or $100 or more (and require years or decades of aging), there are many fantastic expressions of Nebbiolo that command much lower prices. A good more affordable option is Langhe Nebbiolo which comes from Piedmont but is often softer and more accessible early on. But we splurged.
Wine: Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz Kalima, Australia 2013 ($25)
Food: Texas Style Brisket Nachos with Avocado Cream Sauce
Why the Pairing: Australian Shiraz is a big, bold, and lush full-bodied wine with intense ripe fruit. Such a bold wine will not be overpowered by the equally bold, smoky, and intense flavors of grilled meat.
FYI: So like just about everything else, Syrah (the old world name) originated in France. It’s the powerhouse behind the wines of France’s Northern Rhone Valley. And that’s where the similarities end. While the Northern Rhone produces Syrah that is powerful, tannic, acidic, and earthy to the point of being almost dusty, Australian Shiraz typically brings big ‘in your face’ fruit and spice, as well as lower tannins and acid. Embraced as the national grape of Australia, Syrah/Shiraz was very much transformed into a new and unique style. You will typically see the term “Shiraz” used in hotter climates such as Australia and South Africa.
Wine: Privé Ruby Pinot Port, Oregon NV ($60)
Food: Blue Cheese, Candied Pecan, Dark Chocolate Ganache Truffle
Why the Pairing: The rich, earthy dark chocolate balances the intense fruitiness and sweetness of the Port. That same intensity can also stand up to the likes of powerful, stinky cheese. The creamy, salty and nutty characteristics of the cheese meld seamlessly with the sweetness and depth of the wine. We’re matching intense with intense.
FYI: Privé Vineyard is an Oregon winery that is known for its Pinot Noir. This Pinot Noir Port is made in the same Solera style as the wines from Portugal. A Solera is an ongoing blend that combines different batches of wine from each year to create more depth and complexity in a wine. Privé began its Solera system in 2002.