What’s a girl to do when dinner combines a myriad of ingredients, none of which points toward a particular wine, or even wine style?
Open everything. Duh.
At least that’s what happened this week when an effort to cook with recipes seized me violently, and this recipe for Linguine fra Diavolo caught my eye. Mid-way through being
disgusted by marine life cleaning squid for the first time, the wine pairing issue presented itself like this:
Me: But wait, it’s got a hefty tomato sauce, maybe a red would be better?
Me: But it’s really spicy!
Me: I guess something Italian, since it’s an Italian dish?
Me: But I don’t have any Italian wine?!
Me: …Maybe Vodka?
Thoroughly stumped, I put together a line-up on the dinner table, hoping for a winner. The lineup included a fresh, juicy red wine from Long Island’s Lieb Cellars, a skin-contact white from Northern California, and an old Bordeaux from 2000. (Vodka remained on standby.)
Over the course of dinner we were reminded of old pairing rules, and some new ones were brought to light as well. The Lieb Cellars Bridge Lane Red was the winner for me, because it’s ripe, berrylicious flavor wiped the spice off my tongue perfectly. On its own, the wine was still tasty, but wouldn’t have been my favorite. (pairing rule: easy-going sweetness helps eliminate spice.)
The white, a Viognier blend from Baiocchi Vineyards in Fairplay California, was tasty with lots of floral notes. However, 14.9% alcohol only highlighted that I hadn’t measured the cayenne going into the pasta and set my mouth on fire. Not a recipe for success. (pairing rule: lower alcohol wines are a better match for most foods.)
I was really excited for the Bordeaux, which came from Chateau Martinens in the tiny village of Margaux. I’m not sure how this wine made it into my pile at home, but I’m considering it a gift from the gods. Perfumed with aromas of leather, dried cherries, the forest in the fall, and lots of red fruit it was delicious. On the palate there was lots of silty minerality and great, soft tannins. Unfortunately, it absolutely doesn’t want to be drunk alongside fish. The combination was sadly metallic and underwhelming. (pairing rule: tannic reds and shellfish of any kind is disastrous.)
The Moral: Sometimes you should just go buy a bottle of wine if you really want a pairing to work. A $15 Pinot Grigio could’ve been perfect here. It would’ve had the spice-quelling ripe fruit flavors, but been soft enough to highlight (rather than dominate) the delicate seafood.
On the bright side, we had more than enough to drink.
Strange Food Pairings Uncorked:
Laura Loves: Bubbles with everything! The carbonation in sparkling wines helps to cleanse the palate, and many versions have a tiny bit of sugar, which also tames heat.
Fun Facts: Wine and cheese were originally paired together because dairy compounds hid the harsh flavors of poorly stored red wine.
Malbec is one of the best wine matches for lean red meat like ostrich or buffalo because it doesn’t have a super long finish.
Terminally Terrible Pairing Ideas: California Cabernet Sauvignon and Shellfish, where natural compounds in both result in a disgusting metallic aftertaste like licking a battery.
Artichokes and almost all wine. (Go for Sherry!)