The wine & food pairing challenge

A colleague of mine (at my normal, pay the bills job) recently learned that I was taking wine tasting classes and asked me for wine recommendations. I decided to make a game out of it and told her to send me a list of dishes and I would come up with a wine for each entry. The idea was to limit myself to wines I’ve tasted recently (and for some of them, wrote about). Here are the results. I’ll try to get feedback on how it worked out. What do you think? Also, feel free to give me some more dishes to match, it’s one area I’m trying to get better !

Veal MarsalaCostamolino Vermentino di Sargegna, Sardinia, Italy

Eggplant parmesan (red sauce) : Vignole Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy

Chicken Broccoli Ziti (white sauce) : Pewsey Vale, Eden Valley Dry Riesling, Barossa Valley, Australia

Baked/broiled Salmon (with veggies)Raats Family Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Roasted Chicken : Nicky Pinot Noir, Hahn winery, Central Coast, California

Baked TurkeyPine Ridge Dijon Clones Chardonnay, Carneros, California

Curried/Thai Chicken : Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc & Viognier, Napa Valley, California

Beef Stew : Gnarly Dudes Barossa Valley Shiraz

Steak & mashed potatoesRib Shack Red, Western Cape, South Africa

Lamb chops : St Supery Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California

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Tasting Notes : Summer afternoon in a glass

Raats Family Chenin Blanc 2009

Region: Stellenbosch, Western Cape, South Africa

Grape: 100% Chenin Blanc

Price: around $23 online

raats

I had a friend over last week and I decided to flex my cooking muscles with a jambalaya recipe, I love Cajun food and I always wondered about wine pairings for it. Basically the recipe calls for rice, ham, chicken sausage, green bell peppers, onions, green onions, celery, tomato sauce and spices. It turned out really well, but, as I was cooking I wondered which wine I should serve. On a hunch I decided to take out that Chenin Blanc from South Africa. It’s from Stellenbosch, the premium region within Western Cape and it’s made by the Raats family winery which has a good reputation (or so the Internet tells me). The grape is Chenin Blanc, a white variety which is widely used in South Africa (where it is known as Steen). My knowledge of the grape comes from wines made in the middle Loire Valley in France (Anjou and Touraine). Wines from Chenin Blanc can be dry, as the Raats is, but it can also be used to make sweet and/or sparkling wines such as Vouvray. It has a reputation of being a fairly versatile grape. So basically, I knew nothing going in

Eye: medium to deep lemon with hints of green (also, it might be the lousy lighting in my apartment…)

Nose: Clean, medium intensity, citrus fruit, green fruit (mostly pear) and white flowers aromas. I can’t possibly tell you which white flowers, sorry… I mean seriously, I don’t even know what most flowers smell like, I should get one of these “wine aroma” boxes. I also got hints of something heavier like honey.

Palate: dry, medium to high acidity, full body

All right, I’m still mad at South Africa for stealing the 1995 Rugby World Cup (Derek Bevan, you pathetic excuse of a human being) but that will not prevent me from enjoying this wine. It’s very balanced and structured. It opens with a fresh fruit quality (grapefruit and pear), then moves on to a fuller, heavier, fatter feel that almost gets sweet but not quite, and finally there is a mineral quality to the finish. All three phases: fruit, sweet, mineral, are thoroughly enjoyable. What struck me is the fullness of the body.

Food pairings: Turned out to be a pretty good choice to go with the jambalaya, it had enough body and acidity not to be overwhelmed by the rich dish. I felt that this wine could actually go with a lot of different dishes. The bottle recommends pairing it with oysters which sounds weird to me, I feel like it would be a disaster with that full body and almost fat quality, but maybe I should give it a try.

Overall opinion: Need to try more South African Chenin Blancs. As in the Loire Valley, they are made in a variety of styles and I was definitely impressed with this dry, structured, full-bodied example.  I’d compare this wine to a well spent vacation afternoon : you go to the beach, you take a nap, you go play some tennis, you watch the sunset,… a lot of things happen and they leave you contented.

My winners from Wine Riot Boston

As promised, here are my four favorite wines from Wine Riot Boston. There is a little bit of everything, I tried to track the prices for each so that you can get an idea of the kind of wines there were at the event.

Douglas Green Rib Shack Red, Western Cape, South Africa

A blend of Shiraz and Pinotage (a South African variety known for its smoky flavor) that would be great with any red meat. Spice notes from the Shiraz, smoke notes from the Pinotage and a retail price around $11 make for a great value wine.

Rib Shack

Henkell Trocken Sekt, Germany

A German sparkling wine, Sekt means sparkling wine and Trocken means dry. A very good and fruitier alternative to Champagne for under $10. It was available at the “Bubbly Bar” along with Cava, Prosecco, Cremant and of course Champagne.

henkell trocken

90 + Cellars Lot 90 Rosso Toscana, Tuscany, Italy

This wine merchant has an interesting concept. They buy wine from premium wineries around the world, bottle and label them and sell them under their name, without naming the original winery. You trade knowing the actual wine maker for an arguably better price. Their Tuscan Red in any case is like drinking velvet. A bottle retails for $29 instead of $65 at the original winery.

Lot 90

Columbia Crest Grand Estate Chardonnay, Washington State, USA

A nice, clean, refreshing unoaked Chardonnay at $12. Not much to say about it except that it was one of the first wines I tried all night and I still remembered it as being good at the end, it must count for something !

GE Chardonnay

In other news, I took my Intermediate wine exam yesterday, it was a lot harder than I expected. The more you learn, the more you realize there is to learn. I still think I’ll get a passing grade but I need to step it up.