One of the wine bloggers that I follow wrote a very interesting post recently about a mint chocolate liquor that she expected to dislike and actually really enjoyed. It got me thinking about the great number of food and wines that I have told myself that I don’t or won’t like and how those predispositions may result in me missing out on some wonderful food and wine experiences. This concept has been reinforced by my two year old telling me on a daily basis “I don’t like that” before he has even tried anything in the meal I slaved over. It also got me thinking about wine pairing and how I have specific ideas on what kinds of wine to pair with certain dishes, which for the most part works but may also be limiting my options.
Here is one of the food pairing challenges that I face: I like a lot of foods that traditionally pair with white wines. Fish, creamy sauces and light chicken dishes are good examples. I have really developed an appreciation for whites in the past few months after years of pretty much being an exclusive red wine enthusiast. My husband, however, has not exactly really joined me on this white wine adventure so I often have a wine pairing conundrum. Do I prepare dishes that I know will go with the wines he likes? Do I just make the dishes that I want to and open two bottles of wine? That typically results in half consumed bottles sitting in the fridge too long which I don’t like. So that brought me to part two of my preconceived notions experiment.
Challenge #1: Explore one of my food “dislikes”: Iceberg Lettuce. I have been a lettuce snob for years and look down on iceberg lettuce. I pretty much label it a waste of time. Is that fair? Could this in fact be a lovely food?
Challenge #2: Pair a full bodied red wine with a fish dish. In this case an Australian Shiraz served alongside baked Artic Char. This fish is one of my favorites and is hard to come by. It is similar to salmon in that it is rich and creamy, but lighter in color.
For the first part of the challenge I prepared my version of the wedge. I used a yogurt based caesar dressing topped with herbs and pan roasted Italian salumi. While it looked beautiful, I confirmed that iceberg lettuce really only adds bulk to the salad and no discernible appealing flavor. While I won’t give up on this lettuce completely just yet, I will move on from this format.
Moving on to the main course, the wine I selected was intentionally not one of my go to varietals as I have had this preconceived notion that too many Aussie Shiraz’s are very high in alcohol and “fruit bombs” (not my preferred wine style). I was wrong to hold those notions against this wine. As I mentioned in a previous post, when I first started collecting wines for our cellar, I was into Aussie wines so have a big batch of them aging away. Tonight’s choice has had some cellar time to help mellow out anything that may not have been appealing initially and it was very delicious. Full bodied, dark fruit, woody and very smooth tannins.
This wine easily could have paired well with steak. How would it hold up to the more delicate artic char? Actually, they went together very nicely. The fish is rich and I used a mustard herb seasoning which maybe helped the pairing work. The wine was so smooth that I could not imagine it not pairing well with anything. Well, it did not go well with the salad dressing but that is not a surprise because it had vinegar which rarely, if ever, pairs well with any wine.
What did I learn? There is a reason I am a lettuce snob and it does not look like that will change anytime soon. I love arugula and iceberg lettuce simply is not in the same league.
However, you can successfully pair a full bodied red wine with fish! My advice on doing this successfully is to pair the flavor accents. So, light and creamy goes with white wine. But earthy and herbaceous can easily complement a full bodied red like a Shiraz.