The more I learn about wine, the more apparent it becomes that I still have so much to learn. While this lesson applies to any field of study, it is still humbling and surprising when it happens to you. This week I learned two lessons about wine that put me in my place but definitely increased my motivation to push forward.
The first lesson came after a delightful post from one of my favorite bloggers, The Blissful Adventurer. He wrote a piece about pairing an Italian red blend with leftover Chinese food. The post was great and I made a comment about how I thought it was funny that he would pair the lovely Ettore Germano wine with leftovers. His reply was that he does not experiment with meals that he spends time preparing and instead saves the interesting pairing experiences for more effortless dishes. This really made me think, as I have spent hours making dinners that I paired with unknown wines and ended up disappointed. Had I played it safe and chosen a wine that I knew would pair well, the meal would likely have been more enjoyable. This lesson will change how I experiment with wine pairing from now on.
The second humbling moment this past week was at a wine tasting for Italian wines. One of my favorite wines of the tasting was made from the Roscetto grape which until that evening I had never even heard of. I realized that if I really want to be knowledgable about wine, I need to learn about the lesser known grapes of Italy as there seem to be a lot of them.
So I devised a challenge that would help me move forward from both humbling experiences. I opened two Italian wines from lesser known varietals. I had tried the red before but did not remember enough about it to know what it would pair well with. The white was an impulse buy a few weeks ago.
The white was a really lovely dry, crisp wine with hints of citrus and green apple. High in acidity I was pretty confident that this would pair well with food. It was made by the producer Fontaleoni in Tuscany from the Vernaccia grape (2009).
The red was the 2007 Terra di Vento Petrale Anglianico (inland from Naples). I love this wine. Earthy and dry with hints of spice and leather, this wine has a nose I can savor for ages. It has decent acidity so again I thought it would pair well with food.
The challenge: Which of the two wines would pair best with dishes quickly assembled from leftovers in my refrigerator?
1. Salmon spread (on rice crackers) that I make often and usually pair with white Burgundy or California Chardonnay
3. Leftover flank steak with Maytag blue cheese
4. Whole Foods Chicken Spinach and Feta Sausage
Here is what I learned:
1. Dry whites like this one should not be served very cold (aka straight from the fridge). I took it out a half hour before tasting, however, it was still too cold. Once it warmed up, the nose and array of flavors really blossomed
2. I had a hard time determining if either wine went with the blue cheese because it really overpowered both. Turns out I don’t really like strong blue cheese like Maytag on its own but instead prefer it as a side element in salads or sauces
3. Some of those traditional pairing “rules” do apply. The Vernaccia really paired nicely with the creamy, rich brie. The Anglianico went very well with the umami flavored steak (minus the blue cheese)
4. Neither wine really went well with the Chicken sausage
5. I did enjoy the salmon with both wines, however, once the Vernaccia warmed up and started to blossom, this match seemed the better of the two
Even though I really liked the Anglianico, it was not until my husband and I finished the bottle over dinner that this wine really impressed me. I made a roasted chicken with rosemary white bean puree and roasted brussels sprouts. The wine was a great complement to that meal.
The Vernaccia grape seems to live somewhere in between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in terms of acidity, richness and body. It pairs nicely with food but has such a lovely citrus and floral aroma that I could easily enjoy it on its own. Anglianico is harder for me to classify in terms of common US varietals, however, it is medium bodied (at least in the case of the Petrale), with pronounced tannins and a dry earthiness. This is a food friendly wine but I would lean towards umami flavors (rich and meaty). The steak that this went well with was marinated in tamari, mustard, onions and worcestershire sauce.
I will continue to explore food and wine pairings, however, I will save those opportunities for small bites prepared with minimal effort (or leftovers). The time consuming meals that I slave over will get the benefit of wines that I know will be a great fit. Lesson learned.