How many times have we had a good meal while pairing some amazing wines, and we all wished we ate and drank less? We’re all guilty of it; eating and drinking too much. But who can blame us? It’s the epicurean style.
Pairing wines with a juicy New York steak, a large pizza, creamy pasta, or even a large plate of rich cheeses is the “traditional” way. However, there’s another approach for those who are more health-conscious.
When pairing wine with food, one of the rules is to pair the flavors of the wine with the corresponding foods together. Look at the tasting notes from the winemaker himself and pick one or two of the foods listed on the label. You can pair a fruity low-alcohol wine with similar fruits. Some white wines are aged in cool stainless steel tanks to maintain fresh, crisp aromas and fruit flavors. They describe their flavor profile as having nut fruits like apricots. Take Conundrum’s white blend for example. The tasting notes read “… exotic, with layers of peach, apricot nectar, green melon and pear, overlaid with subtle notes of citrus zest and spicy vanilla.” So you can pair this amazing wine with raw almonds and dried apricots. The sugary fruit will be an excellent companion to the light acidity of the wine. This subtle and complex white wine specifically blends Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat Canelli and Viognier.
Hmm, Cheese… I am a HUGE fan of cheese. So at the risk of sounding a little hypocritical, I will make some healthy suggestions. Soft cheese is very caloric, much more than hard cheese, but creamier doesn’t necessarily mean tastier. You can enjoy a hard cheese just as much as the other kind. One of my favorites come form the northeast part of France, a region called Franche-Comté, which proudly gave its name to “Comté”. Also called “Gruyère de Comté”, this cheese is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. The texture is relatively hard and flexible, and the taste is strong and slightly sweet. The local dry white wine Arbois Béthanie remains the classic local terroir-based match. Most of the ones I tasted were a blend of Chardonnay and the local Savagnin grape which gives the wine a nutty, slightly earthy, mineral character which matched perfectly with the cheese. You can easily get Comté at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
Another recommendation is the Ubriaco cheese, which I had the pleasure to taste at the Moretti Wines’ tasting room in the Wine Ghetto. Ubriaco cheese – aka the “drunken cheese” – is from Treviso, in the Veneto region of northern Italy. Made from unpasteurized cow’s milk and covered with crushed grape skin, it is soaked in local wine (mostly Prosecco) – a process known as “ubriacatura”. After which it is left to mature for a maximum of 12 months. Upon maturity, it will develop a soft and supple texture, which ages to become firm and crumbly, similar to a Parmesan. Antonio Moretti from Moretti Wines makes a fantastic Merlot that is a perfect match for the nutty and fruity flavors of this Italian cheese. You can typically find Ubriaco cheese at the Mel & Rose specialty food store in Los Angeles, though they run out of it very quickly. Consider paying Antonio Moretti a visit and if you ask nicely, he might sell you some of his private reserve.
Tapas (Spanish term for small plates) is a great accompaniment to a strong Spanish Rioja. Instead of a large burrito, consider a platter of empanadas featuring various choices of meat, cheeses and vegetables. Full and tasty with a touch of spice on the palate, Marqués De Riscal makes an amazing Rioja that will easily hold its own against any spicy Spanish food.
Another simple and healthy food can be grilled shrimps or bistro-style mussels served with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. I recently tried a fantastic Sauvignon Blanc from Star Lane Vineyard. Located at the far eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley, in the “Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara”, Star Lane makes a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc with plenty of natural acidity, keeping this delicious wine vibrant and structured for many years to come. Pair this with the freshest of shellfish for a guaranteed good time.
I am not a huge fan of wine and chocolate together, but if I am going to pair them, my emphasis will be on dark chocolate. Not only do I enjoy its taste a lot more, but the cardiovascular health benefits are much greater in dark than milk; dark chocolate also has less carbohydrates, sugars, ergo less calories. Depending on the percentage of cocoa, dark chocolate can be a little bittersweet. The stronger the chocolate, the more full-bodied the wine should be. For example, a bittersweet chocolate tends to pair well with an intense, in-your-face California Zinfandel, or a tannin-driven Cabernet Sauvignon, or even a nice red blend. Apothic Red is a fantastic blend that works amazingly well with dark chocolate.
And if you like flavored chocolate, you can try a dark silky chocolate with slivers of almond and orange zest. Lindt makes one that is out of this world. For this, you might consider a lighter-bodied Merlot, Port or sparkling wine.
These examples will certainly not replace a meal, but they will complement a main course or a specialty dish appropriately, and make you eat less of it as a result. Wine-pairing is about creating new flavors by blending certain foods with specific wines together. It is never about quantity and the idea is to be consistently mindful of the pairing and the taste.
Drink happy and eat healthy – “Santé!”
“Being a wine enthusiast means you care more about quality than quantity.” – Jean-Claude Carrière / French screenplay writer (enjoy more memorable wine quotes here.)