April 27, 2011

Easter Ham and a Rosé from California

This year it took me a while to decide what would be on the menu for Easter dinner. I went to the store only the day before the holiday and was delighted to get the last few bundles of white asparagus. White asparagus just brings back memories of growing up in Europe and how this locally grown vegetable would always be a sure sign of spring. The season was always short, six to eight weeks at the most, and during that time, we would have white asparagus two or three times per week. Asparagus soup; asparagus hot, with melted butter or a hollandaise sauce; asparagus cold, with a vinaigrette, chives and crumbled hard-boiled eggs as a salad.

The perfect starch to go with asparagus is potatoes. I decided to make a potato gratin, with green onions and lots of cheese on top. This in itself would have been a festive meal, but I could hear my better half asking already... "Where's the meat?" So add a smoked ham to that. I prepared a maple and mustard glaze for it.

Next question of course, which wine pairs well with ham? An Internet search found plenty of articles suggesting Riesling, but the one idea that got my attention was a Rosé. I picked a 2009 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare which is made from grapes typical for Rhône-style blends. It is from the Central Coast of California and has a beautiful light salmon color. The flavors are of watermelon with a nice minerality and good acidity. It was less fruity than I would have expected. Probably the 2010 vintage would have provided more of the typical strawberry notes I was hoping for.

The wine paired nicely with the food, but it is a rather subtle and understated wine. More of a supporting actor than in a lead role. It was a really lovely meal overall, and I am still enjoying the leftovers. Now stay tuned for what was for dessert...

April 23, 2011

Malbec from Argentina and Pork Chops

I am a big fan of mushrooms, so when I came across this recipe for pork chops with mushrooms and asparagus, I knew I had to try it. The recipe used fresh and dried morel mushrooms, however, I could not find fresh morels. I know this is the season for them, and I know they even grow around here, but one might have to know someone who knows someone, if you know what I mean, to get one's hands on those...

Alternately, I could have hit the hiking trails and scavenged the woods for these little treasures... but at second thought, this did not seem like a good idea. Instead I picked up some maitake mushrooms at my grocery store. I am sure they are very different from morels, but as I said, I have never met a mushroom I did not like, so I stayed very open-minded in that regard.

The other vegetable in the dish is asparagus, also in season right now. It is one of my favorites as well, but if not for the recipe, I would have never thought of putting asparagus and mushrooms together. The pork chops were extra thick and bone-in, just as I like them, so that they stay juicy.

The vegetables were important components of this dish, but matching a wine with them, was somewhat of a challenge. Mushrooms with their earthy quality clearly ask for a red wine, in my opinion. On the other hand, I cannot imagine having asparagus with anything else but a dry white wine. In this case, the meat was the tiebreaker, and I think pork chops are best with a light red wine.

The prefect match ended up being a 2010 La Finca La Celia from Mendoza in Argentina. Surprisingly enough for the grape variety, this particular wine is light to medium bodied. I picked up aromas of dark berries, spices, and even some leather. It is low on tannins, even though the label on the bottle points out that it has been aged in oak for three months. Hm, not sure if anything can really age within three months... It's more like the oak softly kissed the wine... Or maybe even just a peck on the cheek!

As a matter of fact, a nice hint of vanilla revealed itself in combination with the food. This wine was much better with food than on its own. The same can be said for the dish. The wine really elevated all the flavors. I still love mushrooms and I still love asparagus, but I am not entirely convinced that they should hang out together in the same dish... Of course if I had only found some morels, that might have done the trick. If you know where where to get fresh morel mushrooms, please let me know.

April 20, 2011

German Riesling and Thai-Inspired Red Snapper

This food and wine combination really started with the recipe for a Thai-inspired red snapper that I found on the Food and Wine magazine web site. I love Thai food and even dare to cook these dishes at home ever since I have discovered red curry paste in a jar. It is just the right combination of spices.

The recipe calls for carrots, of which I had too many in my refrigerator anyway. I mean, who doesn’t ever pick up that bag of baby carrots at the grocery store even though it’s not on the shopping list, just to find the yet unopened bag from last week in the produce drawer at home? Okay, never mind, but I do it all the time. So yes, I did use bagged baby carrots, no washing and peeling required, and one of the better inventions of mankind, at least in my opinion.
That way I could concentrate more on cooking the fish, as I have to admit, I am always a little intimidated by preparing seafood. My main fear is overcooking it. But it all turned out fine! Just one important note: definitely use a non-stick pan when frying the red snapper. By the way, allow me to comment, but red snapper must be one of the most pretty-looking fish out there, the colors of the skin are just amazing. Plus, it is a very mild and tasty fish.

The recipe comes with a pairing suggestion of Riesling from Washington state, I did however opt for a Riesling from the Mosel region of Germany, a 2009 Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Riesling Kabinett. This wine is in the off-dry, somewhat sweet style that Mosel Rieslings are commonly known for. To me, the flavors are of Golden Delicious apples, apricots, and a very delicate and light acidity at the end.

 It paired nicely with the fish dish, but in hindsight I wonder if I should have tried it with a wine that packs a little more punch, for example the other classic pairing wine for Asian dishes, a Gewürztraminer. Oh well, there’s always next time… Do you have a favorite German Riesling that is widely available here in the United States? If you do, I’d love to hear your recommendation.

April 16, 2011

Merlot with Pasta and Meatballs

Merlot was the first red grape varietal that I really fell in love with. And while my wine horizons have widened, this love affair is still continuing. I started off with Merlots from California and Italy, but I am excited to also see Merlot being produced very close to home, in Virginia. I picked up a bottle of the 2008 8 Chains North Merlot right in the tasting room of the winery in Loudoun County, VA. This wine has lovely berry flavors, blackberry, red currant and cranberry, and rather firm tannins at the end. I would call it almost mouth-puckering.

The nice guy pouring the wines at the tasting counter described it as the perfect pizza and pasta wine, and I could see how it might play well with the acidity of a tomato-based sauce. So at home I decided to pair it with home-made veal meatballs in a tomato sauce with roasted red peppers. Using ground veal for the meatballs makes them very tender and almost delicate. The garnish is freshly-grated parmesan cheese and a chiffonade of basil. I served it over a colorful pasta called mother-in-law's tongue, wide ribbons of pasta. The box actually called it a "designer pasta", which I thought was funny... The Jimmy Choo of pastas, is it? Good thing I bought it while it was on sale...

The combination of the Merlot with the tomato sauce was lovely. It brought out more berry sweetness in the wine and rounded off the edges a little bit. Pairing it with food definitely made the best qualities of the wine shine. And as for the pasta, that almost goes without saying... Any pasta dish can be elevated by pairing it with a great wine! What's your favorite pasta dish?

April 11, 2011

Dessert Wine and Apple Pie with Sharp Cheddar

My first post should definitely be about a memorable wine and food combination that really blew me away. I did not come up with it myself, I have to admit. It was the dessert course during a wine dinner that I attended. The combination struck me as very odd, I must say... I was definitely worried.
The wine was a 2005 Raptor Ridge Blanchefleur Pinot Blanc from Willamette Valley, Oregon.

It is a white dessert wine. Up until that point, I had never really tasted a white dessert wine before which I had liked. They had all come across as too sweet, too cloying, very much like liquefied honey.
Then there was the dessert itself. Apple pie. The all-American dessert. Well enough. But... with sharp cheddar cheese. Vanilla ice-cream... perfect. Whipped cream... bring it on. But cheddar cheese! Will it be melted on top? Baked into the crust? Actually, it came on the side...

And what can I say? The combination was absolutely wonderful! The wine had notes of apple, cantalope and honey. It was sweet, but with a nice citrus finish. It paired perfectly with the sharp cheddar and the cinnamon apple flavor of the pie.
I loved this combination so much, that I purchased a bottle of the wine and re-created this meal at home. This was definitely one of those cases where the end result was greater than the sum of its parts. You should give it a try.
And maybe you can tell me where this apple pie and cheddar tradition comes from. I have heard different stories there... Vermont, Boston, from the Pennsylvania Dutch, from German settlers,... Oh well, it tasted great, I guess that's what really matters.