For starters, let’s greet our dinner guests with a glass of … bubbly. I don’t know about you, but when guests arrive at my house, I want them to have a glass in their hand pretty much as soon as they walk through the door. Sparkling wine is a great way to start the evening. There is something magical in those little bubbles slowly running towards the surface.
There is definitely an unlimited choice of Sparkling wines available nowadays, but just to simplify the problem of choice for you, I would like to bring to your attention Cava – a sparkling wine which comes from Spain. Cava is made in the same way as Champagne, using the so called Classic Method, or Méthode Champenoise. Similar to Champagne, Cava offers the full range of options, both stylistically from white to rosé, as well as from super-dry (Brut Nature-type) to sweet. Cava also answers well to our important requirement of availability and affordability – generally available around the world and offering a large selection under $20. Look for Anna Codorniu, Raventos, Sigura Viudas and Gramona, among many other producers.
The list of ingredients for this dish includes butter lettuce, fresh corn, radish, pea tendrils, scallions, cherry tomatoes, and the main elements of the dressing are buttermilk, lime, olive oil, marjoram, dill and mint. Pairing of salads with wine is generally not a simple task (proteins have a much better affinity towards the wine). So we need to play along the baseline of bitter greens, and then take into account the light saltiness of the dressing, along with good acidity and fresh herbs. I will not bore you further with my thought process, so let me just arrive at the recommendations.
My top recommendation is Grüner Veltliner, an Austrian star white grape, which has perfectly expressive vegetative profile, light plumpness, fresh acidity and sometimes a hint of residual sweetness. In searching for an Austrian Grüner Veltliner look for wines from the Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal regions, and make sure that the wine you select is dry (Grüner Veltliner can also be made into a sweet wine).
The next pairing option for this salad is Chenin Blanc, also known as Steen in South Africa. Chenin Blanc is known for it’s floral, mineral profile and medium body, which should work well with our salad. If you want to go with classics, look for Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley – I would primarily recommend wines from Savennières and Quarts de Chaume appellations. Another source of Chenin Blanc wines is South Africa, where you can look for wines from Ken Forrester, Fairview and Graham Beck among others. Also in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand produce some interesting Chenin Blanc wines, but I will ask you to rely on the advice of your trusted wine purveyor for the exact wine, and do make sure to ask for a dry Chenin Blanc.
Just in case you have problems with both Gruner Veltliner and Chenin Blanc, I have one more choice for you – Pinot Gris. Pinot Gris is typically crisp and minerally, with nice herbal undertones, and will work well with our salad. You will need to specifically look for Pinot Gris and not Pinot Grigio. My main recommendation is to look for Pinot Gris wines from Oregon (lots of great producers). You can definitely include Alsace into the consideration, but again, make sure you seek out the dry wines only.
In its pure form, salmon would lend itself well to multiple types of wine, allowing the use of both contrasting and complementing flavours. Wines like Albariño, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and probably many others. However, here we deal with a complex flavor profile. By the way of marinating and cooking, the dish will have a combination of salmon, ginger, garlic, lemon, coriander (cilantro), green chilli pepper, yoghurt, cream, cardamom. Now add mint chutney – fresh mint, coriander (cilantro), garlic, lemon Juice, pomegranate seeds, yoghurt – and it is obvious that it is not possible to contrast this flavor exuberance, and we can only try to complement it.
I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the possible wines to recommend here and as a result of that extended internal (and even external, by way of driving a few wine friends insane) deliberation, I would like to offer you a few possible options.
Before I give some generic recommendations, I would like to mention two wines which happen to be excellent pairing choices (yep, I cooked that Salmon recipe) – however, I think that these were rather unique cases. The first wine was La Solitude Côtes du Rhône Rosé, and it worked quite well, but actually more by contrasting the dish with its restrained and lean frame, stressing the richness of the fish. I don’t recommend Rosé as a generic pairing, as these days there are way too many Rosé options available in the store, but if you can find this specific one, give it a try.
The second unexpected, but super-successful pairing was Château de Brézé Saumur, a Cabernet Franc from the Loire. Again, I only can recommend this exact wine, not all of the Cabernet Franc from Loire – the majority would be too lean, too green and too restrained to stand up to this dish. But Château de Brézé, an unoaked Cabernet Franc was rich, soft and opulent, and paired surprisingly well.
Okay, here are some generic recommendations:
My top choice here is Grenache, with particular focus on Garnacha, as it is known in Spain. Grenache usually has an open fruity profile with a slight herbal component. It often has aromas of dark chocolate and plums, which I think will meld very interestingly into the overall flavor of the dish. I often characterize Grenache as “playful”, and this is the best approach to complement this dish as practically any well-structured, firm wine will fight with the dish’s flavors for dominance… and this is not what we want here. You can try any of the Spanish Grenache wines, starting from something as simple as Borsao Tres Picos, or more complex such as Alto Moncayo. I recommend that you stay away from California or Washington Grenache, as these tend to be significantly more rigid and loaded, compared with the Spanish wines. You can, however, look at some Grenache-dominant French wines from Cotes du Rhone or even Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but again, make sure they are Grenache dominant wines. As a last resort you can use Grenache wines from Australia, but you need to choose wines on the lighter side.
Taking our mint chutney as a guiding light, I can offer you another red wine pairing – Carménère from Chile. Carménère is known for its unmistakable, minty undertones, and this should play well with our dish. Don’t go after the dense and powerful Carménère renditions – those will have too much oak and will not work well with the dish. Try something simple, such as Terra Noble Gran Reserva or Casas del Bosque, they should match the dish quite well.
Here our dish consists of mango, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, butter, with the addition of an extra layer of flavours within the spiced syrup – cinnamon stick, cloves, fennel seeds, cardamom seeds, fresh ginger, rind of a lemon. Once again, there is nothing simple about this pairing – lots of intense flavors, so our best hope is to complement, however, we can make an attempt to contrast as well.
Let’s start with a few recommendations for wines which I think will complement this dish very well. Now, please pay attention – in the case of the previous two pairings, I recommended simply a type of wine and allowed you to choose your own producer, however here I would like to provide very specific recommendations. First, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer from Alsace – no, I’m not recommending Gewurztraminer as a generic class, this is the one and only Gewürztraminer wine which I would recommend here, as it combines spiciness with a gentle tropical fruit profile, which I believe will complement the dish very well. The second wine recommendation is Donnafugata Ben Rye from Italy – an exuberant, but well balanced rendition of Muscat of Alexandria grape (known in Sicily as Zibibbo), which should also complement the dish quite well.
Now, for more generic types of wine, I would recommend so called Australian “Stickies” – typically a late harvest Chardonnay or Semillon, which has enough acidity to contrast it’s own sweetness and will weave around the tropical fruit foundation.
Now, as promised, we will try to find a contrast pairing. I would like to bring Viognier to your consideration. Not fully as a generic class – unfortunately, there are way too many mediocre Viognier wines out there. I would like to recommend Viognier wines from Virginia (Chrysalis would be a good example) and from Washington (Willis Hall and Mark Ryan Viognier are the two which I have in mind). Yalumba Viognier from Australia might also work quite well. I expect the Viognier to contract the sweetness and spiciness of the dessert by bringing in a similar flavour profile, but based on the acidity rather than the sugar, thus lightening up the dessert overall.
Whew… and we are done. Believe it or not, this overall exercise was anything but simple. As I mentioned in my previous post discussing Thoughts on Pairing Wine and Food, the goal is to give you enough options to enable you to create a successful pairing no matter where you are in the world and what your budget is.
Now it’s your turn to play. Before we part, I only have one request of you. I would like to know what worked and what didn’t, have you enjoyed your meal with the wines or not, and what were the exact wines you ended up pairing the dishes with? I hope this is not too much to ask. But most importantly, have fun cooking, eating, drinking and spending time with your friends. Cheers!