Thursday, February 3, 2011

Guest Chef Night -- Wine Pairing

Now that Clare's father, Frank, and I have a menu for Guest Chef Night, my mind has turned to wine pairing.  We will not actually be offering a wine pairing with the dinner; however, I really would like to provide recommendations for our guests to consider as they enjoy the food that we prepare.

Whenever I cook a meal, my mind inevitably turns to what beer or wine would go with the food that I have prepared.  However, in terms of food pairing, I am still very much a novice.  I read a lot about pairing various foods with wine -- such as Joshua Wesson's Wine & Food or Garrett Oliver's Brewmasters Table.   Given that we are preparing a meal inspired by Italian flavors and ingredients, I decided that I would focus on what wines could be paired with our courses.  

We are preparing a four course Italian meal: an appetizer of Mushroom Gratinate, a prima of Chickpea and Escarole Soup, a secondo of Couscous alla Trapanese (with chicken and fish), a side of Green Beans with a Cherry Tomato Salad and a dessert of Ricotta Cheese with Honey and Walnuts.  The five dishes incorporate a wide array of ingredients, which may make wine pairing a little tricky, especially for someone like me.

Rags Italian Bistro has a well defined wine list that touches upon all of the principal grapes: for the reds, there are Merlot, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Cabarnet Sauvignon; and, for the whites, there are Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay.  Nevertheless, after doing my research, I think I have arrived at what could be some good wine pairings based upon the wines available at the restaurant and  the dishes that we will be making.

So. these are my thoughts and recommendations for guests who will be enjoying the meal that Frank and I will be preparing:

Mushroom Gratinate ... Thomas Henry Pinot Noir.  This is a very earthy antipasta, with not only the mushrooms, but also garlic, thyme and sage.  I think that a red wine is appropriate for this course, such as a Pinot Noir from California or Oregon.  So called "new world" Pinot Noirs, i.e., wines produced in the western hemisphere, tend to be smoother but still retain some of the earthiness that one would expect from a red wine.  The Thomas Henry Pinot Noir is from Napa Valley and, according to the winemaker, the wine has smooth tannins, which should mean that the wine itself is smooth in taste.   It should be a perfect match for the antipasta.

Sicilian Chickpea and Escarole Soup ... Due Torre Pinot Grigio.  I have to say that this course was the hardest one to pair.  There is a wide array of different ingredients that are used in the making of this soup. In addition to chickpeas and escarole, there is also also fennel, garlic, anchovies, crushed red pepper and Parmesan rinds, which are used to add flavor to the soup.   An earthy wine, like a Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon, may be a little much.  Instead, I think this course should be paired with a wine that is a little lighter in taste and body.  Such a wine would provide an interesting contract to the soup's richness of the ingredients and flavors in the soup.   A Pinot Grigio is a lighter, fruitier wine that is usually very fresh in taste and, generally speaking, Pinot Grigios pair well with vegetables.  Thus, this wine should be a good contrast to the primo. 

Couscous alla Trapanese ... Rocca di Castagnoli Chianti Classico.  This couscous dish is modeled after dishes made in towns across Sicily, like Trapani and others, where Sicilians have enjoyed couscous since the days when Arabs controlled the island.  Although typically associated with Tuscany, Sangiovese grapes are grown in Sicily and there are Sangiovese Sicilia wines.  Although not made in Sicily, the Rocca di Castagnoli Chianti is produced from Sangiovese grapes in the Chianti Classico area of Tuscany.  Still, a Chianti works well with this dish because it is a wine that traditionally pairs well with tomato sauce, which happens to be a key element of this couscous dish.  The red tomato sauce contains some rather bold ingredients, such as fresh basil, fresh parsley, crushed red pepper and saffron.  It makes sense to pair the dish with a wine that is traditionally served with tomato sauces.   This wine shoud be a great match with the main course or secondo.

Ricotta Cheese with Honey and Toasted Walnuts ... Firestone Riesling.  If after three course and three wines, guests are still looking for a wine to enjoy with dessert, then I would suggest the Firestone Riesling.  I would ordinarily recommend a dessert wine to go with a dessert; however, such wines usually have a lot of alcohol in them.  Given the meal and the other wine recommendations, I think it is better to stick with a sweet white wine.  Rieslings tend to be sweet and fruity, which are characteristics that I think will pair well with a cheese like ricotta.  A Riesling should also pair with the honey that is drizzled over the cheese.   I think this wine should be a good pairing with the dessert.

Well, these are just the thoughts of an amateur at wine pairing, but, it is a start.  Now, I have to get back to doing more trial runs at making the dishes.  More to come about that ....

ENJOY!

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