Volumes have and will be written on food and wine paring: Cabernet and steak, Chardonnay and cream sauces, etc. Very little in comparison, however, has been written about the art and subtleties of the unusual, the unconventional and the unpretentious.
From Dominoes to Indian, from barbecue to General Tso’s, I intend to explore in the next few editions of The Enofiles the path less traveled. The first of which features a personal favorite, and one that I consider a prime candidate for the merriment of men (and women) and wine’Indian.
The following selections represent what I would consider a reasonable cross-section of logical pairings, with the Albarino the only real wild card:
Kim Crawford 2006 Marlborough (New Zealand) 2006
This is what people are talking about when they use ’Cat’s Pee’ as a descriptor for some Sauvignon Blancs. It’s not that it literally smells or tastes (not that I would know) anything like cat’s pee, it’s that it has such a pungent tart and acidic aroma that there are few things less clich’ in which to describe it. Grapefruit rind is most apparent, with hint of lemon grass, river stones and a touch of pear on the nose. The palate is slick and aggressive with an assertive acidity. It is really just a beautiful Sauv. Blanc. 93 pts. (Longhorn Liquors, $12.99)
Bex Riesling 2005 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (Germany) QbA
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer is one of the most prestigious Riesling-producing regions in the world. This is no exception. It is a peculiar Riesling, as I have tasted few with such a chalky/creamy texture and nose. It smells of crushed fruit-flavored Tums tablets, with a strong minerality and grassy component. Dried and candied pears covered in fresh Key Lime and Grapefruit juices coat the mouth, the chalky texture serving as an efficient vehicle for the moderate but still very present acidity. It is a terribly appropriate partner to spicy and smoky flavors, as I would soon find, in addition to being just an all-around exceptional Riesling. 92 pts. (Longhorn Liquors, $10.99)
Golan Heights Winery Moscato (Israel) 2006
Not only is this wine unique because it employs the process known as stop fermentation, thus resulting in a half sparkling wine which preserves much of its wonderful and exciting effervescence, it’s also from Israel, which scores points for uniqueness. Ultra ripe pears and peaches are first to reach the nostrils, with juicy Lychees in light syrup and a hint of citrus zest in the background. Drinking this is like biting into an over-the-top fresh pear, the slight ’fizzyness’ elevating the perception of youth and juvenility, carrying the flavors to all corners of the tongue. This is the type of wine that really makes you just not give a s**t about all the nonsense that many of us get all wrapped up in regard to desert whites. Really nice, 91 pts. (Longhorn Liquors, $12.99)
Burgan’s Albarino (Spain) 2003
Many of you are probably not familiar with this varietal, and that needs to change. Think of Albarino as Chardonnay Version 2.0. Not to unceremoniously trash the Chard, but really though, Albarino is a good example (in my opinion) of what Chardonnay wishes it could be. Fresh and well balanced, diverse, expressive, food friendly and exotic. Some are buttery and Malolactic (whereby harsher maltic acids are converted into softer more pleasing lactic acids), others zestier and more youthful. Albarino is most commonly from the Rias Baixas region of Spain, where the long, dry seasons create a nursery for the often fickle but resilient Albarino. This particular Albarino is slightly more mature and subdued. It smells of olive oils and lemon juice, with strong notes of vanilla oak and exotic spices. Its flavors are soft and well integrated, with bits of oak and butter, seaweed and olive oil, lemon and peaches. It’s almost nutty, with a little almond and some other nut I can’t quite put my finger on (so I won’t). 86 pts. (Longhorn Liquors, $14.99)
Fleur Vin Gris (Grey Wine) Rose of Pinot Noir (Carneros, CA) 2005
This is what rose is all about. Some of you may recall from a previous Enofiles (’Give Pink a Chance’) a long-winded diatribe on the difference between rose and blush, so I will not be so self’indulgent to regurgitate it for you now, except to say that if you think that Rose is what your mom drinks with ice, you my friend, are wrong. Fleur’s Rose of Pinot Noir is a textbook example of just how good a Rose can be. On the lighter side of Rose, this displays a nose of dried strawberries and flowers, with light hints of cinnamon and spices. On the palate it is quick, but very balanced, not being too dry or acidic nor too sweet and fruity. A very neutral pH allows for the enhancement of lighter fare, though easy to overpower with stronger flavors. (Longhorn Liquors, $14.99)
Now that we have reviewed our player’s stats, we can play ball.
We obviously decided to get as much a cross-section of what The Clay Pit has to offer as could reasonably be expected. With each dish we tried each wine, which involved a lot of messy swishing, spitting, splashing and rinsing, much to the dismay of our gracious hosts.
The appetizers (Vegetable Samosa and Paneer-Pakora) consisted mostly of vegetables and cheeses wrapped and fried in a wonderful oily turnover fashion. One after one I was disappointed by the pairings, until we reached for the Albarino. The buttery/oily component of the wine integrated seamlessly into the fried flavors and textures of the Vegetable Samosa, truly enhancing the light spices and surprisingly the green vegetal flavors. The Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc were just too much, the vegetal oils clashing with the strong citrus and mineral in the wines, making it difficult to taste the delicate crispiness of the Samosa and Pakora.
With the arrival of stronger dishes came a renewed interest in all but the Albarino. The Chicken Tika (sweet cumin-ish barbecue chicken) manhandled the Al into a quick and ungraceful submission, proving no competition here. The Sauvignon Blanc quickly showed itself as the underdog here, its grapefruity acidity standing exceptionally well to such smoky flavors, the wine’s finish significantly enhancing the persistence of the chicken’s charred spiciness. This was also true with the chicken curry, though not with the fish curry (which was much better than I thought it would be).
As we moved onto through the curries, one wine really demanded consistent attention. The Riesling took command of the situation in all the dishes except for the less-than-spicy, though proved no adversary to these either. One, however, showed a greater competence than expected. The Albarino with the chicken curry kind of worked the same way a chardonnay does with a chicken and cream sauce. The Albarino created a creaming effect with the curry’s texture, and highlighted the cumin. Though it did not give quite the same impression as did the Riesling and Moscato, it developed a more complex pairing one would not have to specifically desire to enjoy.
Perhaps most unexpected was the rose. I had considered the difference between Indian and Asian cuisines, as Roses pair well with most any spicy Asian dish, but had not really expected how poorly the Rose would perform. That is not to say that it was bad, it was pretty good, but not at all the powerhouse hands-down winner I had secretly assumed. The relative neutrality of the Rose showed good compatibility with all of the spicy dishes, but really excelled with the less than scorching taste of the fish curry.
One I have not yet discussed to any extent is the Moscato. My inclination was to reserve much of it as dessert and to pair it with dessert, but damn if it didn’t knock my socks off with the spiciest of dishes. The Moscato created a dancing effect that temporarily suspended the spice long enough to allow the sweet juiciness of the wine to underline the spicy of the curry. It really was a fantastic pairing.
The Final Verdict
The Albarino did better than expected, pairing with aspects of each but the whole of none except the Vegetable Samosa, which was more of a default than a clear win. It is not what I would take as my only bottle next time around.
The Sauvignon Blanc was a heavyweight contender, acceptable at all levels and excelling at most, proven to be a longer, more complex experience than a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. I would consider a sauv blanc with anything spicy, smoky and elegant again.
The Riesling is probably the champion here. It really just offered a lot to almost every dish, its creamy tastes and textures playing very nicely with that of Indian cuisine. I cannot say that I am surprised by this, but did expect a narrower margin of victory.
The Moscato was the slap in the face to anyone who dare discriminate against dessert whites as legitimate food wine. This one was like the really funny fat guy at a good party, just electric and magnetic, a good time.
The rose was my biggest disappointment. As a recent convert from big, dry red-only to being more open, the rose was my homeboy, and he let me down just a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, it is a fantastic wine. I just want to say HA! Even a little red makes it better! Not so my friend. Not so.
And thanks to The Clay Pit for their extreme hospitality.