Wednesday, July 13, 2011

ghetto sommelier

I don't actually have any official training in wine, but my uncle did fine dining long enough to learn quite a bit and pass it on to me.  I want to say that he did actually have formal training in the art of being a sommelier, but I can't remember and unfortunately, I can't ask him.  What I do remember is him giving my sister a lesson on the 10 Steps to Tasting Wine on her 21st birthday.  What I remember even better is her not caring at all (she's the beer and cocktail half of us...I do the wine and occasional cocktails) while I did my best to absorb and memorize every word he said from the periphery.  Okay, occasionally I got distracted by the "are you kidding me?" look on my sister's face.

Anyway, I do love wine.  I make a lot of jokes about liking wine too much, and sure, there are times I do.  But I drink wine because I like wine, not because I'm trying to become inebriated.  This is why I had de-alcoholized wine served at my wedding and it was quite delicious.  Mister actually discovered Ariel wines relatively early in our relationship and gave me a beautifully packed crate of four varietals, surrounded with a hay-like substance and dried babies breath and other flowers.  He did this because he recognized that I actually enjoy wine and he wanted to share that experience with me, but he doesn't drink alcohol.  That was probably one of the most romantic gifts he ever gave 29th birthday present was pretty good, too...

Isn't my engagement ring pretty?  Okay, anyway, back to wine....

The point of all this rambling is that over the years, I've tasted a great many wines from various regions and different colors: Pinotage from South Africa, Shiraz from Southeastern Australia, Cotes du Rhones from France (and despite my objections, it became a favorite), Tempranillo from Spain, Tres Milliones from Mexico, Malbec from Argentina, and its drier cousin, Torrontes, as well as several different Rieslings from Germany.... surprisingly, Pennsylvania has several vineyards that produce well-rated wines - one of the best reds I've had was a 1998 Cabernet Franc from Chaddsford Winery... but I maintain to this day that the rest of their wine is bordering on awful.

As I've tasted each wine, I've tried to figure out what is different about it, what is special.  As I got more involved in cooking and creating, I wanted to use my tasting experience to appropriately pair wines with my dinner.  There are times I regret a little that Mister and I don't crack open a bottle of wine and drink it down while eating dinner and then popping olives in our mouths while alternately discussing philosophy and world events (we only do the latter), but Whole Foods was the only place I could get Ariel, other than ordering it, which is an ordeal in the city, to say the least.  Due to alcohol laws in Pennsylvania, and the fact that Ariel is "real wine" that has simply had the alcohol removed, Whole Foods lost their "okay" to sell it (Pennsy's a weird state sometimes), so we haven't had it since our wedding.

Regardless, for my dining pleasure, I enjoy matching cuisines or specific flavors with a wine I think would complement the flavors, or so intensely contradict them that it works somehow.  I can't do cocktails with dinner - I don't know how anyone can, personally.  For me, a cocktail is an aperitif, possibly a dessert beverage, but the meal requires wine.  Obviously, the easiest dinner to pair with is an Italian dinner.  It's a no-brainer: Italian food = Italian red wine, or at least a full, dry red wine.  Asian fare usually leads me to Riesling (a German wine) because of the amazing juxtaposition, and on the off-chance that I make dinner too spicy, it has an amazing cooling quality.  It's the middle ground or one-offs that perplex me.

Tonight, I made Chickpeas Romesco and served it on Saffron Garlic Rice, both from Veganomicon.  According to Isa and Terry, this is a latina dish - Spanish, even.  A Tempranillo or Malbec probably would have been very appropriate accompaniments to this dinner, but I had something specific on my mind.  It was so specific, in fact, that if I had walked into Wine and Spirits and it had not been on the shelf, I would have walked back out, rather than buy one of the aforementioned latino wines.  Nothing against, 'em - I love me a good Malbec and it doesn't take much convincing for me to indulge (though paydays usually help).

Surprisingly, the wine I was determined to serve was American, and not even a "normal" wine, rather a blend.  Probably not surprisingly, that blend is Apothic Red, my current darling.  Regardless of that fact, as well as that it was on sale, I have so completely analyzed and memorized the flavors of this wine that I couldn't think of a Malbec or Tempranillo that would have matched the flavor I was going for.  So I swooped into the wine store, picked up a bottle, and the first sip at dinner confirmed that I made the right decision.

The savoriness of the garlic-oil rice and the perfect, chunky sweet-umami of the chickpeas and sauce worked perfectly together.  The wine brought out the sweetness of the ground almonds and subtle sprinkle of sugar in the sauce, while the almost meaty texture of the slow-braised chickpeas brought everything together.  It's nice to be right sometimes.

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