Monday, August 31, 2009

Rajun Cajun - when only a beer will do

I thought I'd never say this... but sometimes, wine just doesn't seem to make sense. Or perhaps my wine courage has found its limit, 'cause I just don't know what wine would stand up to this food.

In the middle of mostly Vietnamese area in San Jose is a hole-in-the-wall most awesome seafood joint, called The Boiling Crab. Combining Asian with Cajun sure makes for one hell of a blissful and unbridled foodie experience. Well, apparently this is no secret for the crowds standing in line for hours to get in. Even at 2pm on a Sunday, we had to wait for well over an hour. Oh, but the smell that hits you when you just open the door is so deliciously haunting!

Their shrimp/corn/sausage combo delivered in a giant plastic bag packed in a "rajun cajun" hot, tangy, garlicky sauce is shockingly strong and flavorful, awakening the farthest, most dormant zones of your taste buds that you didn't even know existed! Taking part in the zesty symphony are the most succulent spice-infused corn and an amazing smoky and tangy andouille sausage not to be ignored in the presence of the shrimp cornucopia. The cajun seasoning is so good, even dipping ordinary fries in it works like magic. Next time I am going to try crawfish and fresh oysters which the "regulars" seemed to be devouring in buckets!

Pounds of sea creatures consumed, beer gulped, sauce inhaled, spicy splatters wiped from my burning eye, the question weighs heavy on this wino's mind - was Corona the best we could do!??? But if y'all wine people reckon you have a wine recommendation that can withstand the "rajun cajun" knockout punch, do let me know.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pairing medium-bodied Sicilian red with seafood pasta

Last time I posited that a light-bodied high-acidity fruity red wine paired well with seafood. Continuing with the theme on unexpected food-and-wine pairings, this time I evolved this concept by pairing a medium body Italian red wine with seafood pasta in light red sauce.

While normally I would think more toward a Sangiovese-based Chianti or Umbrian red, or perhaps a Piedmonte's native Barbera or Dolcetto, this time I went to a lighter bodied wine, made of Nerello Mascalese, an indigenous grape varietal of Sicily with a Burgundian character, less cherry-like though, with a hint of pepper and volcano-ash-like, which worked wonderfully with the heartier, chewier flavors of the red sauce and calamari / shellfish / mollusk mix.

Paired with Etna Rosso, Graci 2007 (available at Vineyard Gate). Officially designated as Etna DOC, the vines are planted between 1800 and 2100 feet above sea level in the hills surrounding Mount Etna in Sicily, the second largest active volcano in Europe.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tilapia fillet with lemon butter - answer to the wine pairing challenge

In the last post, I posed a food-and-wine challenge, to which I will now supply my answer.

Food-and-wine pairing challenge.
Which of the three wines displayed on this photo was the best match for the Bobby Flay's pan-fried tilapia fillet, topped with lemon-butter and green olive tapenade, with a side of roasted butternut squash with vinaigrette dressing?

1. Vosne-Romanée "Vieilles Vignes", Alex Gambal 2007 ($60.00).
2. Pouilly-Fuisse "Les Ménéstrières", Domaine J.A. Ferret 2005 ($50.00).
3. Pouilly-Fuisse "Les Vernays", Domaine J.A. Ferret 2005 ($27.00).

When I think seafood and butter, naturally I think white Burgundy. Especially 1er cru or grand cru with creamy richness that typically comes from a combination of ripe grapes and oak barrel aging. But also, I look for acidity to cut through and contrast the butter. Here I had two white Burgundies that I knew from tasting the day before were rich. I also knew that the "Les Vernays" was already in its drinking window while the "Les Menetrieres" still needed a couple of years to open up. I wasn't entirely sure which one would match better though, so I tried both. "Les Venays" was more open and fruity, and quite rich, overpowering the fish. "Les Menetrieres" was a bit leaner at this stage and more acidic, which matched the fish better, but still a bit too round and even bland. At this point, it occurred to me that the lemon in the butter and the olives on top of the fish were the key (as they say "pick the wine to match the sauce!") - I needed something leaner and more acidic. Since normally I don't pair red wine with fish, reluctantly I tried the red Burgundy. And.. voila! Alex Gambal's Vosne-Romanee "Vielles Vignes" 2007 is a very perfumy, elegant, very complete wine with light-to-medium body and light texture - and it turned out a major hit with the lemon/olive mixture, not to mention the vinaigrette over the squash. Not only did the body of the red wine match the dish that after all wasn't all that rich, but also the cherry flavor on Pinot Noir really added a delicious dimension to the fish. The refreshing acidity and the earlier approachability I have observed in the 2007 vintage red Burgundies were very much appreciated in harnessing the lemon/olive tartness of the sauce and the light texture of the fish.

In the past two weeks, I started noticing a pattern: light bodied high-acid fruity wines like red Burgundy or Frappato (Sicilian red) pair exceptionally well with seafood - no doubt common knowledge for experienced sommeliers but quite a revelation for me!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tilapia fillet with lemon butter

While my week-day job is in high-tech, on week-ends I come to my favorite wine shop, pour wines for customers, get their feedback, and then occasionally take a few bottles home for deeper reflection and study. I believe that wine is made to be enjoyed in the company of friends. Nevertheless, I find that giving a worthy wine my undivided attention "mano-a-mano", with a plate of food on one side and a wine reference and laptop on the other, is the best way for me to truly relish and understand it.

Two days ago, I had an opportunity to taste red Burgundies by Alex Gambal - an American ex-real-estate operator who moved to France in the 1990's and has now made a name for himself in Burgundy, and white Burgundies by the top domaine from Pouilly-Fuissé appelation in Mâconnais - J.A. Ferret - whose wines are distinguished by richness, creaminess, depth of flavor, and age-worthiness seen only in the very best white Burgundies. I picked three of the wines I really enjoyed at the tasting for a quiet food-and-wine pairing at home. In the process I learned something new, and by playing along, you will too.

Food-and-wine pairing challenge.
Which of the three wines displayed on this photo was the best match for the Bobby Flay's pan-fried tilapia fillet, topped with lemon-butter and green olive tapenade, with a side of roasted butternut squash with vinaigrette dressing?

1. Vosne-Romanée "Vieilles Vignes", Alex Gambal 2007 ($60.00).
2. Pouilly-Fuisse "Les Ménéstrières", Domaine J.A. Ferret 2005 ($50.00).
3. Pouilly-Fuisse "Les Vernays", Domaine J.A. Ferret 2005 ($27.00).

The answer in the next blog post...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tomato taste-off

Last Sunday I was invited to a tomato taste-off, hosted by an avid gardener and friend A.C. Her passion for tomatoes is perhaps equaled only by my passion for wine.

There we were tasting 30-40 different kinds, scoring them with all the seriousness of Robert Parker. I like tomatoes, especially heirlooms, especially fresh from the garden. However, as I started going around the tasting table, to my surprise I was not impressed. Until I got to cherry tomatoes: green grape and black pearl - those stood out - tart, sweet, intense. "Ooh, I like those" I exclaimed. As I continued, while many seemed bland or one-dimensional, a few others stood out as flavorful, complete with requisite tartness and sweetness, and interesting in some way - one tasting more like a lemon, another more meaty. It seemed really obvious which few were the stand-outs. As a tomato novice, I declared my opinion to A.C., considering myself done with the taste-off, and moving on to other activities (such as commandeering a few heirlooms from her over-abundant garden).

Her voice caught me: "Cherry tomatoes always win. It's simple - they are the most intense, and easy to understand - and that is the pattern for all the rest of the tomatoes you picked. However, try this one...", she pointed to another tomato I had dismissed earlier. "This would be good on a burger. And that one...", she pointed again, "would be good on a tart". She went on to explain that various aspects of tomatoes complement specific types of foods, and therefore should not be considered as a dish on their own, but rather in pairing with other ingredients. "This one would be good for stewing in a sauce", she pointed again, "and this is the one I served on top of burrata cheese sprinkled with salt and olive oil a week ago as an appetizer that you loved". Indeed! As I tasted them and identified the specific flavors, it made sense that they would pair with a particular ingredient. And suddently a light bulb went off, and I remembered my own blog post on the difference between wine being a dish and an ingredient.

I went around the tomato table once more, this time appreciating a whole slew of other tomatoes, my enjoyment now fueled by an intellectual understanding rather than only carnal, increasing dramatically from just minutes prior.

And so this seemingly unrelated tomato taste-off unexpectedly triggered a philosophical epiphany not only about appreciating things on a deeper level but also reminding me of humility and learning. How often I see wine newbies going through a tasting linep, being so sure and quick to pronounce what they prefer. And how often after a tasting session with me they leave with the same lesson I re-learned on that sunny Sunday afternoon.

P.S. The final scores clearly reflected the first impressions of the crowd. And while it's hard to argue against deeply flavored food (or drink), do take these with a grain of salt!

Courtesy of the record-keeper Dan who is one person combining my passion for wine with A.C.'s passion for tomatoes: "The sweeter and bigger-flavored tomatoes won, as always. A leaner and more “classic” tomato could be better in a different context—such as a sandwich or burger. But one would not have oaky cabernet with oysters. But that lean and crisp Chablis perfect for the oysters would fall flat next to a big Ribeye steak. Similarly for tomatoes, each one needs to be taken in its context and food pairing."

#1. Green Grape, 13 votes as “best”
#2. Olympic Fire, 11 votes
#3. Black Pearl, 8 votes
#4. German Orange Strawberry, 7 votes
#5. Five way tie with 5/6 votes: Green Giant, Japanese Black Trifele, Lemon Boy, Tim’s Black Ruffle, Phantom du Laos
#6. Others that got more than just a few votes and were liked: Nyageous, Riesentraube, Persimmon


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Soy sauce and red Burgundy

Seems unexpected: soy sauce in Pinot Noir? Standard red Burgundy descriptions of cherry and earth that are present in most red Burgundy tasting notes are nothing to write home about. What's always remarkable and inspiring to me are the out-of-place tastes I occasionally discern in wine, especially when it's paired with the right food.

The secret to my pork ribs is gentle boiling with asian spices for 1-1.5 hours, and then quickly baking / broiling while applying several layers of the secret sauce, soy sauce being one major ingredient. The amazing thing is how well this 2005 Domaine Rene Lecrerc Gevrey Chambertin "Les Champeaux" Burgundy complemented the ribs, bringing out the darker "soy sauce meets cola" flavors of the wine.

I had already observed that Pinot Noir and Gamay pair well with Cantonese food. Slowly a hypothesis crystallized - I started figuring out that it may be due to the common use of soy-sauce in Cantonese cooking. Last night was the second time I tried the ribs / red Burgundy combo - the first time the ribs had been slow-cooked in a clay-pot, while this time I thought the baked flavor was an even better match to this substantial Burg from the stellar 2005 vintage.

And the thing is - had I not had the ribs, I probably would have never found soy sauce in the wine. Ah, the rare moments of brilliance, they are always so heart-warming and so unexpected!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Chateauneuf-du-Pape trials and tribulations

From the excellent 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Saturday tasting lineup @Vineyard Gate, I took several bottles to test in a couple of different settings. Results confirmed the high quality of these wines and the importance of *appropriate* food-and-wine pairing -- one was heaven, another - hell! Watch IronC yap.

These were the wines - if you love CdP, you'll love these!:
1. CdP Rouge, Moulin-Tacussel 2007 $40.00
2. CdP Rouge, Grand Veneur 2007 $44.00
3. CdP Rouge "Hommage a Henry Tacussel", Moulin-Tacussel 2007 $60.00
4. CdP Rouge "Les Origines", Grand Veneur 2007 $58.00
5. CdP Rouge "Vieilles Vignes", Grand Veneur 2007 $98.00

Btw, don't you just love the CdP bottles - they are so regal!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

How to eat lobster

Buy a huge live Maine lobster dirt cheap in Ranch 99 Asian supermarket.
Grab the monster carefully from the back. Watch out for the razor sharp tail.

Stick a chopstick under its tail all the way to its head, Cantonese style. That makes it pee, which cleanses the meat and relaxes the muscles.

Steam or boil it just until it gets red.

Melt butter. Corn optional.

Don't forget tools to break the hard shells.
Vitally important: get a bottle of a nicely aged, well balanced White Burgundy, a 1er or Grand Cru, combining butteriness and acidity.

Wear an apron and/or a bib (optional).
Oh, and the most important thing...
Go for it!!!


Monday, August 3, 2009

Ugly pumpkin meets its match in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

Ahhhh, those blissful food and wine pairings... A dinner at a friend and avid gardener's gave me renewed faith in mankind! - especially the portions of mankind who grow their own edible gardens in the SF South Bay and those that make wine in Chateauneuf-du-Pape (in the Southern Rhone region of France). They are co-conspirators in one of world's great pleasures, and are indeed a match made in heaven, of which yours truly was the benefactor last night.

The day before, I had been tasting 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape's at Vineyard Gate - they clearly had lots of food-friendly qualities, which at the same time made them hard to enjoy on their own - a lot of spice, pepper, exotic dry flowers, berries and herbs, a touch of sweetness, and refreshing acid - all those great things we've come to expect from Chateauneuf. Tasting those wines had transported me to the South of France where this past December I visited many of the area's great wine domaines, and predictably made me think spicy pork or herb-crusted roasted poultry, game or lamb.

So when last night my friend A.C. served up delicate Indian-spiced pumpkin-stuffed ravioli with garlic-tomato-herb sauce on top, the thought of Chateauneuf-du-Pape did not immediately enter my mind. We tried a Chablis -- too weak; then a Saint Joseph (Northern-Rhone, syrah-based) - too strong. Both clearly unpleasant combos with the food. Then the light bulb went off: the ravioli is slighly sweet from the pumpkin, slightly spicy from the Indian spices, and slightly tangy from the sauce - guess what?!: Chateauneuf! - sweet, spicy, tangy - VOILA! I had brought several bottles from Vineyard Gate - high-caliber babies at $50-100/btl (high-end Chateauneuf isn't cheap) - but boy, did they do the magic trick!

A month ago, I discovered a liver pate + Cotes du Rhone (less expensive wine in the Southern Rhone) pairing that was an eye-opener for similar reasons - where the basic taste elements in the food are like the elements in the wine. But last night, boosted by the sheer brilliance of A.C.'s cooking force that transformed an ugly pumpkin into a silky beauty, combined with classic 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Pape styles from Moulin-Tacussel and Grand Veneur, just for a brief moment, I felt all was alright with the world! And that, my friends, was priceless!

Related Posts with Thumbnails