At our VINO Restaurant, Chef/Partner Keith Endo has been churning out alot of small plates specials every night, just to have fun (& our customers greatly appreciate his work). This also gives us an opportunity to have fun pairing wines to the onslaught of these new dishes.
Fresh Razor Clams—with white wine, lemon, Italian parsley & a little butter
We can’t get these clams too often, but when we do, OMG!!! One pairing, we served the 2011 Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi–a dry, light, crisp, minerally white wine from the Marches region on Italy’s eastern coast, produced under the watchful eye of legendary consultant Giorgio Grai. This wine innately has dried underbrush & Mediterranean spice nuances which work well with the garlic & Sicilian Mudica breadcrumbs….AND a citrus edge which works with the clams. We would also consider the 2011 Marisa Cuomo Costa d’Amalfi Bianco–another dry, light, crisp & seafood friendly white wine…..this time from Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Produced from a blend of Falanghina & Biancollella grape varieties grown on terraced hillsides at between 600 & 1800 feet elevation in rocky calcareous soils, it also has a slight saline edge, which makes it another interesting pairing for this dish. If you want to BUY AMERICAN, then consider the tasty, crisp & minerally 2012 Palmina Pinot Grigio “Santa Barbara” from Steve & Chrystal Clifton. It certainly is better than most Italian versions we commonly run across.
Smoked Olive Oil Poached Lamb Meatballs with home-made spaghettini, pecorino romano & grated Sugarland tomatoes
Our first pairing was the 2010 Chateau Fontanes Coteaux du Languedoc from southern France. The 2010 has a big chunk of Syrah (somewhat meaty, wildly rustic in character) without being too heavy or overpowering (as Syrah can often be). We also love this wine, because it is really about a sense of place, lighter than expected & not commercialized at all. A very interesting pairing which also incorporates a BUY AMERICAN theme, would be the 2010 Witching Stick Rosato “Fashauer Vineyard”. This is a wild yeast fermented, masculine, full flavored PINK wine produced from 100% “mountain grown” Zinfandel by standout Zin specialist Van Williamson. If you closed your eyes & tasted this wine, you would think it is RED, without the bitterness. This kind of pairing would be especially ideal in warm weather.
Artichoke has over the years been a NO-NO for pairing wines with. A few winemaker friends insist that the grape variety known in the U.S. as Tocai Friulano & known internationally as Friulano, is one that works. Whether that is true or not, I will leave up to you to decide. BUT, following that train of thought AND hedging it a bit by deep frying them in a little semolina/rice flour mix AND incorporating preserved lemons as well, why not try the 2012 Palmina Tocai Friulano…..& please let me know what you think.
Braised Oxtail Tortellini with oxtail broth, brocolini & Italian parsley
More often than not, with these kind of richer, savory, brothed dishes, we look to pair some kind of lighter more ethereal style of Roses. In this case, we paired the 2011 Birichino Vin Gris, a dry, more refined style of Californian PINK wine, whose core is Cinsault fruit from 126 year old vines out in Lodi. There is also a smidgeon of 100 year old vine Grenache & a splash of Vermentino for freshness & uplifted aromatics. In case you are not familar with this wine, it is the relatively new project of former, long time Bonny Doon winemaker, John Locke.
Beet & Goat Cheese “Salad” with sliced radish & flax seed & a light lemon-fresh herb vinaigrette
With this dish, we typically work with more light, crisp & aromatic white wines, which connect with the dish’s fresh herbs & uplifts the goat cheese. 2 to consider along these lines include the Domaine Skouras “Zoe”–a seemingly off-dry, wonderfully perfumed & fruity white Greek wine produced from the Roditis & Moschofilero grape varieties down in the hills of Peloponnese…..& the 2012 Birichino Malvasia Bianca, a dry, profusely fruity & perfumed, lime-crisp white wine from John Locke (in this case I would just add a little more torn basil & freshly cracked pepper to the dish).
Iberico Ham with frisee salad
One of the delicasies we brought back from our recent New York trip was the rekindled love for this Spanish/Portuguese specialty. There really is nothing like it…..especially those free range-rs & fed mainly on acorns. I think most people would think RED wine with this small plate. For whatever reason, my first instinct is to serve the Domaine de Marquiliani Rose from the island of Corsica’s eastern coast. Produced mainly from the indigenous Sciaccarellu grape variety, this more delicately nuanced rose is as importer Kermit Lynch aptly describes–“Drinking her rosé is like drinking a cloud. There’s an absolute weightlessness to it. Nothing is left on the palate but perfume.” I would also serve the Raventos I Blanc Cava Rose “de Nit”, a Spanish PINK bubbly owned & operated by the same family for 19 generations! Unlike so many other sparklers, this methode Champenoise Spanard is so amazingly light, airy & wonderfully gulpable & would therefore be a refreshing, palate cleansing kind of pairing. When looking to buy American, please consider the 2012 Drew Albarino “Anderson Valley”–a dry, riveting, crisp & “quietly” exotic white wine from the Anderson Valley & 1 vineyard located 1400 feet above the valley itself. With this rich dish, this wine would be like squeezing a lemon or yuzu over the meat, which would not only serve to heigthen the cured meat, but would also keep the palate fresh & alive between bites.
One could readily pair a host of rustic red wines from around the Mediterranean basin with this dish & have alot of fun doing so. That is exactly why we serve this dish in VINO. One of the most “out of the box” pairings, however, especially keeping California in mind, is the 2010 Lieu Dit Cabernet Franc. So far, we have seen 4 wines released to us here in the Islands from this small Santa Barbara winery. Each are reminscent of a Loire Valley role model in mind–being produced from Sauvignon Blanc (akin to Pouilly Fume/Sancerre), Chenin Blanc (akin to Vouvray), Cabernet Franc (akin to Chinon/Bourgueil) & a Pinot Noir rose. The Cabernet Franc, at least for the 2 initial releases, is lighter, more juicy & lower in tannins & alcohol than other Californian renditions. It has a slightly rustic character, but still very upbeat, refreshing & delicious, which is why we would recommend it with this dish….in order to counter the richness of the fattier lamb belly. As mentioned, this really is just the beginning. If this were a board game, I would press the ALL PLAY button.