Sunday, 20 July 2014

American Food and Wine Inspirations

It all started over a glass of wine at a party.  Isn't that how many great ideas are born? 

Our friends were excited that they had just been on a bit of a kitchenware shopping spree and were keen to try out all their new knives and pans.  I was talking about the latest in my preparations for my overseas vintage in Canada, followed by travel through America. My comment was that I had never really tried any American wine, even though I had read extensively about the different styles and what to expect of them.

And this is how the idea was formed.  Our friends would cook a two-course, American themed dinner and we would provide the wines to match. This was wholeheartedly agreed to by all at the time, but it was not until the day of the dinner that I discovered how few American wines were readily available in Perth bottle shops. To add to the challenge, I needed to ensure the wines matched to a first course of Po'boys with cajun spiced fish and prawns and then a series of BBQ pork and beef ribs, marinated in rum and bourbon respectively.

As we opened each wine throughout the evening, I secretly had my fingers crossed below the table...

Po'boys and Riesling

Due to the spiciness of the first dish, I had actually gone outside the brief, selecting a semi-dry German Riesling from Rheingau (Schloss Vallrads Estate, 2011 Qualitatswein).  We were all impressed by the beautiful, elongated design of the green glass bottle and the novelty of a wine sealed with a glass stopper, which is much less common than cork and screw-cap closures. Even if you do not enjoy riesling, this wine is worth buying just to keep the bottle as a decorative water jug or vase.

Elegant Rheingau Riesling

But for those more concerned about what was inside the bottle: the contents were a deep gold colour and oozed freshly squeezed lemon juice.  I could definitely pick up some of the 'gasoline' or steely aromas typical of riesling as it ages, and this continued through to the palate, which was full bodied with an oily feeling over the tongue.  There was also a slight spritz to the wine, which, combined with the citrus, was the perfect foil for richly spiced seafood.

When enjoyed with the po'boys, some fruity sweetness was more evident.  I have to give merit to the cooks here, the softly warmed buns, crunchy coleslaw and succulent prawns and bream from Kailis were delicious! If you are interested to learn more about what a po'boy is and the background behind this traditional Louisiana speciality, read on here.

Rum Pork Ribs and Chardonnay

Now we settled in to the American wines.  First off the rank was the Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve 2012 Chardonnay from California.  I was slightly concerned with the geographical indication only saying 'California', as this could mean that the grapes were sourced from anywhere across a vast array of micro-climates.  I was just hoping that we had not ended up with a wine made primarily from Central Valley grapes (very warm to hot climate), or with overt use of oak, which could possibly result in an overdone wine.

Californian Chardonnay in all its oaked glory

Luckily my concerns were unfounded.  The liquid was of the deepest gold colour, with freshly shaved wood chips, nectarine and greek yoghurt aromas.  On the palate, the wine was luxuriously full-bodied and creamy (think whipped, fluffy butter) but had a spine of tingling acidity, leaving a lemon-meringue style impression. 

With this wine, we enjoyed some rich, slow-cooked pork ribs in a spicy rum sauce.  Obviously, the spiciness of the sauce threw out the balance slightly but, that aside, it was a fairly decent pairing.

Bourbon Beef Ribs and Zinfandel

Zinfandel paired with bourbon-marinated, slow-cooked beef ribs was a bit more of a sure thing.  This grape variety produces wines of intense fruit flavours, full body and high alcohol, which were the exact requirements for matching with such a rich meat dish.  However, my hope was that the Murphy-Goode 2009 Liar's Dice Zinfandel from Sonoma County would not be too 'jammy'.  This characteristic is commonly noted as a less attractive aspect of wines produced from Zinfandel.

The 'Zin' was a medium ruby colour with intense raspberry and red cherry aromas.  There were sighs of enjoyment all round as we all took our first sip, enjoying the fine tannins and rich, resinous fruit. Although the wine clocked in at 15.5% alcohol (9.2 standard drinks in the bottle), it definitely was not overly 'hot' or 'jammy'.  In fact, I found it rather elegant and restrained. 

Zinfandel from Sonoma County

Rum-soaked Raisins and Pedro Ximinez

Dessert time. As I often mention, sweets are not my forte, primarily because I tend more towards savoury food.  But on occasions where I am a guest at a dinner, I will ensure to try the dessert. In this instance, I had the opportunity to provide a wine to match and the selection was a Pedro Ximinez from Gralyn Estate in Margaret River.  The wine had kindly been gifted to us by some friends and it seemed like an excellent occasion to share it.

Originating in spain, Pedro Ximinez is often used to make an intensely sweet, dessert style sherry. Since its introduction to Australia, the most recognised use of 'PX' has been to create rich, luscious fortifieds from the Swan Valley region.   

Gralyn Estate is lucky to have some 100 year old Pedro Ximinez vines, which allows them to make a richly concentrated wine. The wine was deep amber in colour and displayed characteristics that were markedly similar to the rum-soaked raisins, which we were enjoying with vanilla icecream, gingernut biscuits and a salted caramel sauce.  

Although this meant that the flavours were all cohesive, I found that the wine did not really 'add' anything to the dish. In saying that it was a lovely end to the meal and could definitely be enjoyed alone as an after dinner drink, or perhaps with a cheese platter.

Pedro Ximinez for Dessert
A huge thanks goes to our hosts for the evening, who ensured we went home feeling very warm and satisifed, with our belts loosened one notch. It was the perfect way to kick-start the countdown to my overseas adventures in the Americas - only six weeks to go!

Post Script

You may have noticed the cute little critters featured in my wine shots throughout this post.  These came all the way from an art gallery gift shop in Denmark and are such a cute, novel use of corks that I just could not resist featuring them.  They definitely provided us some entertainment over the course of the evening!  If you are just as intrigued by these crazy critters as I was, check out the Corkers website. I dare say they would make novel gifts.