Can She Pair a Pumpkin Pie?

After the Thanksgiving meal is served…and served, and served, and served…you swear you’ll never eat again.  But, after an hour or so of watching football, washing dishes, or snoozing on the couch, you’re ready for some pumpkin pie.

The typical accompaniment for T-day dessert in my experience has been the dregs of whatever wine was served with the meal.  Nothing wrong with that, but Thanksgiving is a special day, so why not offer up a specially chosen Pumpkin Pie Pairing to cap off the day?

If you’ve read The Bubbly Professor’s “Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing” you know that the most important factor in most food-and-wine meetups is to “pair to taste, not to flavor.”  This makes a pumpkin pie pairing really simple:  you need a sweet wine, lest the food dull out the wine.  Now, it doesn’t have to be uber-sweet, just a hint of sweetness will do, but this is also one of those pairings where super-sweet wine works. 

Here are a few of my favorites –  enjoy!

Sauternes:  Sauternes, with its luscious sweetness is a match made in heaven for pumpkin pie.  The wine is a good “big and rich meets big and rich and they live happily ever after” type of match in terms of texture, and the subtle dried apricot-vanilla-nutmeg-dried leaves kind of aromas and flavors of Sauternes make this a Fall Fest in a glass.  Sauternes can be expensive…my personal favorite, Chateau Guiraud, is a cool one hundred bucks, however, there are many inexpensive (around $20.00 a bottle) versions on the market these days, and they are worth a try as well.  

Tawny Port: For years now, I’ve spent my Thanksgiving in the best possible way…surrounded by an awesome group of friends and family at the lovely home of (hi Janelle and Kyle!!) Janelle and Kyle. My contribution to the feast has often been a selection of dessert wines…with all of my suggestions listed here of course…and every year, the first bottle to be emptied is the Tawny Port.  So there.  First emptied = great match.  Not a scientific experiment, but a darn good one.  My go-to Tawny Port is Taylor-Fladgate 10-Year-Old Age Indicated Tawny Porto, which runs about $20.00 a bottle. 

Moscato d’Asti:  Moscato d’Asti, besides being just plain hands-down delicious, is a great match for pumpkin pie. It’s light, fizzy and sweet, but not too sweet, and with the pumpkin pie pairing, the wine will transform and taste just slightly off dry.  It’s a cool trick to play with people who claim to be too sophisticated for sweet wine.  Moscato’s popularity of late has spawned a host of cheap imitations, but you can’t go wrong with a true Italian; Saracco makes one of my favorites, and it’s a winner at around $14.00

Vin Santo:  Tuscany’s famous  “Wine of the Saints” is another great match for pumpkin pie.  The wine’s just-barely-there sweetness will allow it to pair with the pumpkin pie well; after a bite of pie, you won’t taste the wine’s sweet side anymore, but it will still taste rich, woodsy, spicy, and delightful.  If you try, if might even find a scent of pumpkin pie spice lingering in your glass.  Just about any Vin Santo will delight you, but my personal favorite is from Borgo Scopeto.

Brandy:  If you enjoy a long evening of conversation, Brandy is a great choice to serve with your pumpkin pie.  I personally don’t buy into the “spirits dull the palate” argument and think that Brandy with its warmth and calm makes a perfect pie pairing partner.  The anh (adorable new husband) and I fell in love with Torres Brandy on our honeymoon in Spain, but I am equally enamoured with Christian Brothers Brandy from the San Joaquin Valley in California.  The Christian Brothers Wineries and Distillery played an impressive role in the history of California Wine, as any visitor to Napa knows…perhaps that’s a story for a future blog post!

Coffee:  If you are in need of a wake-up (or sober-up) session before continuing on to the rest of your day, nothing beats a good cup of coffee with your pumpkin pie.  Coffee and pumpkin pie also makes a great day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast…just don’t tell  your fitness trainer.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

Perfect Pairings: Wines for Thanksgiving

When pairing wines with a big turkey dinner, it’s time to take sides. 

By “taking sides” I mean that you need to choose your wines with a mind to the varied tastes and flavors of your side dishes.  Turkey – the main event –  is actually quite neutral in flavor and can pair nicely with a variety of wines.  Side dishes for turkey, however, include the sweet (think yams topped with mini marshmallows), the spicy (sausage stuffing),  the salty (gravy), and the tangy (pickles, olives, and cranberry sauce). 

It takes a fruity, acidic wine with no chance of clashing flavors to match that schizo of a meal.   

I know this subject has been talked to death, that opinions on the matter run hot, and what the world needs now is hardly one more blog post on what wines to serve on Thanksgiving.  So, it is with humility and a bit of trepidation that I offer the following “Bubbly Professor Rules” on wines for Thanksgiving.

Rule #1 – Choose a Wine with Lots of Crisp, Lively Acidity:  Tangy foods, such as cranberry sauce, citrus, or anything from the relish tray, need to be paired with wines that can stand up to the challenge.  To be safe, serve a wine that has lively acidity to begin with and your wine will maintain its balanced flavor even in the presence of acidic foods.

Rule #2 – Choose a Wine with Lots of Fruity Flavors:  Cranberry Sauce, Sweet Potatoes, Creamed Corn and Yams…due to the fact that they have a degree of sweetness, these foods require a wine that has a very fruit-forward style. A wine with a hint of sweetness is ideal, as any sweetness in a food will diminish the fruitiness or sweetness of a wine.  It’s best to start with a wine with a good deal of fruit flavors, and maybe even sweetness, in order to preserve the wine’s balance with these types of foods.

Rule #3 – Choose a Wine that is Low to Moderate in Tannin:  Tannin is an integral part of the taste, flavor, and structure of most red wines, and the component that gives many wines their “grip” and a “velvety” feel in others.  So, even though we love it, we must be careful with tannin in the wines we serve on Thanksgiving, as too much tannin can clash with salty tastes or spicy flavors.  To avoid a clash of the titans that might end up with a metallic or bitter taste in your mouth, keep those red wines low in tannins and smooth!

Rule #4 – Choose a Wine with Very Little, if Any, Oak:  Oak is a beloved flavor enhancer of many wine styles.  However, highly oaked wines can clash with some food flavors.  Flavors that are slightly sweet, a bit fruity, or a tad spicy can all spell trouble when combined with oak!

Rule #5 – Choose a Wine that is Moderate in Alcohol:  Alcohol, while part of what makes wine so delightful, has a tendency to clash with certain tastes and flavors, and with all the flavor mingling going on at Thanksgiving, a clash is likely.  If at all possible, keep your wine choices in the moderate alcohol range.  Let’s face it…turkey already has enough drowsiness-inducing tryptophan to put you to sleep.  We don’t need any help from excessive amounts of alcohol!

Bubbly Professor’s Wine Suggestions For Your Turkey Dinner: 

  • Riesling from Alsace, Germany, or Washington State
  • Viognier from Texas, California, or The Rhône Valley of France
  • Unoaked Chardonnay
  • Bubbly – Any dry or semi-dry Methode Champenoise Sparkling Wine
  • Prosecco
  • For the adventurous…Sparkling Shiraz
  • For the less-than-adventurous…Moscato d’Asti
  • Dry Rosé – an all-around great choice!
  • Zinfandel from Lodi or Sonoma
  • Pinot Noir from Burgundy, California’s Central Coast or Oregon
  • Malbec from Argentina
  • Shiraz from Australia
  • Beaujolais
  • Or, of course, you can use this philosophy:  Serve anything you like…it’s just one day out of life!

Happy Holidays, Everyone!! No matter what you serve, enjoy the day and give thanks for all the good things in your life! 

Perfect Pairings: Amazeballs and Tempranillo

In honor of International Tempranillo Day 2012, I offer up my “Most Amazing Meatballs” Recipe!  These meatballs remind me of the tapas-style Albondigas the anh (adorable new husband) and I feasted on in Madrid just a few short months ago.

These meatballs can be served up however you like…with spaghetti, on a sandwich, as a tapa, or you can do like I do and “pretend” to eat healthy by serving them up with a nice green vegetable.  Just don’t forget the Tempranillo!

For more information on Tempranillo and suggested food pairings, see my Tempranillo Cheat Sheet.

The Bubbly Professor’s Amazing Meatballs:

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. Ground Beef
  • 1 lb. Pork Sausage (bulk)
  • 1 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 2 T. finely chopped Parsley
  • 1/2 grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 t. Kosher Salt
  • 1 t. freshly ground Black Pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup water

For the Sauce:

  • 2 cups chopped Sweet Onion
  • 1 T. minced Garlic
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 cup Tempranillo (or other dry red wine)
  • 2 – 28 oz. cans of Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1 T. chopped Parsley
  • 1 T. Kosher Salt
  • 1 t. freshly ground Black Peper
  • 1 t. ground Cinnamon

For the Amazeballs:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º.
  2. Crack the egg into a small bowl and beat well with 1 cup water.  Set aside.
  3. Place the ground beef, pork sausage, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl and mix well to combine.  You have to get your hands in there.
  4. Pour the egg and water mixture over the top and mix well again to combine.
  5. Divide the meatball mixture roughly in half and form each “half” into eight meatballs.  You should have a total of 16 meatballs, about 2-inches in diameter each.
  6. Place the amazeballs on an oiled cookie sheet and bake 350º for 20 minutes.

For the Sauce:

  1. Sauté the onion and garlic in 2 T. olive oil over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Watch the pan so the onions and garlic do not brown, you just want them to soften.
  2. Add the diced tomatoes and their juice, the wine, salt, pepper, and cinnamon and simmer over low heat for 40 minutes.
  3. Add the seasoning, adjust the seasoning, and add the finished meatballs.
  4. Simmer the meatballs for five minutes and eat immediately, that evening, or the next day.  This is one of those dishes that gets better after a few days.  The meatballs also freeze beautifully in the sauce.  If you eat all the meatballs and have sauce leftover, use it to make a pasta dish or whatever strikes your fancy.

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…

Perfect Pairings: Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic and Viognier

Chicken with Forty (yes, forty) Cloves of Garlic is one of my favorite cold weather dishes.  A flavorful chicken braise like this is not a quick dish to put together, but it is a great kitchen project for a cold weather Sunday.  This dish is also something of a miracle in the way it transforms ordinary, inexpensive ingredients into a meal with delicious, elegant flavors.

Don’t let the forty cloves of garlic, which is quite literal, frighten you away.  The slow-roasting and simmering process takes away the bitter bite of the garlic and leaves earthy richness in its place.

I’ve chosen this dish as a “perfect pairing partner” for Viognier, but it could be a perfect partner for a number of wines.  I know a lot of people would choose a rich, butter Chardonnay to pair with this dish, and I agree with that whole-heartedly.  I also agree that it could pair equally well with unoaked Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, or Fumé Blanc.  It could fare well with Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Champagne or Rosé.  It’s a wine-loving dish if ever there was one.

Why Viognier?

This recipe for Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic gets it delicious flavor from slow simmering,   caramelization, and sauce reduction.  While all this slow cooking is going on, the umami-rich chicken flavors blend with the earthiness and complexity of the herbs and garlic. It all adds up to a delicious dish!

However, the reason I chose Viognier as the perfect pairing for this dish lies more in what the recipe does NOT include rather than what it does. While many recipes use a squeeze of lemon, a dice of tomatoes or a splash of vinegar to add flavor complexity, this recipe does not have any acidity added at the end.  We humans love the turbocharged flavor a dash of acidity brings to a dish, but it also diminishes our ability to taste the acidity in a wine. That’s one of the reasons why highly acidic white wines pair so well with seafood, salads, and Italian food!

However, acidity in food can kill a wine like Viognier.  A typical Viognier is a relatively low acid wine, so it’s generally not a good match for high acid food.  When paired with a high acid dish like Salmon with fresh Lemon, Viognier can transform from a rich, round, and delightful wine into something that tastes rather flat and bitter.  A dish like this with little or no acidity is Viognier’s chance to shine!

The Bubbly Professor’s Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic

This dish takes a good deal of time and effort, so I like to make a big batch.  This recipe will feed 6 hungry people, or you can feed four people and have some wonderful leftovers.

Ingredients:

  • 4 chicken breasts, complete with bones and skin
  • 4 chicken leg quarters, complete with bones and skin
  • 3 whole heads garlic
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. Olive Oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2  cups chicken stock
  • 1 t. dried thyme
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2 T. Heavy Cream
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Procedures:

  1. Separate the cloves of garlic and drop them, unpeeled, into a pot of simmering water.  Let simmer for 60 seconds, then cool them quickly by shocking them in ice water.  Drain the garlic, pat dry and peel.  The garlic skins should slip easily off.
  2. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels.  Liberally season both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet or dutch oven.  If you don’t have such fancy implements, a small stock pot will do.  Add the chicken pieces, in a single layer, skin side down, and saute until golden brown, at least 3 – 5 minutes on each side.  You will need to do this in several batches, moving the browned chicken off to the side untill all the chicken has had its turn. Don’t worry that the chicken is not cooked through; it will cook to tenderness during the braise.
  4. When all the chicken is browned and removed, lower the heat.  Add the peeled garlic to the pot and sauté the garlic, stirring continuously, for five minutes until the garlic is just golden.  Don’t let the garlic burn or get too brown, as this can lead to bitterness.
  5. When the garlic is golden, keep it in the pot and add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock.  Raise the heat and allow the mixture to come to a simmer while continuously scraping the bottom of the pan to remove the browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  Add the remaining stock, the wine, and the dried thyme, and return the chicken to the pot.
  6. Allow the mixture to return to a boil, then turn the heat down low, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes.
  7. When ready to serve, remove the chicken to a platter.  Cover it with aluminium foil to keep the chicken warm while you finish the sauce.
  8. In a small bowl, which together the 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons cool water.  While whisking continuously, add 1/2 cup of the still-hot braising liquid to the bowl, then quickly whisk the mixture back into the pot.  Whisk for 2 – 3 minutes while simmering, until the sauce begins to thicken.  Finish the sauce by adding the cream and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
  9. Pour the sauce and the garlic over the chicken, and enjoy.  This makes a great dinner with either a simple vegetable dish or a salad.
  10. Don’t forget the Viognier!

Perfect Pairing: French Onion Soup and Gewürztraminer

I rarely make soup at home  as my anh (adorable new husband) has a sort of primordial dislike of soup as a meal or even a starter course,. He can’t explain it; but I think he believes that a serving of soup somehow pre-empts genuine sustenance.  French Onion Soup is one of the few he can abide, and certainly a dish we can agree on˜so it gets served a lot at our house.

There’s one rather odd caveat about my version of the soup.  When we first got married, the anh mentioned he loved French Onion Soup but hated how hard it was to eat.  I had to agreed that I had been put off by stringy versions myself, so this recipe is custom-designed to avoid crouton-cracking splashes and stringy cheese arm-stretches.  I used to think such accommodations were silly, but during my decades as a cooking instructor one of the things I have learned to teach my students is that a fanciful presentation or even delicious flavor cannot make a customer enjoy a dish that is awkward to eat.

My preferred pairing for this dish is Gewürztraminer. In my experience, the funkiness of the onions seems to make the funkiness of the wine fall in line and it shines through with pure deliciousness! Try a dry Gewürztraminer, and off-dry Gewürztraminer…they have all worked quite well for me!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound White Onions, large dice
  • 1 pound Sweet Onions, large dice
  • 4 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 T. Butter
  • 2 T. Olive Oil (plus more Olive Oil or Olive Oil spray for croutons)
  • 1 t. Sugar
  • 1 – 2 t. Salt, or to taste
  • 1 T. Flour
  • 1 t. Dried Thyme (or Oregano)
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1/2 cup Dry White Wine (By all means, you should use Gewürztraminer if possible)
  • 4 cups Beef Stock
  • 1 1/2 cups Water
  • 1/2 t. Black Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Sherry Vinegar
  • 1/2 Loaf of Italian Bread or Baguette
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Gruyère Cheese
  • 4 T. Grated Parmesan Cheese

Makes four appetizer, or two main course, servings.

1.  First of all, make the croutons without too much drama.  I like to cut the bread into one-inch cubes – that’s part of the “easy to eat” platform.  Simply spray (or toss) them with olive oil, place on a flat cookie sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.  Give them a quick toss, and continue baking until they are golden brown.  After they cool, wrap them in several layers of aluminum foil.  They will keep indefinitely.

2.  For the non-string-inducing cheese topping:  Mix the finely grated Gruyère with the finely grated Parmesan, set aside.

3.  In a large stock pot, melt the butter and add the olive oil.  Add the onions and season with 1 – 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, then stir.  Add 1 teaspoon of sugar, reduce the heat and cook for another 10 minutes at low heat.  Add the garlic.  Continue to cook the onion/garlic mixture for 40 minutes or longer, stopping to stir the mixture and check for browning every 10 minutes. Cook until they onions are very soft and a deep golden brown.

4.  Add the flour, thyme or oregano, bay leaves, and pepper.  Stir over medium-high heat for two minutes.

5.  Add the wine, stock, and water.  Stir until the mixture simmers, then allow to simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Check back and stir the mixture every 10 minutes.

6.  Remove the Bay leaves, and give the soup its final “zing” by adding a generous Tablespoon of Sherry Vinegar.

7. When ready to serve, heat the soup to a simmer and divide among two or four bowls.  Spread a pile of croutons out over each bowl, and top with your finely grated cheese mixture.  Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly, and serve your “easy to eat, non-string-inducing” delicious French Onion Soup with a chilled glass of Gewürztraminer.  Enjoy!

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas

The ABC’s of Wine and Cheese

The most beloved culinary duo in the world is undoubtedly wine with cheese. It’s easy to understand why:  in most cases, wine and cheese bring out the best in each other!

As you probably know, cheese is mostly fat and protein (sorry, dieters!!).  The fat content in cheese will smooth out the acid taste in any wine, making it seem smoother and rounder.  The proteins as well as the fat in cheese smoothes out the tannins in wine, making wines taste velvety and soft.  As for the wine, wine is mostly alcohol and water, with a multitude of tastes and flavors, including acids and tannin.  Acid and tannins cleanse your palate, bringing out the full flavor of the cheese.  It’s a match made in heaven!

The Bubbly Professor’s Rules for Wine and Cheese

While wine and cheese are made for each other, there is such diversity in both worlds that some rules must apply. Follow these rules to ensure a perfect match!

1. Pair soft cheeses with high acid wines.  Soft cheeses like Brie, Camembert, and Ricotta, remain soft by retaining most of their moisture, or whey. The curds are usually gathered, placed in molds, and left to age in humid atmospheres from a few days to a few weeks, and are most flavorful when eaten at room temperature.  Softer cheeses coat the mouth and may block many of wine’s more subtle flavors.  A high-acid wine will cut through the texture of soft cheeses, and makes a great combination.

  • The Perfect Match for Soft Cheeses:  High-acid White Wines such as Chardonnay, White Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, or Pinot Gris, Sparkling Wines, or High-Acid fruity reds such as Barbera, Pinot Noir, or Beaujolais.

2.  Pair goat cheeses and brine cheeses with the highest acid white wine you can find!  Goat Cheeses, such as Chevre, Montrachet, and Vacherin, often have a delicious, sharp, tangy flavor.  Likewise, Brine cheeses, such as Feta, can have a sharp acidic flavor, as well as a salty taste.  Both of these factors (salt and acid) call for a high-acid wine.  The tang of the cheese will make a wine that is very high acid taste much smoother.  This can bring a sharp wine into perfect balance, but by the same token can make a moderate or low-acid wine taste flat and flabby.  Salt and acid is a great match, while salt and tannin can clash big time. This rule is a deal breaker…don’t break it!

  •  The Perfect Match for Goat Cheeses:Sauvignon Blanc, White Bordeaux, Riesling or other high-acid white wines.    

  3.  Pair semi-firm cheeses with full-bodied whites or light-bodied reds.  The category of Semi-firm cheeses includes Havarti, Monterey Jack, Muenster, and GoudaThese cheeses are aged for a short time in a damp environment, drying them slightly and leaving them with a mild, sometimes nutty, flavor.  The mild flavors of these cheeses means there is little chance of a flavor clash, so semi-firm cheeses go well with many wines.  A full-bodied, full-flavored white is a great match, cleansing the palate with its acidity and adding its own flavors to the mix.  If you would like to pair these cheeses with a red wine, make it a fruity, light-bodied red so the wine does not overpower the flavor of the cheese.  

  • The Perfect Match for Semi-Firm Cheeses:  Full bodied whites such as Chardonnay, some versions of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, or Pinot Gris.  The best red matches include Barbera, Dolcetto, Merlot, Beaujolais, or Pinot Noir.

4.  Pair firm cheeses with fruity, full-bodied white wines.  Firm cheeses include Swiss, Emmentaler, Gruyere, Manchego, and Jarlsberg. These cheeses are aged anywhere from2 to 18 months. Aging both reduces moisture content and increases the rich, nutty flavors so beloved in these cheeses. Usually, the most flavorful and sharp cheeses are aged the longest.  These cheeses, because of their sharp, strong flavor, pair well with white wines with fruity, even sweet flavors, and fuller-bodied wines.  These cheeses will make red wines taste very smooth and velvety, but the flavor of a red wine will overpower the nutty or smoky flavors of the cheese.

  • The Perfect Match for Firm Cheeses:  Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, Fume Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Albarino, White Rioja, White Bordeaux, Alsatian Whites…any full bodied white is worth a try!

 5.  Pair Cheddar Cheeses with rich red wines. A cheese originally from Great Britain, Cheddar is now made all over the world. In the U.S., three general types of Cheddar are produced — Mild Cheddar, usually aged one to three months; Medium Cheddar, generally aged for three to six months; and Aged Cheddar, typically aged six months or more. Cheddar is one of the most popular table cheeses in the world, and is used for a wide range of purposes.  Cheddar’s distinctive flavor pairs wonderfully with rich red wines.  If your rich red wine has fruit flavors, spicy flavors, and soft tannins, so much the better!

  • The Perfect Match for Cheddar Cheeses: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, RedBordeaux,Rhone Reds, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, or Shiraz.

 6.  Pair Colby Cheese with fruity red wines.  Named after Colby Wisconsin, the town of its origin, Colby is now primarily made inNew   Zealand. This moist cheese lacks the sharpness of cheddar and needs a milder companion.

  • The Perfect Match for Colby Cheeses:  Fruity Reds such as Barbera, Dolcetto,Beaujolais or Pinot Noir.

  7. Pair Provolone or Mozzarella with full-flavored reds.  Provolone and Mozzarella are supple and pliable with a great “toothsome” texture.  The flavor of both is mild, nutty, and delicate, yet they can stand up to full-flavored red wines.  These cheeses for a great basis for a cheese and red wine match, especially if one wants the wine to shine.  The cheese’s firm texture allows it to stand up to the tannin and acidity of a red wine, while its delicate flavors will allow the flavors of the wine to stand out.

  • The Perfect Match for Mozzarella and Provolone: Chianti, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, Red Rioja, Red Bordeaux, Rhone Reds, or Cabernet Franc.

8. For a surprisingly good match, pair extra firm cheeses like Parmesan and Romano with crisp white wines.   Extra Firm Cheeses like Parmesan and Romano have the least residual moisture of any fresh cheese. A couple days after they are placed into molds, they are salted in brine, and left to mature for 2 to 7 years. Not coincidentally, extra firm cheeses have a sharp, salty flavor. For a surprising treat, pair salty, crumbly Parmesan or Romano with a high acid white wine.  Make it a sparkling Prosecco and feel the fireworks go off in your mouth!  This style of pairing perks up the flavor of the cheese and accentuates the salty “grano” in extra firm cheeses.  

  • The Perfect White Wine Match for Parmesan and Romano: Prosecco!  You will love it!  Also try any fruity, acidic white wine.  Italy makes lots of them, such as Fiano, Gavi, Trebbiano, Orvieto, Vernaccia, Vermentino, and Soave…they would all be great!

 9. Try the traditional match and pair extra firm cheeses like Parmesan and Romano with robust red wines. As long as you watch the tannin level, a full-flavored red wine is a great match for the full flavor and heavy texture of Parmesan and Romano Cheeses.  The firm fats and protein in the cheese will smooth out any rough edges, and you will have a classic, heart-warming taste combination. 

  • The Perfect Red Wine Match for Parmesan and Romano: Chianti, Sangiovese, Valpolicella, Barbaresco, and any other medium to full bodied, full-flavored red wine from Italy.  For a cross-cultural match, try Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet, or Shiraz.

 10. For a study in contrasts, pair Roquefort, Stilton, or other Blue Cheeses with sweet, full-flavored wines.  Pairing sweet, flavorful wines with salty, savory blue cheese is the food and wine worlds “picture perfect” example of pairing wine and food based on a contrast of tastes and flavors.  As an added bonus, these pairings emphasize the flavor of its opposite, and can sometimes result in what I call “synergy”, or the sum of the whole being more than its component parts. (Translation:  new, added flavor layers.)

  • The Perfect Sweet Wine Match for Blue Cheeses: Sweet, full-flavored wines such as Sauternes, Ruby Port, Sweet Muscats, Vintage Port, or Late Harvest Zinfandel.

 11. On a night when full-bodied, full-flavored wrestling is on the menu, pair Roquefort, Stilton, or other Blue Cheeses with fruity, spicy, red Wines.  This seems to make a little more sense…and blue cheeses have a wonderful flavor affinity for fruity red wines.  The fruit flavor of the wine is a counterpoint to the pungency of the cheese, and earthy flavors abound!  For an added layer of pairing pleasure, throw some walnuts into the mix.

  • The Perfect Red Wine Match for Blue Cheeses:  Zinfandel, Shiraz, Malbec, Merlot, Carmenere, or Pinot Noir

 

12.  Match flavors.  Now things can start to get really interesting.  Be sure and abide by the rules above, but within the guidelines, pick a flavor in your cheese such as nutty, earthy, herbal, creamy, or smoky, and match it with a flavor in your wine.  This is known as a “flavor bridge” and it can be amazing!  In order for this to really work, you have to do some serious tasting…going by generalities just won’t cut it.  So, taste that cheese, and open a few bottles of wine.  Find a pair that matches in flavor, and prepare to be amazed! 

  • The Perfect Flavor Match:  You can have fun and find your own flavor matches, but here are some examples that might work: 
    • Herb-flavored Cheeses with Sauvignon Blanc
    • Smoked cheeses with Gewurztraminer
    • Nutty Cheeses with Chardonnay or Tawny Port
    • Stilton and Sauternes (earthy flavor match…yum…)

13.  A Word of Caution:  Beware of Bitter.  Some of my favorite cheeses, such as Stilton, Roquefort, and Gorgonzola, have a slight “undertaste” of bitterness to them.  This slight bitter taste makes a wonderful platform for an otherwise complex flavor profile…think of the bitter hit in espresso or the taste or field greens.  Bitterness, however, is a unique topic in food and wine pairing.  While most tastes (such as sweetness or acidity) in food and wine cancel each other out to a certain extent, bitter tastes in food and wine can emphasize each other, sometimes to detrimental effect.  If your cheese has a bit of bitter, make sure the wine you serve has little or no bitterness.  Wine generally gets bitter tastes from high levels of alcohol, oak, or tannin.  This factor will vary widely even among wines of the same grape and same region, so, unless the wine is known for this quality (such as Amarone), you will have to open a bottle to judge a wine’s bitterness.

  • The Perfect Match for Cheese with Bitter Tastes:  Keep it low alcohol, low oak, and low tannin.  Go for sweet or very fruity wines.

14.  Another Word of Caution:  Salt and Tannin can clash. One of the things that makes cheese so delightful is its saltiness, which lend a palate punch to anything it touches.  However, in some cases, salt in food can clash with tannin in wine, making a weird, metallic taste.  The fat content in cheese keeps this problem to a minimum, but it does happen sometimes.  If you are ever combining a rich, salty cheese with a red wine and something tastes kind of bitter, metallic, or just plain scary, it just might be the war of the salts and the tannins.  Switch to a lower-tannin wine, and all will be saved.

  • The Perfect Match for Salty Cheeses:  Keep it low tannin!  Any red wine has the potential to clash with salty cheeses, so make sure the tannins in your red wines are delicate, smooth, or mature.  Open up that bottle and have a taste…it’s the only way to really tell.

Blackberry Merlot Milk Chocolate Truffles

If you know me, or are a long-time reader of this blog, you know that I am definitely NOT a fan of the dry red wine-chocolate food pairing combo.  However, that doesn’t mean that I am against putting the wine in the chocolate and cooking them up together! It’s a whole different world of flavor when cooking with wine, as opposed to the dynamics of pairing. (Sounds like a good idea for another blog post!)

This is a recipe that I use in all of my wine and chocolate pairing classes.  While I still hold true to my (against) stance for dry wine and sweet chocolate pairings, this recipe puts the wine in the chocolate  where the flavors can work wonders together.   

Truth be told, this is one of my all-time favorite recipes.  Take a bottle of Merlot, pour yourself a glass, and use the rest to make these irresistable truffles. 

Blackberry Merlot Milk Chocolate Truffles  

First Step:  Prepare to get your hands (and your kitchen floor) covered with chocolate!

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. Heavy Cream
  • 1 Pound Milk Chocolate (Any good brand chocolate disks or batons)
  • 1 Bottle of Merlot (the bigger and richer the better…I use Blackstone Winery)
  • 1 cup Blackberry Preserves, pressed through a sieve to remove seeds
  • ½ Pound of Chocolate, any type (for dipping)
  •  Ganache, frosting, or fondant for decorating (optional)

Procedure:

  1. Pour yourself one (4-ounce) glass  of merlot; enjoy.
  2. Pour the remainder of the merlot  in a saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the wine is reduced to about a half a cup.  Set aside to cool.
  3. While the wine is simmering, chop  the milk chocolate into small pieces.  Set aside in a large bowl.
  4. Heat the cream to a simmer.  Whisk in the preserves and carefully  heat back to a simmer.  Remove from  the heat and stir in the syrup you made from the red wine.
  5. Pour the still-hot cream mixture over the chopped milk chocolate pieces. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and blended in.  Cool the mixture until it is just  slightly warm to the touch. (Place bowl over a double boiler if you need more fire power to melt the chocolate, although milk chocolate usually melts fairly easily.)
  6. Put the mixture in the freezer for  at least one hour to firm.
  7. Use a spoon or small scoop to  divide the mixture into walnut-sized pieces.  I find it easiest use a small scoop, and to dip the scoop into hot water every few scoops. When they are finished; drop the pieces onto a baking sheet.
  8. Freeze for about an hour, or overnight. 
  9. To form the truffles, roll the scoops one by one between the palms of your hands to round them out.  Place them back onto the baking  sheet.  At this point the soon-to-be  truffles can be frozen until you have the energy dip them.
  10. Melt your dipping chocolate over a double boiler. 
  11. Drop the cold truffles, one at a  time, into your bowl of dipping chocolate.  Remove them with a fork, and allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl.  Note:  the better the quality of chocolate you use, the easier it will be to “dip” with.
  12. Place the dipped truffles on a parchment-lined tray. If you are feeling creative, decorate the tops with a little drizzle of chocolate or nice purple fondant.  Let stand until the chocolate and  decorations are completely set.
  13. Enjoy immediately, or hold the  truffles in the fridge for up to a week. You can keep the truffles in the freezer for as long as you like, and that way you can have a red wine chocolate fix any time you need one!

If you just must have a wine and chocolate pairing, I would recommend a slightly sweet to very sweet red wine.  Some good examples are late-harvest Zinfandel, Ruby Port, Brachetto d’Acqui, sweet wines made from Black Muscat, and sweeter versions of Sparkling Shiraz. 

My all-time favorite late harvest zin is “Zinnie de Potelle” out of Napa.  Graham’s Six Grapes Ruby Porto would also be a great pairing. 

The Bubbly Professor is…”Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas.  missjane@prodigy.net