Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Study in Contrasts - Wine Pairing

Wine Pairing Flavors: 
Stir-fried mushrooms, scallions, bamboo shoots, tofu and peppery baby bok choy floating in a richly thick, hot & sour vegetable broth, flavored with chili oil, white pepper, black vinegar and soy sauce.

Want the recipe?
Here’s a link back to the Vegetarian Hot & Sour Soup

Want the beer pair?
Check in next Thursday for my beer pairing post.


I'd like to reveal a wine to you that does a striptease all its own.  Interested?

Well, now that I've got your attention, it all began with the bottle, or rather, the label on that bottle.  It all began innocently enough.  Clean and white, with its name announced in large, fresh, lime green letters.  But then, drawing closer, I began to notice those tiny, stylized black and green male, dancing figures.  They were primitive, and yet, at the same time modern and definitely dancing flamboyantly with their showy appendages.

With a grin I scanned down the label, and that's when I noticed another little guy perched at the label’s lower left-hand corner, a corner that he appeared to be eagerly pulling up.  It was showtime and he was dancing right next to a whimsical instruction, that read in small, green letters – “peel here." 

Lime green and playful, it seemed just like an invitation Alice might have encountered in her trip down the rabbit hole to Wonderland.  But this invite would be to a Wonderland decidely Austrian in style, and made from a grape some may find hard to pronounce.

Grüner Veltliner.  Now, how bad could that be?

It’s green (Grüner), it’s lively and it’s all about fun.  And now that we've got the “Grüner” part all taken care of, that only leaves “Veltliner” to explain away.  I've been told that the grape was traced back to the mountainous northern Italian wine district of Valtellina, a district that just happens to be called “Veltlin” in German.  So, this is how our green grape became a “Veltliner,” which is someone or something that comes from “Veltlin” (pronouned “Velt-LEEN”).

I guess, after that, I could call it the "Green from Veltlin," but, Austria’s marketers seem to have done me one better, with a nickname even more memorable, dubbing it “Gru-ve” for short.

It's the most commonly planted grape variety found throughout Austria and this particular bottling is irreverent, lively, fresh, crisp and fun.  ‘Don't take yourself too seriously,’ our little, dancing man shouts from the label, and it's a sentiment that you’ll find mirrored in the winemaker himself.

Like his father and grandfather before him, Fred Loimer, the "bad boy" winemaker’s son, knew from early on that he, too, would be a winemaker, but finding himself torn between the old and the new, he decided that the best course would be to embrace both.  In 1987, when the winery was handed over from father to son, he finally had the chance to make his long planned change.

But his choice was to move forward by going back.  Back to farming without chemical herbicides and pesticides (what he calls "sustainability without sacrifice" of quality), and back to an older style of winemaking with less alcohol, fresh fruit and a crisp minerality.  He purchased and renovated a massive 19th century cellar in which to make and store his wines, and then, with a nod to the future, build an ultramodern, minimalist building atop it to serve as his winery’s tasting room and office.

And then, he began to move forward by looking forward.  He restricted yields in the vineyard to concentrate his fruit’s flavors, and began vineyard planting of a then very exotic variety by Austrian standards, a variety that was known as Chardonnay.

But, let's get back to our primitive dancing man on the label, for he also is another bridge between the old and the new.  Loimer’s estate lies in Langenlois, the largest village located in the heart of the Kamptal, which happens to be one of Austria's most traditional winegrowing regions.

And as you can imagine, with a 2000-year-old history of winemaking dating back past the Romans to the Celts, it's hard to be playful with such a weight of tradition, but Loimer was determined to create something fresh, old and new.  And so he tells those who ask, that he chose as his logo the Polynesian fertility symbol of a little, dancing man, not only because it embodies both ancient tradition and whimsical pleasure, but also because, like the noble Austrian families of old, he decided that he too needed a family crest to put on his bottles.

And so, there you have it, with a wink and a smile – uncomplicated and playful, fresh, old and new.  And, if you peel off the label as instructed – revealing, too.

This pale, yellow wine called “Lois” (which rhymes with "choice") is not, as you may be disappointed to learn, named after Superman's Austrian girlfriend, but instead, is the local name given Fred Loimer’s village of Langenlois.  With aromas of apples, white pepper and citrus, this medium bodied, well-balanced wine is not only crisp and minerally, but rich and full of flavors of bright citrus fruit that conclude in a moderately long finish with a refreshing line of acidity.

With a price under $20, it's a great value wine for everyday drinking, and I'm glad that owner, Scott Teruya, of Silverlake Liquor Shop was on hand to point it out.  It's a true food friendly quaff that really hit the mark.

When paired together, the Vegetarian Hot & Sour Soup’s lushly, thick texture is wonderfully contrasted by the Grüner's bright and peppery citrus.  And as you keep sipping, you'll discover contrasts ever more delightful – earthy stir-fried mushrooms and creamy, stir-fried tofu versus the wine’s citric freshness. 

Plus, as a bonus, the soup’s sour will be delicately held in check by the Grüner’s refreshing, mineral acidity, with every sip a gentle dance between freshness and sour.  And if you’ll finish your soup with a good squeeze of lime, you’ll create a citric bond of flavor embracing the two.

I find this pairing proof that great food and wine marriages can create exciting, new flavors. And I guess if I had to call my new flavor something, I suppose, "Grüner Hot & Sour" might do.  But, let this be a lesson to you.  Don't be shy to take a sip into the great unknown, for it's all a study in contrasts, and you might just experience something greater than wine or soup alone could ever do.

Now, here’s a peek at the pairing that’s coming up next – 

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