Thursday, June 5, 2014

When Surf Meets Turf - Wine Pairing

Wine Pairing Flavors:
Swordfish fillets, stovetop seared, then baked with lemon and a hint of butter, before being finished with a broth enriched sauce with lemon and tequila.

Want the recipe?
Here’s a link back to the Lemon Tequila Swordfish

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


You can call some people any number of names. 

And no, I'm not talking about names best left unprintable, or the "hey, you’s” or "whatchamacallits" out there.  I’m talking real names only.  You know, the kind of names you'd probably wear on a badge or name tag on your shirt.  What I call, the "hello I'm......" kind of names.

Which brings me to the name of my friend, Robert.  He was a regular, easy going kind of guy and if you wanted, you could call him Rob or you could call him Robbie, Bobby, Bob or even “Big R.,” but it really didn't matter, since he'd only answer to Bert.

Well, my swordfish wine pair, it’s a lot like that.  Pinot Gris.  Or maybe I should call it by one of its more familiar names – Pinot Grigio.  Surprised?  I know a lot of people who would be.  It's a grape variety that's got a lot of the same problems, and no, if you’re asking, it doesn't want to be called Bert.

So, how many names can one grape have? 
Well, let's try Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio on for size, along with Ruländer, Grauburgunder, Sivi Pinot, Malvoisie, Auxerrois Gris or Tokay d’Alsace, just for starters.  I won't list the rest, since you won't be tested on it, but I will tell you that its many names are all different personalities and in no way taste exactly the same.

Don't worry, I promise we won't need a psychiatrist to straighten this out.  But since we began with Pinot Gris, it’s as good a place as any to start.

First of all, it's a white wine grape originally from the vineyards of Burgundy, where it’s been  known since the Middle Ages.  The “Gris” in the name is French for "gray," which describes the way the grapes look once they ripen (actually more of a pinkish-gray, to be more accurate).  And as for the "Pinot" in “Pinot Gris,” it’s part of the "looks like" naming game, since "Pinot" means pine cone in French and the grapes grow in pine cone shaped clusters that are small and compact.

And if you're wondering if it's related to Pinot Noir, why the answer is a resounding yes.  It's a pink-skinned mutation, which sounds so much nicer than pink-skinned mutant.  Don't you think?

It's also low in acidity and high in sugar, which means it’s a grape best grown in cooler climates.  For when grown in warm ones, all that sugar ferments into alcohol, meaning tipsy wines lacking the needed self-control of counterbalancing acidity.

But getting back to Pinot Gris and all its other noms de plume, what stands out is how dissimilar the wines are from different regions, since they're made in such different styles.

In Italy, the grape is called Pinot Grigio and it's harvested early to keep it crisp and refreshing.  But this early harvesting also minimizes its fruitiness, resulting in wines more neutral in flavor.  Lean and acidic, light in color and sometimes spritzy, it's a style that screams Italian to sippers the world over.

While in the French region of Alsace it's called Pinot Gris, and here it’s a wine that couldn't be more different.  Not lean, light and acidic, but medium to full-bodied, these richly aromatic wines are made to challenge reds at the dinner table.  Powerful and highly textured, many with aromas of honey, wildflowers and smoke, it's a style called Alsatian, and it can be found, with a twist, also in Germany.

German Pinot Gris balance full body with acidity and sweetness.  Called Ruländer and Grauburgunder, in the southern vineyards of Baden, the Ruländer makes wines that are lush and honey sweet.

But now here's the point where it really becomes interesting, for New World producers (meaning places like the US and New Zealand) are labeling their wines according to their style.  If lighter and drier, they'll call them Pinot Grigio, while richer and sweeter ones are labeled Pinot Gris.

So, I'll just let you guess the style of the Tranche Pinot Gris from Washington state.  It’s rich and aromatic, yet with a strong backbone of acidity.  Pale yellow in color and with a small prickle of effervescence, it fills the glass with crisp pear, melon and spice aromas that are echoed in the taste.  Mouth filling, but yet with a juicy minerality, especially in the finish, it's a beautiful food wine that, for the most part, skillfully hides its 14.3% alcohol because it's so well balanced.

The cool vineyards of the Pacific Northwest are ideal for producing this style of Pinot Gris and the high elevation source of the Tranchet’s fruit, (atop the 1675 foot Royal Slope in the Columbia Valley), only bears this out.

And the wine with the food?  It's a very pleasant partner, and for that I can thank Jason Oh of Mission Wine and Spirits for this terrific and modestly priced (about $17) bottle.

While the wine’s minerality complements the herbal notes in the tequila flavored sauce, it's mouth filling quality goes head-to-head with the swordfish’s rich, yet dense meatiness. 

With its high oil content, the swordfish truly is a steak of the sea, and it needs a wine that can channel some qualities of a red.  And in this, the Tranche delivers, matching swordfish meatiness with a rounded and juicy, mouth-filling spice.

And a squeeze of lemon over the fish, only further draws out the wine’s brightness and also pleasantly counterbalances its long mineral finish.  I do hope you'll take a bite.

But in the meantime, here's a peek at the beer pair coming up next –

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