Pairing Robust Reds


Living with a chef whose creative inspiration comes from our heirloom garden, I realize our everyday meals might be a bit different than yours. But what I bet we have in common is the urge to indulge in robust dishes that are warm and stick with you as you move through these cold winter months.

January in our house means stews, soups, braises, roasts and warming spices. On a typical winter evening, it’s not uncommon to find a chicken roasting in the oven with a variety of root vegetables or a pot of white bean stew with seared local sausage swimming with garden greens and herbs.

And on occasion, there might be a pot of “adventure soup,” (Chef Craig’s spur-of-the moment creation), possibly with squash, lentils, ground lamb, and some combination of spices.

And as those dishes waft through the house, I must confess that the years in the restaurant business have left their mark on me. I have a passion for wine that buzzes in my ear each time I sit to eat these wonderful meals.

Marrying wine with big bold flavors of dishes laden with braised meats, roasted vegetables, or an array of spices can be challenging.

My wine-obsessed mind goes something like this:

“…Mmm, this tastes great, wonder what wine would pair with it? There are lots of big flavors here — vegetables, spices, savoriness, and umami… maybe something to complement the richness? Or how about a wine to cut through the viscosity, possibly with some acidity? Ok, so a bold red, with some decent acidity, lots of fruit, and possibly some vegetal notes…  hmm… these grapes might work… Shiraz, Carmenere, Pinotage, Malbec, Tannat or Cab Franc.”

And then if I am lucky enough to have the night responsibility-free, I grab a bottle and give the pairing a try.

Because I wanted to give you a specific bottle recommendation to enjoy with your meal, a little research was needed. I grabbed three hearty dishes, three bottles of red wine, and one amazing wine-loving friend/mentor and got to “work.”

Our dishes: braised beef stroganoff with roasted tomatoes and a mushroom cream sauce; white bean soup with seared sausage, green peppers, garlic, and garden greens; and braised lamb stew with sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, red pepper, cinnamon, clove, turmeric, cumin, paprika and coriander.

For the wines, I chose three varietals: a Carmenère from Chile, a Malbec from Argentina, and a Shiraz from Australia. All three are producers I support and know for being tasty and a great value.

First, it was important to sample the wine without food, to clearly deduce the flavor profile. Then we tasted each bottle with each dish and noted if the wine was then diminished. The results?

Although all three wines were great on their own, there was a clear winner that complemented all of our flavors. The 2013 Viña Falernia Carmenère was the best match for all dishes. Showing off its soft tannins, balanced acidity, slight toasted notes, and concentrated dark fruit flavors made this a perfect match.

Some of you might wonder what the point is, why go through the trouble?

All I can say is… I love the magical moments in life, and some of those, for me, happen when I enjoy a delicious meal. Especially when you accentuate with a beautiful wine that creates an electric harmony of flavor, neither overwhelming the other.

It is almost poetic when it happens. And it is certainly fun researching the possibilities and sharing those moments with others and now with you.

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