The Feast of Dionysus: A Song of Pinots, Pepper and Cast-Iron Pans
When I was growing up, kids were mean. They called me all kinds of names, but it all rolled off my back like water on a duck. Mmmm, I love duck!
Recently, I have had more than one person call me a new name: Foodie. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was a compliment or just another way of saying, “Steven, you really eat too much.” I have come to learn that being a foodie is an obsession. For instance, when a recipe calls for garlic — and almost everything calls for garlic — I begin to think, shall I slice it thin, Asian-style, or crush it with the side of my knife and chop it up, Italian-style, or simply squeeze it through a press? I think it makes a difference, and if you do, too, then you might be a foodie, as well. Once I began to explore how important wine and food parings are, my obsession expanded to finding the perfect wines to go with everything I cook.
My wine journey did not begin with food. Wine was a social beverage that was chosen instead of beer or cocktails. It was poured from a big glass jug or a bartender’s gun — press C for chardonnay. These days, I first think about what we’re eating before choosing a bottle of wine.
Chuck Palazzolo, the owner of Lucia’s Bodega in Windham, N.H., says I’ve got it backward. “First you choose the wine,” he says. “Then decide what you are going to cook that will complement the wine.”
Palazzolo is a trained chef and a graduate of the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University. After graduation, he worked as a chef for the Marriott organization, then spent 10 years at a gourmet food and wine shop before opening his own specialty retail enterprise. He has credentials that force me to pay attention, so I asked for his favorite food parings.
With his typical passion, Palazzolo brought me to his Italian wine section and selected a bottle produced from the “Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin” (DOCG) wine region of Montalcino, which is famous for its Brunello. A sirloin strip steak is perfect for this sangiovese. Next, he introduced me to a bottle of chardonnay from the Chassagne-Montrachet vineyards in Burgundy, France. Lobster would make a great accompaniment to the buttery and honey notes offered by this premier cru wine.
Both of these pairings are quite classic, but what really interested me was his favorite pairing of pinot noir with veal chops. One of the notable qualities of pinot noir is its variable flavor profile, highly influenced by vintage and terroir. I enjoy pinot noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley because it generally presents with a crisp acidity that will cut through a rich sauce without the strong tannins that get in the way of some flavors. On the subject, Palazzolo said, “You gotta go with Ken Wright.” I took his advice. With a $60 bottle of pinot in my car, I headed directly to the butcher shop for veal chops.
I seasoned the chops with salt, pepper and rosemary, then drizzled extra virgin olive oil over the top before searing them in a very hot cast-iron pan. After the proper amount of browning, they were finished in the oven while I made my pan sauce. Sauteed onions and pressed garlic went into the pan before I deglazed with a glass of the same wine we paired with dinner. Chicken broth, a couple shakes of flour and a dab of butter finished the sauce. After this exhausting exercise, I can report that veal chops and pinot noir are, in fact, a great pairing.
Wine is no longer my beverage of choice to consume when gathering with friends on the weekend, and I seldom choose wine unless we are having a meal. I have developed an Old World palate steeped in the tradition that wine is food and should be accompanied by food. Shopping at a boutique bodega where a trained chef advises you on which wines will be best for your dinner party might open up new culinary avenues, and is an opportunity not to be missed.
When I attend wine tastings at Lucia’s Bodega, Palazzolo often describes his favorites as “delicious,” a term generally reserved for food. “If it goes in my mouth, then it is food,” Palazzolo resounds, and I agree.
The next time you are planning to have a special meal, try shopping for the wine first, then decide what food will be appropriate. Salute!
Ken Wright Cellars
Willamette Valley, Oregon (AVA)
2016 Canary Hill Vineyard l Pinot Noir $59.99
Domaine Berthelemot Brigitte
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru (AOC)
2014 ‘Abbaye de Morgeot’ Vineyard l Chardonnay $94.99
Pian delle Vigne Estate (DOCG)
2012 Brunello di Montalcino l Sangiovese $72.99