Pig Obsession, Winter Vegetables & The Darkening of Days: What to Drink Now
You must have, this morning, sensed it too: somewhere in the morning ritual, between the rousing of the children, the making of the peanut butter sandwiches and frantic search for size 11 sneakers; somewhere inside this chaotic minutiae, a certain fragile, icy scent crept in, and a shivery, dark submission took hold. Winter is here. It made me want to turn on the oven, this realization.
The time for roasting & braising has returned. There is something innately comforting and satisfying about slow cooking, to coax the inherent sweetness out of a well-marbled protein or hearty root vegetable, to heighten their flavors with aromatic herbs, and to fill your home with this complex tangle of scents.
Chefs know this too. Look on any seasonally driven menu in Chicago right now, you are bound to find something porcine (belly, ribs, cheeks) braised until completely tender, and served with some sort of root-y puree. The wine pairing assumption for this rich and calorie-dense cuisine is usually some sort of rich, bombastic red. But there is another route, a slightly different path you could take, one that is completely unexpected and wonderful.
When considering wine pairings, there are many variables, but I often start with geography. Where on earth do people traditionally eat like this? And what wines do they drink there? Two places that spring immediately to mind are Alsace (NE France at the German border) & Alto Adige (NE Italy at the Slovenian border). The wines they produce? Aromatic, clean white wines with good acidic structure, the kind that will cut through richness and bring levity as well as a sense of balance to earthy, winter dinners.
Alsatian cuisine is all about bacon, fat & braising, with some cold weather vegetables (think cabbage, turnips, potatoes & onions) thrown in for health. The four ‘noble’ white wines of Alsace are: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewurztraminer & Muscat. Muscat and Gewurztraminer can be extremely floral and aromatic. Pinot Blanc is often bottled there as well. If you searching for dryer styles, avoid bottles marked “Vendage Tardive” or “Selection de Grains Noble”. I recommend the producer Zind Humbrecht. Wines labeled with the grape type (i.e. Pinot Blanc) are typically dryer from this renowned producer.
This beautiful alpine region, located in the sleepy valleys of the Dolomite Mountains is home to some of the purest, delicious white wines on the planet, made without a wisp of oak. Here, dry wines are king. Look for well known varieties like Pinot Grigio & Sauvignon Blanc or more adventurous grapes such as Muller-Thurgau, Sylvaner, Kerner & Nosiola . Recommended producers: Alois Lageder, Elena Walch & Tramin.
The white wines from Alto Adige should be drunk young while still very fresh- they are not meant for aging. Wines from Alsace, however, can age beautifully and gain complexity when matured.
All these producers are available @ Binny’s.
For all you Pinot Noir drinkers, I have one word: Grenache.”
Food & Wine Magazine Top Sommelier 2011