How to Pair Malbec with Food

Ten years ago things really started to heat up in my kitchen! I was a student at the Northwest Wine Academy not only studying the craft of winemaking, but learning the art of pairing the finished product with food. In one of the classes Chef Lenny Rede challenged us with an assignment he titled, “Iron Chef:  Malbec.” The goal was to create a dish to complement a Malbec of his choosing. Here are the principles we applied to pair Malbec with food.

Flavors in Malbec

Pair Malbec with food using similar or contrasting flavors.
Blackberry ♦ Blueberry ♦ Cocoa ♦ Citrus ♦ Black Pepper ♦ Smokiness

Ingredients

Select a base ingredient that is likely to match with the variety.
Beef ♦ Lamb ♦ Veal ♦ Pork ♦ Tuna ♦ Chicken ♦ Duck ♦ Sausage

And/or use these bridge ingredients:
Tip:  select one or just a few. A dish that’s too busy competes with the wine rather than complements it.
Blackberries ♦ Blueberries ♦ Mushrooms ♦ Sun Dried Tomato ♦ Balsamic Vinegar ♦ Beets ♦ Bacon ♦ Aged Cheeses ♦ Mustard

Cooking Techniques

Grilling ♦ Roasting ♦ Smoking ♦ Barbecuing

Of course, let’s not forget one of the great food and wine pairing principles that says, “If it grows together it goes together.” In other words, pair Malbec with a dish you would find in an area where the wine is widely produced, such as Argentina. You know, like grilled steak and chimichurri! Or empanadas.

Meat

Suggested Food Pairings for Malbec

Back in class, some roasted sweet potatoes that Chef had served us inspired me to consider preparing sweet potato gnocchi and topping it with a Chimichurri sauce rather than pesto. Then, my class partner tasted my gnocchi and very nicely suggested that we try something else. “It might take us a while to perfect the technique for making those light fluffy pillows,” she hinted. Let’s just say I’m still working on that!

Winning dishes presented in our Iron Chef:  Malbec showdown included vegan chili, goulash, and a lovely cheese plate.

A good friend prepares a roast chicken by massaging baking spices under the skin. It’s a truly lovely match for Malbec.

Mole sauce is also fun to pair with Malbec. I like to go rogue and use it as a pasta sauce, pizza sauce, or a topping for turkey meatloaf. In Seattle, the French Grocery at Pike Place Market usually carries a mole paste that enables the home cook to whip up a batch of mole without spending days in the kitchen.

Also, if you’re a fan of the grape, be sure to mark your calendar – Malbec World Day is on April 17th each year. Join the celebration!

Pairing Tempranillo with Vegetarian Food

What do you do when you want to uncork a red wine with dinner, but red meat isn’t on the menu? The trick is to find a dish with the right bridge ingredients – those that connect the wine with the food. To do this, I recently turned to a recipe from the cookbook, Plenty, by Ottolenghi.

The response to my Instagram post of the pairing surprised me. People near and far chimed in about their appreciation for the cookbook, revealing how extensive a chef’s reach can be. Additionally, wine lovers revealed a thirst for Tempranillo. It served as a wonderful reminder that wine and food bring us closer together.

Instagram Post Food and Wine

A Dish for Tempranillo

I began with the wine, because a friend was joining us for dinner. We had all visited The Walls tasting room together when we traveled to the Celebrate Walla Walla event. The wines we tasted, crafted by talented winemaker Ali Mayfield, were stunning. It was time to uncork one of the wines purchased that day to relive that OMG memory.

Tempranillo has a depth and intensity that pairs well with meat. However, I did not plan to serve meat on this occasion. The vegetarian dish I usually turn to for Tempranillo is Tabbouleh Salad. This time, I wanted something a little more robust. Paging through Plenty, Ottolenghi’s recipe for Farro and Roasted Red Pepper Salad caught my eye. It combines the earthiness of farro, the savoriness of black olives, and the smokiness of paprika to pair like a dream with Tempranillo.

If you like Tempranillo, I urge you to give this pairing a try!

Resources

Learn more about Tempranillo and food pairing.

If you are in Seattle and want to explore wines from The Walls, Walla Walla Wines visit Seattle once a year.

A Tale of Two Carménères

Is there a big difference between Carménère grown in Chile versus Carménère grown in Washington State? I put them to a taste test and was surprised by what I discovered.

Although Washington State is home to roughly 70 varieties, there are not a lot of Carménère vines planted. So when I received a sample bottle of a new release of the variety from Davenport Cellars I couldn’t wait to experience it! I also wanted a point of reference. So I picked up a bottle of Carménère from Chile to see how the two compare.

Washington State vs. Chile

With the first whiff of the ruby red Davenport Cellars wine, one word came to mind. Granted, it’s not something I say in everyday conversation. It is, however, a word emphasized by a sommelier when I participated in an advanced wine sensory class last winter. That word is rotundone. Simply put, it’s a peppery characteristic. In this case, it was present as a pronounced aroma of white pepper. Each delectable sip of this wine confirmed the presence of that spicy compound.

Here’s where things get interesting. When tasting the Chilean Carménère, the first thing I noticed were strong notes of bell pepper. This trait is known as pyrazine, a fancy word for an aroma compound identified by its noticeable vegetal attributes. In fact, Carménère is known for its high level of pyrazines. Sipping this wine was like tasting a bite of veggie pizza with green bell pepper, black olives, tomato sauce, and sprinkled with oregano.

What caught me by surprise was that one wine roused my senses with its vibrant spicy character while the other taunted with an intense green and herbaceous nature. If all Washington State Carménère is this distinctive and lively, I must have more!

It’s not often that I share my tasting notes and opinions of wines. What I taste and experience is just that – my experience. Nevertheless, I hope by sharing this particular tasting it will inspire others to explore Carménère for themselves.

In the interest of full disclosure, I work with Davenport Cellars in Woodinville Wine Country. I have long been a fan of this husband and wife owned winery.

The Wines

Davenport Cellars 2015 Carménère
Available direct from the winery for $30.
This Woodinville based boutique winery produced just 77 cases of this wine crafted with fruit from acclaimed Seven Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley.

Concha y Toro Casillero Del Diablo Carménère 2017
Available online via U.S. retailers for around $8.

If this does encourage you to try Carménère, please share your findings on social either via Twitter or Instagram and #LetsTalkAboutWine!

Want to learn more? A great resource on wine is the latest Wine Folly book.

Pairing Cabernet Franc with Food

Cabernet Franc is one of my red wines of choice when pairing wine with food. Although the red grape is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is not quite as full-bodied. This makes it a better match for the type of meals I prepare at home. Those meals are often composed of roasted vegetables seasoned with herbs, and void of red meat. With an herbaceous character, and often notes of bell pepper (for you wine geeks, that’s called pyrazine), Cabernet Franc is a wonderful pairing partner.

Food Pairing Cabernet Franc
Herb flecked Farrotto pairs well with Cabernet Franc

Tips for Pairing Cabernet Franc with Food

Match the wine with food using similar or contrasting flavors:
♦ Raspberry ♦ Black Currant ♦ Green Bell Pepper

Use one of these base ingredients:
♦ Beef ♦ Lamb ♦ Game ♦ Duck ♦ Pork ♦ Eggplant

And/or use these bridge ingredients:
♦ Basil ♦ Bay Leaf ♦ Garlic ♦ Rosemary ♦ Oregano
♦ Red Sauce ♦ Roasted Veggies ♦ Mushrooms ♦ Hearty Grains

Use these cooking techniques:
♦ Grilling ♦ Roasting ♦ Stewing

Try dishes such as veggie pizza, herbed farrotto, pasta with hearty red sauce, pepper steak, roasted vegetables, mushroom ravioli, roast pork with fruit sauce.

Paring Cabernet Franc with food isn’t the only way to celebrate this magnificent variety. If you’re a fan of the grape, be sure to mark your calendar! Cabernet Franc Day is on December 4th each year. Many thanks to Dracaena Wines for dedicating a day to this grape.

Celebrate Zinfandel Day

The holiday on my mind right now isn’t Thanksgiving. Believe it or not, it’s Zinfandel Day! Organized by the Zinfandel Advocates Producers (ZAP), the holiday is officially the third Wednesday of November. According to their web site, “Zinfandel Day is a worldwide celebration of the Zinfandel grape variety, intended to give Zinfandel lovers around the globe a platform to express their passion for (the) grape and the wines made from it.”

California Red Wine

There is a lot to celebrate about this grape. Sponsored visits to Lodi, California gave me an opportunity to develop a great appreciation for Old Vine Zinfandel. In part, it’s about gnarly old vines, historical vineyards, and multi-generational family businesses. Not to mention, a bottle of Zinfandel is easier on the wallet than Cabernet Sauvignon. Then there’s the ultimate excuse to uncork a bottle of Zin – it’s easy drinking!

Pairing Zinfandel with Food

Why not celebrate Zinfandel Day with a little wine and food pairing?

Turkey Chili and Zinfandel

Zinfandel is a fruit forward wine that is fantastic with comfort food such as chili, pizza, pasta, and that great classic – meat loaf! Or make a batch of my Berry Barbecue Sauce to complement your favorite protein and glass pour.

food and red wine
What’s not to love about Meatloaf and Zinfandel?

Get Social on #ZinDay

Zinfandel Day is a global experience. So, be sure to follow and contribute to the Zinfandel conversation on social media with the hashtag #ZinDay or #ZinfandelDay. Be sure to tag me, too. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Resources

ZAP
St. Amant Winery
Oak Farm Vineyards
Klinker Brick Winery
DeLoach Vineyards