I made a visit to my local wine shop in search of an interesting wine to feature for this week’s winesday. When I walked in, the gentleman behind the counter looked up from his newspaper and casually offered me a sample from the two bottles he had just opened (the daily grind at the wine shop looks like a tough job!) I decided to sample The Wolftrap 2008 Syrah Blend. This wine struck me immediately as being very tasty yet rather unusual. Smoky, spicy and downright meaty – the unexpected flavors in this wine made it a perfect choice for winesday!

The Wolftrap 2008 Syrah Blend comes from South Africa. It consists of 68% Syrah, 30% Mourvedre and 2% Viognier. The Syrah provides the spicy, aromatic nose of the wine while the Mourvedre adds structure and weight. Viognier – a white wine – is used to boost the perfume profile of the wine. This wine is described as sweet & savory, a description with which I wholeheartedly agree. How you can have a wine that tastes at once like fruit and salami is beyond me, but this wine does and it works well.

Normally, I haven’t tasted the wines that I feature in advance, and I pick my winesday meals based on either the description on the label or the generic characteristics for a given varietal. This approach can be hit or miss since there is such a wide range of styles within any one varietal. This time, I knew exactly what the wine tasted like and felt some extra pressure to choose the perfect meal. The unusual flavor profile of this wine only added to the challenge. On the one hand, since it is fairly fruity and low in tannins, it would appear to be a food friendly wine. On the other hand, that smoky, beefy flavor really limits the choices. It certainly isn’t one of those red wines that can be paired with fish. This wine is perfectly suited for the one thing I don’t eat much of – meat.

Ultimately, I decided to make red beans and rice. Not the wimpy vegetarian kind that I normally make but the traditional kind using andouille sausage and smoked ham hock. This would provide the meaty flavor that I was looking for without me actually having to eat a lot of meat. It was perhaps not a perfect pairing, but was certainly good. The spicy andouille sausage was well-matched to the spiciness of the wine. The wine also went surprisingly well with the stewed collard greens I served on the side (not so much with the cornbread, though.) The Wolftrap 2008 Syrah blend is not a wine for the faint of heart. It’s savory, meaty flavor could easily be a turnoff for some. If you like trying wines that are a little bit different (and retail for under $10, are readily available and have a screw cap,) this one’s a winner!

For shame, I’ve gone nearly two months without a winesday post! Now that the holidays and snowpocalypse are over and done with, I have no more excuses – it’s time to get back to a normal schedule including regular winesday posts. This week’s wine is a Siegerrebe from Whidbey Island Winery. Siegerrebe (“victory vine” in German) is a white wine grape that was developed in Germany in the 1920’s. It is a cross between Gewürztraminer and Madeleine Angevine. Like its predecessors, this grape thrives in cooler climates. Besides Germany, Siegerrebe is grown in England, British Columbia and in the Puget Sound Appellation of Washington State.

Siegerrebe grapes are notable for their tendency to reach very high must weights (a measure of the amount of sugar in grape juice.) In fact, Siegerrebe holds the record for the highest must weight ever recorded in Germany. Naturally, Siegerrebe wines can be quite sweet, a popular characteristic among German wines. Siegerrebe wines from the Puget Sound region typically contain smaller amounts of residual sugar and thus have only a slight edge toward sweetness. Siegerrebe wines are pale yellow to golden in color and have aromas and flavors reminiscent of Gewürztraminer – think floral and spice. Flavors include honey, apricots, pears, lychee nuts and soft spices such as clove and anise. These wines are great paired with fruits, cheeses or mildly spicy Asian curries.

For dinner, I made Spaghetti Squash with Indian Spices using the last of my farmer’s market squash. Mustard seeds, ginger, cumin and serrano chilies turn this otherwise bland squash into a flavor-packed treat. I served the squash with a creamy shrimp curry, baby basmati rice, and steamed green beans. The mild spices in the squash and curry were a great match for the spicy Siegerrebe. True to the nature of Siegerrebe, this wine was highly aromatic and just a tad sweet. It was a nice wine, and I particularly love that it is local. When Robert and I take our annual trip to Toby’s Tavern this year, we might just need to stop by Whidbey Island Winery for a tasting on our way home – they have a rhubarb wine there that I’m dying to try!

My wine for this week is a red Zinfandel: Kunde Estate 2005 Zinfandel. Zinfandel is a red grape varietal that has been planted in the United States since the mid-19th century. Although its origins were a mystery for many years, DNA research recently revealed it to be a clone of the Croatian grape, Crljenak Kaštelanski (Crljenak Kaštelanski is also the source for the Italian Primitivo grape.) It is unknown where the name Zinfandel came from. Zinfandel is most closely associated with California, where it makes up approximately 10% of that state’s vineyards. It is grown in many other states as well, including some that we don’t normally think of when it comes to wine (Arizona, Texas, and Tennessee for example.)

In addition to red wine, Zinfandel grapes are used to make sparkling wine, late harvest dessert wine, a fortified wine similar to port, and the ever popular White Zinfandel, a semi-sweet, blush wine that is commonly sold as an inexpensive “jug wine” (although sales have declined some over the years, White Zinfandel continues to outsell its red counter part by six to one.) Zinfandel grapes are hardy and thrive in warm climates. They tend to ripen rather unevenly: a single cluster of grapes may contain both green grapes and overly ripe, “raisined” grapes. In order to harvest the fruit at the same level of maturity, they must be hand-picked over several weeks. It is a laborious process and is one reason that some Zinfandels are able to command a high price.

Red Zinfandel comes in a wide range of flavors and styles depending, in part, on the ripeness of the grapes. Wines from cooler climates, where the grapes ripen to a lesser degree, tend to have soft, red berry flavors (similar to Beaujolais Nouveau.) Wines from warmer climates have more intense dark berry and pepper profiles. Zinfandel grapes have even been known to produce robust, tannic, high-alcohol wines reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite this broad range of styles, the fruit-forward quality common to most Zinfandels makes them good food wines. Casual foods such as grilled steaks, burgers and spicy fare all work well with Zinfandel. Because it can be paired with such a variety of foods, Zinfandel is commonly suggested as a Thanksgiving wine.

Kunde Estate is a family-owned and operated winery in the renowned Sonoma Valley of California. The 2005 Zinfandel is actually a blend of 89% Zinfandel, 4% Petite Syrah, 3% Syrah, and 4% mixed varietals. According to Kunde Estate’s website, the grapes were harvested over a one-month period at full maturity. It is specifically noted that there weren’t too many “raisins” included in the harvest. The winemaker describes the wine as follows: “Boysenberry, cardamom, pepper, and a hint of chocolate combine to make a distinct wine that is instantly enjoyable.” Suggested food pairings include barbecued baby back pork ribs and greens with roasted beets and goat cheese.

For dinner, I made macaroni and cheese with a twist: winter squash! It sounds unusual but there are actually quite a few recipes for this dish available on the internet. I came up with my own simple version using pureed sweet dumpling squash, milk, nutmeg and cheddar cheese. The squash adds a nice texture and flavor to the dish and also allows you to get away with using less cheese, thereby reducing the fat content significantly. Guilt-free mac & cheese! The wine was true to the description on Kunde Estate’s website with obvious dark berry flavors and just a touch of pepper. Despite its high alcohol content (14.5%) it tasted almost like fruit juice (don’t let your kids near this wine!) Medium-bodied with soft tannins, this proved to be a good food wine; it went especially well with my fun winter squash mac & cheese.

This week’s wine, André et Michel Quenard 2005 Chignin, comes from the Savoie region of France. Savoie is located on the western flanks of the Alps in eastern France; it borders Switzerland to the north and Italy to the east. Though this area is known primarily for its skiing and awe-inspiring scenery, it is also home to a successful wine industry. The appellation is Vin de Savoie, and the wines are typically named after the village in which the grapes are grown. My wine of the week is from Chignin, a tiny town whose vineyards are planted on the side of a mountain at around 1000 feet elevation. Wines from Savoie can be difficult to find outside of France; most of it is consumed locally, particularly at the nearby ski resorts (what I wouldn’t give to be sitting in a chalet in the French Alps sipping wine right now!)

Savoie’s climate is distinctly alpine; it receives plenty of sunshine, however, so wine grapes thrive there. Some rather unusual grape varieties are grown in Savoie including whites such as Jacquère, Roussanne, and Altesse (also known as Roussette) and a red varietal called Mondeuse. White wine predominates, and most of it is made from Jacquère, a grape that is extremely productive despite the cooler climate. Jacquère is a low sugar grape that produces delicate, crisp, tingling white wines. These wines are often lightly scented, even neutral, in aroma. They are typically high in acidity and display citrus fruit flavors. They are meant to be consumed young. Savoie wines pair well with shellfish and seafood as well as raclette and fondue cheese dishes.

Ahem, did somebody say raclette? Melted cheese for dinner – that sounds like a perfect choice for this winesday! The term raclette refers both to a semi-firm, creamy cow’s milk cheese of Swiss origin as well as a popular wintertime dish featuring the cheese. Raclette is made by slowly heating a round of the cheese, either over an open fire or in a special machine, then scraping it as it melts onto diners’ plates (the term raclette derives from the French racler which means “to scrape”.) Raclette is traditionally served over boiled small potatoes, accompanied by pickled onions, gherkins, and a dry-cured meat such as prosciutto. The dish originated with Swiss cow herders who would make a meal out of potatoes, pickles and cheese which they melted by campfire when they were out in the pasture. Today you can buy machines specifically designed for making raclette. They make it easy, but they aren’t nearly as romantic as an open fire! I predict that raclette will be the next big food trend here in Seattle. They are currently serving it at Bohemian, a brand new restaurant in West Seattle, and Café Presse offered a similar dish on their menu last winter. Move over pork belly and poutine!

I wasn’t about to buy my own raclette machine for this meal so I just put the cheese in an au gratin dish and melted it in the oven. It didn’t stay completely melted the whole time, but it worked well enough. I served the raclette with roasted fingerling potatoes, prosciutto and a quick pickled salad of onions and thinly sliced summer squash. The raclette was delicious (of course it was, it’s melted cheese!) The wine smelled exactly like apple juice, but it tasted more of lemons and grapefruit. It matched well with the creamy, nutty cheese. It was a fine meal for a rainy Wednesday night in Seattle (although I would have preferred the French Alps!)

We’ve been watching lots of Olympics coverage at my house so, when I spotted a bottle of Dragon Seal 2004 Unoaked Chardonnay at Uwajimaya the other day, I just had to buy it. Why? Because this Chardonnay is made in China! I wasn’t expecting much out of this wine; after all, China isn’t exactly known for its Chardonnay. But, we’ve been hearing so much about China every night on the TV; if there was ever a time to try a Chinese wine, the time is now! And how cool is it that the grapes for this wine are grown at the foot of the Great Wall of China?

Dragon Seal Winery was formed in 1987 as a subsidiary of Beijing Winery. The goal behind Dragon Seal was to begin producing wine in the European style by importing French vines and utilizing advanced French wine making techniques. French viticulturists studied several vine-growing areas of China looking for the ideal place to plant grapes for the Dragon Seal label. They eventually settled on the area of Hualai in Hebei province, 75 miles northwest of Beijing. The tradition of making wine from grapes dates back thousands of years in this region. The climate in Hualai is very similar to that of France’s Burgundy and Bordeaux (in fact, it shares the same latitude with Bordeaux.) Dragon Seal launched its first bottle of wine in 1988, the year of the dragon according to the Chinese lunar calendar.

Dragon Seal wines are made from imported French vines: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Riesling are all grown here. Notably, Dragon Seal was also is the first winery in China to make sparkling wine using Methode Champenoise, the technique used for making Champagne. In addition to using French grapes for their wines, Dragon Seal uses traditional French and American oak barrels for aging the wines.

For dinner, I made Grilled Mackerel with Warm Potato & Fennel Salad. Mackerel is one of my favorite types of fish, and it didn’t disappoint with this recipe. It was so decadently oily, and the bits where the fish touched the grill were nice and crisp. To make the salad for this recipe, you boil new potatoes and toss them, still warm, with thinly sliced fennel and red onion. A mustard and lemon vinaigrette brings the whole dish together. Instead of parsley, I seasoned the salad with lemon basil from this week’s CSA box. The lemony fennel was a great match for the oily fish. Next time, I would probably make the fennel and onions into a slaw for the fish and serve roasted potatoes separately on the side.

The wine was a decent, crisp, full-bodied white wine. It had a pretty strong citrus component which actually worked really well with the flavors in the potato and fennel salad. A good effort from a country relatively new to this style of wine. Who knows, maybe wine making will begin to take off in China. If so, France had better watch out! If there’s anything to be learned from the opening ceremony of this year’s Olympics, if China wants to do something bigger and better than everyone else, there seems to be no stopping them.

When my CSA box arrived this week containing a beautiful bunch of collard greens, I immediately started craving southern food. I’m not talking about Paula Deen’s mayonnaise and jell-o “salad” version of southern food. I’m talking about the good stuff: greens and cornbread and black-eyed peas. You know, the stuff that is actually kind of good for you (depending, of course, on how much butter, bacon, ham hock, etc. you add to the mix.) Unlike most of the South, I don’t use any meat in my greens, and I don’t cook them to death. I like them plain and simple with salt, pepper and a tiny touch of red wine vinegar added at the end. It wasn’t a huge bunch of collards so I combined it with the dandelion greens that also came in this week’s box. They added a nice spiciness to the dish. I had some cheddar cheese sitting in the fridge so I used that to make cheddar grits (okay, I didn’t actually have any grits so I used polenta instead – close enough.) I also made blackened catfish and a simple succotash using fava beans (also from the box) in place of lima beans. Other than the butter and cheese in the grits, this was a pretty healthy southern meal.

So, what wine can you serve with southern food? The simple answer is probably beer. Since southern food is sometimes quite spicy, particularly dishes of Cajun or Creole origin such as my blackened catfish, it can be a tough cuisine to match with wine. That said, there are certainly wines out there that can be paired with southern food, especially if you, like me, aren’t too concerned with perfect wine-food pairings. One year, for Christmas, we did a Cajun-themed dinner, and the gentleman at the wine shop recommended serving a fruity, spicy Shiraz. That worked out quite nicely. However, with it being summertime, I think the perfect wine to serve with a southern meal right now is a nice, dry rosé. Rosés are known for being extremely food friendly. They are sometimes called picnic wines because they can be served with such a wide range of foods (the nickname also refers to the fact that they are ideal for casual occasions; these are not overly serious wines.)

I picked out a bottle of Domaine de la Petite Cassagne 2007 Costières de Nîmes Rosé from the huge rosé display at my store. This wine comes from the Costières de Nîmes appellation in southern France, an appellation known for having a very distinctive soil that consists primarily of round pebbles. Red wine predominates in this area followed by rosé. Only a very small percentage of white wine is produced. Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Carignan and Cinsault are the primary grapes. The Domaine de la Petite Cassagne Rosé, in fact, is made using nearly all of these grapes: it consists of 50% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 20% Cinsault, and 15% Mourvedre. This is truly a hand-crafted wine. Not only are the grapes grown organically and in small quantities, specific vines are designated for rosé production only and are pruned and picked in such a way as to produce the best rosé possible (unlike at many wineries where rosé is more of an afterthought.)

The wine is a bit darker in color than other rosés, though not quite as dark as the Chateau Ste Michelle 2006 Nellie’s Garden Dry Rosé that I featured last year. I really like rosés that are on the darker side since that usually means that they will have a bit more heft to them; they are still closer to a white than a red, but you get a bit more of the complexity that people normally associate with red wine. Strawberries and sweet herbs, such as tarragon and anise, are the common descriptions used for this wine. Refreshing and gulpable are two words that come to my mind (but, at 13.5% alcohol – higher than you might expect for a rosé – you’d probably be better off sipping rather than gulping.) It was a great wine to serve with my southern meal. The spiciness of the catfish didn’t overwhelm the wine at all and, because it was a slightly heavier rosé, it was able to cut through the richness of the cheddar grits quite nicely. It’s summertime, pick up a bottle of rosé!

I’m still getting a lot of green stuff in my weekly CSA box. A couple of weeks ago it was spinach and lettuce and green onions. Now it’s snap peas and shelling peas and even more spinach! I had some spinach leftover from last week’s box so I cooked it up and used it to make spinach fettuccine. Then, when this week’s box came loaded up, once again, with spinach, I decided to make a spinach pesto to serve with my spinach pasta. That may be spinach overkill but I had to use it up somehow. Plus, I probably need the iron. I decided to go whole hog and make it an entirely green meal by serving my double-spinach pasta with herbed mahi mahi and a green salad with fresh peas.

With my winesday menu thus determined, I needed to find a good wine to serve with it. What wines are good with pesto? A whole variety it turns out. Of course, any wine from pesto’s homeland of Liguria would be an excellent match (although I’m sure people from Liguria would balk at my basil-free spinach pesto.) Some people recommend choosing a grassy, herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris in keeping with the herbal nature of pesto. Others believe that any white, as long as it isn’t oaky or sweet, will be a good match for pesto. Still others feel that the aggressive flavors of the garlic and parmesan cheese in pesto makes it an ideal match for a medium or even a full bodied red.

A couple of people online recommended serving pesto with a white wine called Gavi. Almost immediately upon walking into my wine shop, I spotted a Gavi. It was serendipity. Clearly, I was meant to serve this Gavi with my uber-green meal. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find too much information about Gavi so I don’t have much to share other than that it comes from the Piedmont region of Italy and is made primarily from the Cortese grape. It is also known for being one Italy’s premier whites (often with a price tag to match.) The Gavi that I bought, Tre Donne 2006 Gavi, is made in a small winery run by three sisters in the Langhe area of Italy. The man at the wine shop described it as having “nice, clean fruit.”

The wine and meal proved to be a really great match. My spinach pesto was not overly garlicky so the delicate Gavi was not overwhelmed in any way. The wine was lovely. It had a light yellow color and a citrusy, ever so slightly floral aroma. Robert also detected something outdoorsy in the nose, like pine but not actually pine. Interestingly enough, the flavor reminded me of retsina but without any of retsina’s distinctive pine flavor. It was lemony but not overly tart; just bright and fresh tasting. A perfect summertime wine!

This week’s featured wine, Sawtooth 2004 Viognier, comes from the state of Idaho. Idaho! I think that’s kind of exciting. Even though it is located right next door to Washington State, you don’t see too many wines from Idaho around here. In fact, virtually all of the domestic wines sold in wine shops here come from the big three states: California, Oregon and Washington. But, did you know that wine is made in all 50 states? How much fun would it be to host a tasting of wines from Montana, Alabama or Hawaii? Okay, maybe I’m the only one who thinks that’s a good idea.

Viognier is thought to have originated in Dalmatia and subsequently been brought to France’s Rhone Valley by the Romans. Although it thrived in France for around 2000 years, by the mid to late 1960’s, Viognier was nearly extinct! This was due, in large part, to the disastrous phylloxera epidemic of the 1800’s that wiped out most of the wine crops throughout Europe. These days, Viognier is experiencing a bit of a resurgence. It is now grown in France, Australia, South America and many other parts of the world. It does well in several U. S. states including Washington, Texas, Colorado and Virginia. Still, it is not a hugely popular grape (like everything else, though, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before it is “discovered.”) Part of the reason that Viognier is not more prevalent in the wine market may be due to the fact that it is a notoriously difficult grape to grow. It is prone to mildew and must be picked at just the right time in order to display its unique aroma and flavor characteristics. Those finicky Viognier grapes!

Viognier is probably best known for its concentrated aromas and lush, tropical fruit flavors. These wines typically display a deep, golden color and a rich, creamy mouthfeel. Honeysuckle, orange blossom, apricot and tropical fruit aromas are all characteristic of Viognier. Although the bouquet commonly suggests sweetness, the wines are normally dry on the palate. Viognier is often compared to Gewurtztraminer and Chardonnay. These wines have a low acidity and frequently have sky-high alcohol contents. Shellfish and spicy foods, especially Thai and Vietnamese dishes, are great matches for Viognier.

For dinner, I made shrimp tikka but, instead of making the mango salsa from that recipe, I accompanied it with this sweet and sour mint chutney. I served the shrimp with sautéed pea shoots and steamed black rice. The brilliant orange shrimp combined with the black rice made this quite a stunning meal to look at. The shrimp was very flavorful, and the chutney provided an appealing sweet, spicy and refreshing note to the meal.

The wine was definitely intense. Its aroma reminded me of something that I couldn’t quite place – flowers mixed with some sort of sweet and strongly-flavored fruit. Robert and I both thought it tasted like apricot nectar. It was almost oily in texture; really thick and full. Definitely not a gulper, this wine. To be honest, this is not my favorite style of wine. I generally prefer whites that are crisp, light and minerally or herbaceous. But, it was good, and I did enjoy drinking it. And, it was a very nice match with the shrimp tikka and mint chutney: an exotic wine for an equally exotic meal!

I was browsing through past winesday posts, and I realized that, in all this time, I have never featured a wine from Australia. That’s just crazy! How could I have neglected Australia, one of the major players in the world of wine? I guess I just love those New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs so much that I forgot to pay any attention to New Zealand’s big next-door neighbor. To remedy this oversight, I picked up a bottle of Australia’s most popular wine to highlight this week: Shiraz!

Originally from the Rhône region of Southeastern France, where it is known as Syrah, Shiraz has been planted in Australia since the early 1800’s. It is a dark-skinned grape that produces very powerful wines with intense flavors and deep, rich colors. Shiraz wines have highly variable aroma and flavor profiles, but common descriptions include dark berries, spice, chocolate, coffee and black pepper. They are generally able to be paired with a wide range of foods. Meats and cheeses are always a good choice with red wines, but Shiraz can also sometimes be paired with less obvious choices such as grilled ahi tuna, roasted vegetables and spicy Mexican, Indian or Cajun dishes.

Not surprisingly, Shiraz wines from Australia are very different than Syrah wines from France. Because of Australia’s warmer climate, grapes ripen more quickly and to a greater degree producing sweeter, more fruit-forward wines. They tend to be less tannic, higher in alcohol and drinkable at a younger age. These wines are the very definition of New World wine (also commonly referred to as “fruit bombs.”) In Australia, there are several styles of Shiraz. South Australian regions, such as Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale, produce some of the most highly-regarded Shiraz. Wines from this area are typically lush, dense and full-bodied with high alcohol contents. Western Australia and Central and Southern Victoria produce wines somewhat closer in style to those of the Rhône Valley in France. Shiraz wines from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, Australia oldest wine-growing region, usually have complex, earthy qualities.

My wine of choice for this week, Layer Cake 2006 Shiraz, comes from the Barossa Valley. As mentioned above, wines from this area tend to have very concentrated flavors and high alcohol contents. The Layer Cake Shiraz was no exception coming in at a whopping 14.9% alcohol! Although the idea of pairing my Shiraz with spicy Mexican or Cajun food was enticing, high alcohol content and spicy foods are not a good match (too much burn!) Therefore, I chose to take the more pedestrian route by serving this with a cheese-based dish. Shiraz can be served with many different cheeses, young and old, soft and hard, but one that I saw recommended fairly frequently is Taleggio. You can never go wrong with Taleggio in my book so I decided to make Truffled Taleggio and Mushroom Pizza. I served this with a salad of spicy lettuces and radishes from our farmer’s market. It was a very simple but very indulgent dinner.

As expected, the Shiraz was very rich and flavorful. It had a deep purple color, soft tannins and a strong blueberry/blackberry flavor. It was a bit sweet: think blackberry jam rather than fresh blackberries. Robert thought it also had a subtle savory quality. It was very drinkable and, although it was an intense wine, it didn’t overpower the Taleggio cheese in any way.

This wine is highly controversial as it turns out. After reading the reviews on the internet, I get the sense that people either completely love it or completely hate it. Some people think it has a great, pure Shiraz flavor and extraordinary, silky mouth feel whereas others find it to be overly jammy and artificial tasting. I fall somewhere in the middle actually. It wasn’t my favorite wine of all time, but I thought it was easy to drink and tasty (then again, I have yet to discover a wine that I didn’t enjoy drinking!)

Well, I’m officially out of Thailand tales so it’s back to regular old blogging. That means the return of winesday! While picking through my favorite section of Pike & Western Wine Shop – the “hot bargains” bin – I found a new new varietal to try for this week’s winesday: Picpoul! Pronounced peek-pool, I think picpoul may just be the cutest name for a wine grape that I’ve come across. It really deserves to always be followed by an exclamation point. Picpoul! Okay, enough of that. The specific picpoul that I bought was Chateau Font-Mars 2007 Picpoul de Pinet.

Picpoul hails from the Languedoc region of Southern France, and it is one of the most ancient varietals from that region. Although it comes in red and pink variants, picpoul blanc is the most common. Common is a relative term, however. Until now, picpoul has rarely been seen outside of France. As is usually the case with lesser-known grapes such as this, when you do find them, they are typically very reasonably priced. Of course, this may not last long; I just read an article proclaiming picpoul as the new “it” wine (last year’s Gruner Veltliner hipsters are probably all fawning over picpoul now.)

Picpoul wines are known for having a bright acidity with vibrant flavors of lemon and minerals. Unlike many similarly zesty wines, however, picpoul also has complex floral and stone fruit flavors and a surprisingly full fruitiness. They are perfect wines to serve with fish and oysters, although, because of their complex flavors, they can also be served with a much wider range of foods beyond fish. This versatility makes picpoul just as appropriate for any fine dining occasion as it is for that family picnic in the summer. Though they are good food wines, picpoul can also be served as an aperitif, either alone or with a touch of crème de cassis.

To serve with my picpoul, I made Steamed Fish with Black Bean Sauce. I was inspired by an essay in The Nasty Bits where Tony Bourdain describes a huge seafood feast at this tiny, dingy shack in Singapore. It all sounded amazing, but the one dish that stood out to me was the fish with black beans (probably because I had some fermented black beans sitting in my fridge that I had been meaning to use up.) I picked up a fillet of fresh black cod at Pure Food Fish which ended up being a really great choice for this recipe. The sauce that results from the steaming is flavorful but delicate, perfect for such a sweet, mild fish. I really need to start steaming fish more often. I usually sear or roast it, but steaming produces such moist results. And, it is so easy! I served equally easy steamed rice and stir-fried asparagus on the side. Fast and delicious!

The wine was excellent as well. It was much more full-bodied than you would expect from such a low alcohol wine (12.5%.) Flavors of citrus and peaches were predominant. It reminded me a bit of an unoaked chardonnay. I was worried that the salty black beans and herby asparagus would clash, but this wine proved to be a great food wine. I highly recommend the Chateau Font-Mars 2007 Picpoul de Pinet. If you can find this little gem of a wine, be sure to pick it up. It’s cheap, tastes great and, this may just be the geologist in me talking, but how cool is it that the vineyard is planted on a bed of fossilized dinosaur eggs?

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