I recently invited some friends over for dinner in the midst of the brutally cold weather we have been experiencing here in New York. At this time of year, my mind goes straight to braised meat dishes. In addition to being hearty and a match made in heaven for cold weather and red wine, braised dishes are pretty hard to ruin. Over-cooking is difficult as the slow and gentle cooking in liquid prescribed, tends to continually tenderizing braise-friendly cuts of meat. All the components of the meal are often prepared in a single skillet, casserole, or the like, so prep time and clean-up is streamlined. Most importantly when you’re flying solo like me – braising is a great make ahead technique. In fact the flavors of the meats and braising liquid intensify and become more integrated if they are allowed an additional day before serving. This is a huge help if you don’t have a partner in crime to entertain your guests while you’re making magic in the kitchen. For more on braising, my friend Tom Colicchio covers the subject eloquently in ‘Think Like A Chef
As my mind reeled with thoughts of lamb shoulder and pot roast, I suddenly realized that one of the invitees didn’t eat meat! All of a sudden a light bulb lit up above my head and I saw cioppino! Cioppino is a fish stew originating in San Francisco (which was perfect as one of my guests was visiting from San Francisco and another had recently left SF to move here). The name comes from ciuppin, a word in the Ligurian dialect of the Italian port city of Genoa meaning “to chop” or “chopped”, as the dish was originally imagined as a way to use up all the leftovers from the fishing boats by chopping them up and making a stew.
Cioppino is built on a hearty, savory tomato based stock which is slowly cooked and intensifies in flavor if held a day or two. On the day it is to be served, The stock is reheated, and a variety of seafood is added and cooked gently right before serving. This dish is incredibly easy to orchestrate, and served in a bowl along with a hearty bread for sopping up the broth, will stand up to the cold weather as well as any meat dish.
My next challenge was the wine, although it really wasn’t much of a challenge. I had already decided that I was going to serve a number of wines – probably around 6, so my guests could have fun comparing and contrasting and seeing which wines they thought went best with the food. It did get me thinking about which wine, of the several VINe Portfolio wines I had chosen for the evening, I thought would best accompany the dish.
When I get to thinking about pairings, I don’t like to over-think. I kind of point an imaginary divining rod at the bottles and see which one I get pulled to. I guess I’m just relying on intuition. In ‘Blink
‘ Malcolm Gladwell says that your sub-conscious is like a microprocessor using all kinds of information stored up in your brain to make certain decisions which manifest themselves as intuition. I totally buy into that! Anyway, I chose one white wine and one red.
The white was Chateau Margui Blanc, a vermentino/ugni blanc
blend from Provence. We actually had a lot of fun with this wine as I had two versions from the same producer and vintage. One oaked and one un-oaked. Both were delicious, and while the oak was very well integrated, I think the un-oaked retained a freshness which paired well with the brininess of the seafood, and the wine still had a nice richness to it which stood up to the savory broth.
The red wine was French as well – from Gaillac,
in southwestern France. Papillon d’Orphee is made from a local grape called braucol
(also known as fer servadou). Braucol can be a densely concentrated black fruited beauty with a certain wildness about it (like me in better days) or very green and astringent (hopefully not to be my fate!) This particular wine offers up the best of braucol on a slightly lighter frame (more medium body which highlights the minerality, which played well off the briny seafood) and still nicely structured with tantalizing spice (what I aspire to!) which stood up to the savory elements.
All in all the evening was a boozy hedonistic success. There was much wine drunk and much food eaten. I started off with my signature arugula salad and rounded out the meal with my signature creme brulee (orange infused on this occasion), served with a chocolate black pepper shortbread and Chateau Filhot sauternes.
Chateau Margui Blanc – L’Or des Pierres (oaked), Les Pierres Sauvage (unoaked)
Producer: Chateau Margui
Varietal: Rolle (Vermentino)/Ugni Blanc
Sugg. Retail: $25
Papillon d’ Orphee
Producer: le Champ d’ Orphee
Varietal: Braucol (Fer Servadou)
Sugg. Retail: $20
Chateau Filhot Sauternes
Type: Dessert – White
Region: Bordeaux – Sauternes
Producer: Chateau Filhot
Varietal: Semillon (60%), Sauvignon Blanc (36%), Muscadelle (4%)
Sugg. Retail: $29