Set the tone with the right wine

Story by Jennifer Strauss | Photos by Dan Hodges

 

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Unoaked chardonnay pairs well with a rich and creamy pasta dish like pasta carbonara. The crispness of the wine punches through the creamy egg sauce of the dish.

As I peered into my backyard this past spring, a shade of green caught my eye. Among the melting snow and frozen unraked leaves, were small clusters of chives reaching for the sun. It was the beginning of Iowa’s bountiful growing season. It lasts for more than three-quarters of the year and includes everything from asparagus in the spring to squash in the fall. With all of these flavor profiles emerging from the Iowa soil, I thought of the vast selection of wines I needed to pick up to make the perfect pairings.

The most successful wine pairings can either complement or contradict the ingredients on the plate. For me, wine is a complement to the meal I sit down to share with friends and family. Opening a bottle of wine sets the tone for the table. It slows down the pace of the dining experience and spurs conversation. A perfectly paired wine can act as the sauce for the prepared dish.

An example of a wine complementing the dish is to pair Iowa ham with a pinot noir. The ham comes from the hind leg of the hog and is cured through smoke, salt or a combination of both. It can be enjoyed spiral cut, brown sugar glazed, on the bone, or thinly sliced on a sandwich. It is a lean protein with a slightly sweet undertone and a salty demeanor.

Pinot noir is one of the most renowned grapes throughout the wine world. It is a thin-skinned, delicate black berry. This varietal is responsible for the most revered French Burgundies. Through the last century, it gained popularity through movies and marketing. It is the No. 1 wine produced in Oregon, the oldest post-prohibition winemaking state. The grape is notoriously hard to grow and thrives in sandy, loess soil. The end product has low tannins, drinks fruit forward and has a medium body, making it a perfect pairing for lean meats. It sips with a red berry characteristic that complements the saltiness of ham. As it ages, the flavors of the mushroom and forest floor develop in the wine. My favorites of the new world varieties are from the Willamette Valley. This area of Oregon is exploding with “made to look rustic” new vineyards and the tourists who love to follow the latest winemakers. Similar to the Beaune region in France, the Willamette Valley is snuggled along the Cascade Mountain range. This geographic advantage creates cool nights and wind-protected days.

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A decent Iowa ham with slightly sweet undertones pairs well with a delicate blackberry wine like a pinot nior.

On the cooler nights in Iowa, our family often opts for a pasta dish. My son’s favorite dish is pasta carbonara. It is fondly known as bacon and eggs spaghetti with black pepper. As a dutiful mom, I usually sneak in a veggie like fresh spring peas. A big advantage to this dish is that it is easy to make. So, with help from me, the kids can execute the preparation while I sip some wine in anticipation.

The perfect pairing for a creamy rich pasta dish such as pasta carbonara is an unoaked chardonnay. Chardonnay is a full-bodied white with citrus notes and a balanced acidity. In its natural state, it exemplifies hints of lemon, green apple and blanch almonds. I find my favorites from the eastern parts of France, most notable the Macon Villages in the southern part of Burgundy. The terrior consists of limestone and a warmer climate, creating a longer growing season. The berries are vinified in stainless steel or cement tanks, leaving the vintner with a crisp, fresh juice instead of one laden with tones of vanilla or buttered toast. This crispness allows the wine to punch through the creamy, rich egg sauce of the carbonara. The flavor of the wine is further heightened by the black pepper and saltiness from the bacon. These attributes combine to create the perfect spring night pairing.

So with the warm air around us, and the colors of summer everywhere, think about grabbing some of these wine picks. They can make a meal into a dining experience you will not soon forget. RELISH

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Categories: The Drink

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