Perfect Pairings: Principle of Place in Latin America

Posted by Kathy Merchant, DWS, CSW

Perfect Pairings - low res

Pairing food and wine…simple, right? Chicken goes with white wine, beef goes with red. Cheese is great with anything. Easy!

But what if the tomatoes in a dish are stewed or sauced and laced with garlic? Their flavor and texture is completely different from freshly sliced juicy summer tomatoes. Red wine goes with cooked tomatoes, white and rosé with fresh. The reverse is pretty awful! Then there’s the vexing matter of what to do about the souring effects of vinegar, asparagus and artichokes on most wines.

For sure, it takes a bit more effort to create a “perfect pairing” than simply choosing between an entrée meat (or vegetable) and a white or red wine. But the principles are clear and the results are amazing!

This is the first post in a four-part series on matching food with wine using menus from the Spring 2013 “Perfect Pairings” series created with The Painted Chef at The Grotto in Mt. Adams.

The series is anchored in the principle of place: terroir.
Map Latin America
LATIN AMERICA is a broad geographical term encompassing Mexico in North America plus all of Central America, the Caribbean Islands and South America. The cuisines of Latin American countries share many similarities, yet have distinct regional differences in ingredients and flavors. But because the equator runs straight through Ecuador and Brazil in South America, the areas just to the north and south of the equator are too hot to grow wine grapes. While the cuisine is expansive, the wine is concentrated.

Only Chile and Argentina have conditions suitable for making quality wine. Chile developed a wine industry over 150 years ago. Wine entrepreneurs locked out of vineyard ownership in France in 1855 fled to a perfect growing climate in Chile where the export economy was booming. Though Argentina’s wine industry is much younger, its leaders are equally entrepreneurial and definitely making great wines.

Chefs Dave Cioffi and Brady DeLong created a Perfect Pairings menu to demonstrate the great flavors of Latin America, and showcase the great wines of Chile and Argentina, using the fresh approach that distinguishes their gourmet catering business.

Alma Negra Sparkling Rosé of Malbec 2010
Watermelon salad Latin America
Light and refreshing, with a hint of sweetness from the watermelon sufficient to shake off winter doldrums in early April, the salad offers a parade of contrasting flavors. The creamy and slightly salty queso (cheese) was an able partner for heat from jalapeño peppers, cool and refreshing watermelon, the sparkle of the wine, and the clean herbal notes of chopped cilantro.

Perfect pairing: traditional method sparkling rosé from Argentina made from 85% Malbec and 15% Pinot Noir. Its pale orange-pink color was a beautiful companion to the deeper red color of the watermelon. A fruity flavor profile of sweet strawberries, raspberries, minerals and brown spices followed by a lingering rose petal perfume helped to meld the cool watermelon with the heat of the jalapeno, lift the savory notes of the cilantro, and provide a bubbly contrast to the creamy cheese.

Viña Santa Ema Amplus Sauvignon Blanc 2012
Tomatillos originated in Mexico and are a staple of Mexican cuisine. Surrounded by an inedible husk, when cooked the small green fruit makes a deeply flavored savory salsa verde that can range from mild to hot depending on the ingredients, and is a brilliant complement especially to delicate fish, chicken or pork. When cooked, the vibrant acidity of a tomatillo is released, making it an excellent partner for garnishes such as pickled red onions, and acidic wines such as Sauvignon Blanc. Braising the meat lifts its savory elements in tandem with the tomatillos.

Perfect pairing: 100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Leyda Valley in Chile. Bright straw yellow color. Crisp, expressive and complex aromas of lime and mineral with flavors of herbs and green chiles typical of Chile’s Leyda Valley, followed by a citrusy finish. Unoaked.

Bodegas Salentein Portillo 2011
The term “barbacoa” originated in the Caribbean, meaning grilling meat over an open flame, and is the source of our North American term “barbecue.” Mexican barbacoa is different in that meat is smoked and steamed at the same time. This dish used the Mexican method, and dissecting its ingredients is almost as fun as putting the whole thing together in a bite. Most of the main ingredients made perfect sense from a wine pairing standpoint: corn tortillas, braised shortribs, cilantro and sour cream. The pineapple salsa was the potential spoiler: sweet fruit with red wine vinegar (and a bit of diced red bell pepper) threatened to sour the dish with a sip of wine. What a glorious surprise that it all worked together!

Perfect pairing: 100% Malbec from the Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina. Red-violet hues of a young wine. Rich with fruit, aromas of plum and blackberries, fresh flavors of red currant and black cherry. Sweet, round tannins. Long finish with notes of vanilla, cinnamon and cloves. This wine received the International Trophy from Decanter World Wine Awards in 2012.

The Painted Chef

The Grotto
1101 St. Gregory St. Mt. Adams

Photo credits: Map of Latin America, “Modern World History Hoffblog”; food and wine photos Game Day Communications.

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