Monthly Archives: August 2013

Perfect Pairings: the Principle of Place in Northern Italy

Soave 2006
Matching food with wine, third in a four-part series from the 2013 “Perfect Pairings” series created with The Painted Chef Catering at The Grotto in Mt. Adams, anchored in the principle of place: terroir.

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

Northern Italy MapThe diversity of NORTHERN ITALY’s six major wine regions is impossible to capture in one tasting without seriously over-indulging! The only way to experience Northern Italy and to really understand its delicious complexity is to focus on a few small areas at a time.

From east to west – the direction our tasting flowed — the six major regions are: Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Trentino Alto Adige, Lombardia, Piemonte and Val d’Aosta. Within these six regions there are over 110 Denominazione di Origene Controllata (DOC for short, equivalent to French appellations where vineyard place is controlled), and 38 Denominazione di Origene Controllata e Garantita (DOCG for short, where quality is “guaranteed” by strict growing and winemaking rules). These regions and their (mostly) indigenous grapes are not well known to most American consumers.

A single tasting can only scratch the surface of so many places and interesting grape varieties. Our Perfect Pairing of Northern Italian wines included an amazing (sparkling) Prosecco from the Treviso DOC within the Veneto region northwest of Venice; (white) Garganega from the Soave DOC, also within the Veneto, just east of Verona; and (red) Nebbiolo from the Langhe DOC within the Piedmont region south of Turin that includes the wine towns of Asti and Alba as well as Barolo and Barbaresco.

Ornella Molon Prosecco NV
Goat Cheese Crostini

Without exception, goat cheese and salmon are perfect pairings for every dry sparkling wine. Beautifully presented on crunchy crostini (“little toasts”), this appetizer is a go-to nibble to welcome guests to any type of party. It is easy to maneuver while holding a glass of bubbly, and the salty notes from the cheese and salmon connect with the acidity in the wine to make it truly sparkle. (Potato chips will do the same!)

This may be a news flash for readers, but Prosecco is no longer a DOC. Nor is it a grape! In 2009, DNA testing of the grape thought to be Prosecco revealed that it is actually Glera. Prosecco made from the areas of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene was promoted to DOCG. Any other areas within Italy producing Prosecco, which are primarily in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions, must name the specific DOC somewhere on the label.

So what is Prosecco? It is a style of sparkling wine. Still wine is made sparkling using the Charmat method, meaning that second fermentation takes place in a pressurized tank, not in a bottle. The grapes are fermented without skins and spend only a short time in fermentation tanks. The resulting bubbly is somewhat neutral compared to other sparkling wines, but still crisply acidic and expressive of the fruit. Winemaker Ornella Molon’s Prosecco shimmers in the glass. Flavors of apple and pear are lifted with notes of crisp lemon and freshly cut grass.

Azienda Agricola Inama Soave Classico 2011
tuna N. Italy

This pairing provided lessons in what does not make a perfect pairing.

By itself, the food was excellent. The tuna was seared to perfection. Garlic/lemon aioli and grape tomatoes provided acidic zing. A slice of avocado lent a bit of color and texture to the dish.

Also evaluated on its own merits, the wine was very tasty. Made from 100% Garganega indigenous to this particular area of the Veneto, Soave Classico is typically a food-friendly wine that is forgiving across a wide range of food flavors. Light yellow in color, the Inama Soave offered aromas of sweet field flowers (chamomile, elder flower, iris) and minerality on the palate with sweet almond notes on the finish.

But together, the food and the wine dueled for preeminence. Each element of the pairing was neutralized rather than enhanced, flavors were subdued rather than accentuated. Analyzing the dish, it seems that the simple preparation of the tuna was a bit too delicate for the body of the wine despite a tangy sauce, and the fresh tomatoes were too acidic.

Fiorenzo Nada Langhe Nebbiolo 2008

Body to body, texture to texture, a heavenly match is made between Nebbiolo grapes and truffles. Although truffles are not unique to the Piedmont region, there is a remarkable truffle festival held in Alba each year in October and it is possible to eat truffles at every meal. But bring your wallet: white truffles cost about 350€ ($469 at current exchange rates) per ounce!!

Our risotto was made with equally divine black truffles and earthy mushrooms. Topped with a light dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano that quickly melted into the Arborio rice, Painted Chef’s risotto was the rock star of the tasting. We served it with a 100% Nebbiolo (“fog”) wine from the Langhe DOC (Piedmont region). Dark ruby red with a garnet red rim, it is an intensely aromatic wine with perfumed notes of roses, violets, autumn undergrowth, wood smoke and tar, all characteristic of the Nebbiolo grape.

Painted Chef team
Thanks to The Painted Chef team – Dave, Brady, Anthony and Amy — for making every pairing perfect!!

Photo credits: Soave, Kathy Merchant 2006; Northern Italy Wine Regions,; Crostini with Goat Cheese and Salmon,; Tuna with Avocado, Game Day Communications; Painted Chef Team, Game Day Communications

Fruits of the Vine

Heirloom tomatoes 2

Sugar on a tomato? Yuck!! It’s fruit, for sure, but honestly, that’s a worse idea than making a butter and sugar sandwich on white bread!! (So Midwestern, so first grade…)

Chefs, I totally get it. Sugar cuts acidity, especially in sauce/salsa, and even more importantly adding sugar can harmonize flavors and texture if the tomato’s sugar + acidity balance is off. But there’s something deeply seductive about unadulterated tomato acid. It begs to be purely savory, just eat it like it is. Tomatoes are so alluring if paired with the right high-acid wines, especially when some part of the dish is married with EVO. All I have to do is say this thought out loud and my mouth begins to water in anticipation!

Tomatoes, especially uncooked, are tricky to pair with wine – nothing quite as difficult as artichokes or asparagus, to be sure. They have the potential to distort the essence of wine unless the preparation and bridge ingredients are carefully considered. Part of the reason may be that wine grapes and tomatoes are similar vine-ripened fruits. With so many different varieties of each fruit, most high in both sugar and acid, putting the right combinations together can be challenging. But aligning the right wine with summer’s fantastic range of fresh tomatoes is magic!

At this point I’m tempted to riff on sparkling wines, particularly blanc de noirs and rosé. The natural acidity of grapes used in Champagne and Cava and Prosecco make bubbly wine an alluring soul mate for tomatoes. Done! Pop a cork and enjoy.

But the “academy award” goes to still wines.

For a long time, I subscribed to the notion that white wines couldn’t possibly be good with tomatoes. After all, tomatoes are red (and green, and yellow, and purple…). I am so happy to discover and renounce the errors of my ways. My Valentine’s Day occurs not in February, but in August, the best of all months to fall in love with tomatoes.

Enjoy this selection of fried, raw and cooked summer tomato menu ideas from The Painted Chef catering along with my personal recommendations for wine pairings.

Fried green tomatoes

Home-grown fried green (unripe) tomatoes are summertime delicacies associated with the American South and Midwest. The tomatoes must be picked fresh before they begin to turn red, and should be firm, dry and fragrant, or they will turn either to mush or hard bricks in the frying pan. (Don’t try this dish with heirloom tomatoes that remain green to full ripeness.) Although the traditional fry coating is cornmeal, the delicate flavors of an unripe green tomato will shine through a crunchy coating perfected in three easy steps: a light dusting of flour followed by a short dunk in beaten egg (or try buttermilk) and a third coating of panko. Fried green tomatoes are paired perfectly with any high acid white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc. Try something surprising: a dry Chenin Blanc from South Africa.


Gazpacho is the national soup of Summer everywhere in the world! It is the most fresh, clean and pure essence of garden vegetables harmonized in a cup. A little emulsified olive oil will lighten both the color and texture of this cold soup, and will also broaden the options for wine pairings. White wine works, but a dry rosé from France (Tavel, Provence regions) or Spain (Navarra, Rioja regions) is a great choice. Depending on the region and grapes, the wine will range from bright ruby red to pale salmon pink. For best results, choose a rosé that matches the color of the finished soup. The surprisingly robust wine will enhance the flavor of the soup even if it is prepared with lots of garlic and plenty of salt. A few homemade croutons, also doused in olive oil, will further meld the tasting experience.


What wine goes with pizza? Anything – at least in my pizza-loving mind!! Narrowing this assertion down a bit, the very best match for red pizza sauce is the Sangiovese grape from its Tuscan spiritual home. Chianti, Brunello, Vino Nobile, Rosso di Montalcino and Rosso di Montepulciano are all fantastic selections. Pizza topped with fresh sliced tomatoes, mushrooms, sausage (optional for meat lovers), buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil is a perfect pairing all year round.

Image credits: Heirloom Tomatoes,; Fried Green Tomatoes,; Gazpacho,; Pizza,