Paso Robles albariño varietal matches spicy food
High-acidity Paso Robles albariño varietal finds its match in spicy, vegetarian food
Once again, time slipped away from me. I was aware of its swift flow, but felt powerless to stop it. So, more than a month later here I am, writing another post.
It’s almost summer when, except for those who steadfastly stay away from whites, a glass of white wine is one of life’s simpler delights at the end of a bright hot day. And what better than sharing the evening with friends over wine and food. This past weekend, we did just that, with Paso Robles albariño from Diablo Paso as our libation of choice.
We were two families. For some of us, it was a first foray into a varietal largely unknown hereabouts, where chardonnay rules or is dissed, depending on palate. I cooked at home and paired it with dishes not typically recommended with this varietal.
In food and wine magazines, I’ve seen albariño paired primarily with seafood. That’s a problem since at least my husband and I grew up in landlocked towns and the bounty of the oceans has never held a draw for us. At least that’s the excuse, although I have to say that our preferences show, more than anything, our extreme risk averseness in food. We have, after all, lived in the Bay Area for more than three decades and can’t go searching for excuses in our past. We do.
Seafood pairing has to do with the region in which the albariño grape thrives, says Alan Kinne, director of winemaking at CaliPaso Winery. In the 1990s while traveling through Spain, Kinne sent back 20 thousand to 30 thousand cuttings to a friend in Lake County, Calif., before introducing the grape to Paso Robles. He says that in the northwest region of Spain, in Galicia, people consume more seafood per capita than in any other part of the world. And they drink the wine made from the grape that grows locally.
Paso Robles albariño food pairing: Bites and nibbles
As I blistered shishito peppers in olive oil — er, not exactly Indian, but don’t all things peppery smack Indian anyway — my friends took their first sip of the aromatic wine. Bright, light, fruity, and bone dry. The first response from the palate was a definite approval. It didn’t change when the shishitos came out of the pan, now sprinkled with salt and black pepper. The pairing was amazing. And as with the picpoul, one of the party exclaimed in disbelief how the wine was now transformed into a pleasantly sweetish drink.
Later in the week, I asked Kinne about it. Not surprised at all, he gave a scientific explanation for the transformation. Terpenes, he said, organic compounds produced by plants, are responsible for the aroma of certain white wines. These were responsible for creating the contrast in flavor. A combination of salt and spice brought out these contrasts well.
At dinner on the weekend, we sipped and chatted, eagerly discussing the wine, as I put together a plate of Indian chaat. I stuffed each crisply fried, puffed ball of dough with potatoes and smothered it with salted yogurt, roasted cumin, ground red pepper, and tamarind chutney. The yogurt overwhelmed the wine. Undaunted, I scraped it off and had it with just a touch of the yogurt and the other spices. It tasted better, although I couldn’t get rid of all the yogurt. Too carried away with trying to pair high acid Indian foods with high-acid wines, I hadn’t saved any of the balls to have without the yogurt. Note to self for next time: If planning to serve with wine, don’t smother with yogurt; a hint will do. And as I write this I wonder, what wine would pair well with yogurt.
One friend, though, tried it with the red Italian wine we were airing for dinner. And it did taste a bit better, yogurt and all, with the Cesari Mara, Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso from the Veneto region in Italy. A blend, this wine is made primarily from the corvina grape, which grows in that region.
Since our friends are red-wine lovers, we had the Valpolicella with dinner – all Indian and spicy. It matched well.
Another time I will try the albariño with the main meal. As temperatures rise with summer’s roll, the chilled drink will be a great complement to the spice and the acid.