Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Garden Green Sweetness Gone Red
Pea Shoots by Emily Smith @emflash on Tumblr
You may be a red wine lover at heart, but come this time of year all of those wine savvy foodies are steering you toward crisp, fruity white wines and effervescent pricklers. Gastronomic journalists go crazy on the relevance of rosé and the perfect pairings with early summer garden selections.  Rather than saying these annual repetitions are not spot on, I wish to present an alternative wine and food pairing superlative: bold red wine with green vegetables, particularly the fruit, seed and leaf kind. Since the vendor stalls at the Falls Church Farmer’s Market are overflowing with zucchini, spinach, lettuce, peas and cucumbers, I challenge you to make the following three salads laced with green ingredients plucked right from the garden and pair them with a delicious red. In order to diversify the wine pairing selections, the three salads to follow represent different pleasure zones on your palate, namely fresh and vibrant, bitter and aromatic, and lastly, rich and savory. For simplicity’s sake, we will forego a sweet option and spare your waistline.

In wine jargon, the scents and flavors of the vegetable garden contain minimum quantities of aromatic substances, acids and sugars that define each veggie flavor in a unique way. These tastes allow for sensations of sweetness, bitterness, acidity, and/or aromaticness. Ultimately, the prevailing flavor characteristics point to which wine will best compliment a dish. First, let us look at a fresh and vibrant dish: snap peas and zucchini ribbons sprinkled with a touch of sea salt and extra virgin olive oil topped with shaved pecorino or parmesan reggiano cheese. One cannot deny a vervy Sauvignon Blanc from the banks of the Loire River would pair superbly with this delicacy; but, you can venture to try a young Beaujolais made from the Gamay grape in southern Burgundy, France, or even a fragrant Valpolicella from the Emilia-Romagna region southwest of Venice, Italy. Both wines have a reminiscent sweet tendency due to their fruity flavors of wild strawberries and cherries, lighter tannins (the bitter aspect of wine found in both coffee or tea), and smooth mouth-feel. The pecorino or parmesan cheese adds the perfect touch of saltiness to balance the flavors between the vegetables and the wine. Some readily available examples found locally would be Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages for $10.99 or Degani Valpolicella for $12.99.

Moving from the fresh, vibrant category that plays out the natural sugars and acidity of green vegetables, let us look at bitter and aromatic fare. Salad greens are both bitter and aromatic. A plethora of arugula and mesclun can be sourced at the farmer’s market or your very own garden, and these greens offer very peppery, aromatic flavors. Top an arugula spring mix with dried cranberries, vine-ripened strawberries, cucumbers and crumbled gorgonzola (dolce) cheese and whip up your own salad dressing with equal parts local honey, balsamic vinegar with a doubled portion of olive oil, splash of soy sauce and a pinch of salt. Zing! Match this tangy salad bowl with a California old vine Zinfandel that is peppery and full of red raspberry flavor, or go with a humble Côtes du Rhône from France that offers white pepper, orange rind, and plumy, dark fruit. Simple solution would be Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel found everywhere for $12.99, or Guigal Côtes du Rhône for $8.99.

Kick it up a notch with the last category and add richness with starch, butter, and a leafy green that lends sweet tendencies. Prepare a warm orzo salad with feta cheese, garlic, fresh spinach and lemon zest finished with a high quality balsamic vinaigrette. Cook ¾ cup orzo in chicken broth and add a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and thyme. Meanwhile, slowly melt 2 Tbsp. of real butter with ½ c. or more of feta crumbles. Sauté two cloves of garlic with a bundle of fresh spinach leaves, season with kosher salt and fresh cracked peppercorn and 1 Tbsp of lemon zest. Drain your pasta and combine all the ingredients. Plate and finish with a drizzling of high-quality balsamic vinaigrette. Voilà, the savoriness envelops your taste buds and cries out for a rich Spanish Rioja or even an Argentine Malbec sourced from  higher altitude vineyards. You cannot go wrong with LAN Crianza at $11.99 or Catena Zapata Malbec at $18.99.

Overall, it’s fun to play around with flavors and you do not have to be an expert to know what direction to go. Besides, when in doubt, there is probably an Apple app that exists to guide you, or the handy Google assistance at the tip of your fingertips. If these recipes intrigue you, come join us at Red, White & Bleu Wine Shop in Falls Church for our monthly book club where we explore how to drink and eat seasonally based on Dr. Vino’s book, A Year of Wine. Call the shop at 703.533.9463 (WINE) for more details.