Pairing Perfection

Peanut butter and jelly. Car and driver. Movies and popcorn. Wine and food. Each of these pairs are lesser without the other. Sure, they can stand on their own if need be, but when joined, the whole is MORE than the sum of its parts. Case in point:

My husband and I had a lovely night out a week or so ago, stopping off at a wine bar for an aperitif, and then dining at Ciola’s in Lakeway. I had researched Ciola’s before for a potential company dinner I was asked to organize, and had wanted to go there for a while. Their menu looked interesting and their wine list was very well written. Back in my wine rep days, I did a lot of wine list analysis, and the wine list at Ciola’s shows a lot of careful, thoughtful selections.

Ironically, though, I didn’t really order wine off the list. Liberty School Cab labelOur waiter happened to be the wine steward, Tommy Williams, Jr., and once we ordered our entrees he told us about some wines he was pouring that weren’t on the by-the-glass list. One was a Vermentino, which he particularly recommended with my linguine & clam sauce, so I took the leap of faith (not a very big leap, considering the list) and acquiesced. T wanted a Cab, though, so he ordered a glass of the Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon , always a solid choice.

The calamari we ordered for starters was very well executed: the squid was tender, the breading was light and crunchy, and two dipping sauces came with: a marinara and an aioli. Both delicious, but I stuck to the marinara… there’s something semi-obscene about dipping fried food into mayonnaise sauces, even if it is fish.

T’s Rigatoni Genzano was a heck of a meal: large chunks of Italian sausage, with what looked like quartered peppers. His Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon (didn’t get the year) gave sweet oak and blackberry aromas, with some green pepper and clack cherry notes. The color (difficult to see in the very romantic lighting in the restaurant) was a nice dark red with some garnet highlights. Soft tannins on the palate with a black pepperyness, and big currant flavors. Slight taste of raspberry, as well. Overall, a rich & soft Cabernet with a very decent finish for $9 per glass. Tom liked how his wine tasted with his food; I could see how the green pepper of the wine matched nicely with the red peppers in his dish, but I thought the bite of the Italian sausage wasn’t all that flattering, wine-wise.

MY wine and food pairing, though, was phenomenal.I ordered the Linguine and Clams in a “white” sauce, which thankfully was just white wine and butter with some lemon. Tommy’s recommended wine was the La Cala Vermentino di Sardegna 2006 from Tenute Sella & Mosca. La Cala Vermentino label I was amused to see it was a Palm Bay Imports wine, which I never would have bought back in the day, as they were represented by a competing distributor. One nice thing about being out of the business is that as a lowly consumer I have no limits to whose wine I can buy!

The linguine & clams were impeccable. The clams were plentiful and tender, simply cooked and presented on a pile of perfectly cooked linguine. Unfancy. Simple. Solid. The La Cala had a nose bright with lemon and green grass, possibly with hints of pear or quince. On the palate, it had a nutty cast, with mildish acidity and crisp green apple. As it warmed up, I thought I sniffed a whiff of green olive, and actually tasted white grape juice. (I know, what a stretch on that last one, right? A wine that smells like grapes? Creepy.) The palate had a nice structure to it, with underlying astringent mineral flavor.

Tasting my clams, briny with their own juices, along with my wine, lemony and tart with a zingy minerality, was unutterably pleasurable. The saltiness of the clams made the appley wine stand up and shout. This was indeed one of those moments of wine and food pairing when one plus one equals three: the clams were better for the wine, and the wine improved with the clams. Every bite/sip was a sensual fantasia of flavor interplay. Does that sound dirty? Well, I don’t care — it was actually that good. I was certainly making dirty sounds as I chewed and slurped my way through every last morsel/drop.

This is, I must say, what gets me excited by wine: that alchemical relationship between the living, breathing entity of wine and wine’s soul-mate, a lovingly crafted meal. Salute to Ciola’s! T and I will certainly be back.

For ideas about pairing food and wine, try Dr.Vino’s excellent blog. His impossible food pairings series is bound to get your imagination percolating… Cooking with Amy also did a great post which includes a lot of pairing resources on the magical interweb.

So, what about you? Anything explode in your mouth lately?

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