Saturday, May 12, 2007

"Wierd" Wines: Moving away from Chardonnay

I love "weird" whites. When sales reps pour wines from unheard-of grape varietals at our wine shop and bar, they can annoy me to no end with their overly involved, never-ending stories of the ancient, indigenous magical grapes from Never-Never Land. Even so, I’m a sucker for the grapes I’ve never tasted, names I haven’t uttered, and even for the common varietals that misbehave and taste like something they shouldn’t.

The 2005 Suavia Soave made by the four lovely sisters of the Tessari family (pictured candidly above) is a great example. The winery name is Suavia, the region in which it's made is Soave (located in Verona), and the grapes used for the classic Soave blend are most often Garganega, Trebbiano. And yes, Soave blends are relatively commom, table wines from Italy. But this Soave doesn’t taste like a normal Soave. Think Riesling and Pinot Grigio’s lovechild - apple, pear, lemon, lychee, and by god, even petrol. All in one bottle, I swear.

So, for a cook, the first question that arises is, what does one pair with an interesting white wine? What do you do with so many flavors going on in one place, with so much junk in one trunk?

Good news - contrary to popular belief, “interesting” whites are consistently easy to pair with food. For example, the Swiss Chasselas-based wines meld better with most cheese than the average California Chardonnay. Riesling sings for Thai food while Sauvignon Blanc keeps asking for goat cheese, and, well, this Venetian Soave could seduce any of the above without even looking. Rico Soave.

Here are two food ideas for this lovely wine:
1) Fish in Banana Leaves: Buy some banana leaves from your local Asian food store. Soak them in water overnight. Go talk to the fishmongers at your neighborhood fish market and ask them to pick out a sustainable white-fleshed fish for you. Wrap the fish, along with a touch of ginger and lemongrass in the leaves, and toss on the Weber. Open the wine while waiting ten to twenty minutes for the fish to cook. (Peek inside and eat when fish begins to flake).

2) Springtime Risotto: Asparagus is still cheap, and carrots are still sweet. Drop the chopped veggies in the stock in which you’ll be cooking the risotto for a couple minutes, set aside until the rice grains are nearly cooked, then add to the almost finished risotto before the last dab of butter coats the rice grains. Mix it up with some chopped fresh tarragon and enjoy with a glass of Soave.

And finally, consume on patio as the sky begins to darken.

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