Monday, June 23, 2014

Celebrating Ceviche

By Liza B. Zimmerman

While much of this month’s buzz may be focused on Brazil and the World Cup, one of its neighbors is poised to celebrate an important, new culinary holiday. June 28th is National Ceviche Day in Peru. While this delicious dish of raw fish, sometimes served with octopus with onions and corn kernels, is savored all over the world, few know how to do it like the Peruvians.

The bulk of my one trip to Peru was focused on ingesting as much fresh fish as possible. And these folks know how to serve fish in every color of the rainbow. While the Peruvians are more likely to drink a Pisco Sour—Barsol is one of my favorites—with ceviche, there are quite a few wines that will do it justice.

Traditional Pairings
The acidity in this dish can be notoriously hard to pair with wine. Great pairings are generally ones of equals—such as foie gras and Sauternes—or opposites. I will start with the logical, balanced pairings. Since the dish is Latin American in origin, and beloved everywhere from beachside resorts in Mexico to trendy restaurants in Santiago, Chile, it makes sense to start with Latin wines.

Spanish Albariño, with its crisp acidity and sea salt aromas, is divine with all types of ceviche. In fact it is one  of  manager Oscar Davila’s favorites at La Mar in San Francisco. Please see my recent coverage in the SOMM Journal for other of Oscar’s pairing suggestions. The multi-location Peruvian restaurant is the brainchild of chef Gaston Acurio, whose flagship restaurant in Lima is where I first gorged myself on this dish.

Since Peru doesn’t make notable wines, its neighbor Chile’s Sauvignon Blancs are a great pick. The two countries would fight each other to the bitter end about where the “real” Pisco hails from, but Peru will have to concede to Chile on the wine front. While I am on the Latin theme I will push the envelope and say that a handful of Italian wines: such as high-acid whites from Piedmont or Friuli would also fit the bill.

The Wildcards
Sometimes opposites just attract. I will never forget when Mario Maccioni, the oldest son of Sirio Maccioni and Le Cirque fame, told me he sometimes loved an oaky Chardonnay with a good steak. The beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

The acid levels in ceviche, particularly when guests add an extra squirt of lime, can flatten the acidity in cool-climate whites. So, on occasion, a broad—somewhat maderized white—such as some of the Rhône varietals, such as Marsanne and Roussanne are superb. These could be French or even made in California or Australia.

An unoaked Chardonnay, made in Argentine- or Washington State-style might also work. White Burgundy without a doubt goes with everything.

The only time I would go red with a ceviche dish might be to pair some of the new Asian-inspired takes on the dish that have intense soy soil, ginger and red pepper-inflected flavors. A cool climate red—such as a Patagonia Pinot Noir, which was Oscar’s suggestion—or a Beaujolais Cru or Loire red might just work.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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