Thursday, June 2, 2016

Pairing Wine with Fermented Food

By Liza B. Zimmerman

I have loved Kimchi since I was a kid. I think I may have been Korean in a past life. Almost every single dish of delicious fermented vegetable goodness Korean have served me at table I adore. However there's a reason that Koreans have long consumed beer and soju with their native food: these intense and spicy flavors are challenging to pair with wine. The same goes for the recent nationwide love of picked vegetable plates that are often served as side dishes.

Crisp and fresh wines from a range of cool-climate regions are likely to work best. "Avoid oak. Be conscious of your acid and spice. Look for your wine pairing to provide the inverse. If the food is mega spicy, find something with some sweetness," advises Josh Nadel, the beverage director at the New York-based NoHo Hospitality Group.

Whites are generally going to be your best bets with spicy, pickled dishes of all kinds. Alsace is a great region to start with as its whites tend to have distinctive acidity and great mineral notes. They are also often lower in alcohol levels so they won't generate heat in the mouth when paired with fermented dishes.

"With fermented foods, pairing with the acidity is paramount. I look for round and ripe whites, and depending on the spice and acid level, some residual sugar. The ripeness of Alsace wines, and the opportunity to select from multiple, moderate to lower acid wines, makes these wines a perfect match," said Nadel.

The bracing acidity and moderate alcohol level of the Willm Gewurztraminer Reserve 2014 make it a great choice. Other good whites might include aromatic Northern Italian whites such as the esoteric Kerner. While the Kofererhof Alto Adige Valle Isarco Kerner 2007 may be difficult to say its delicious in a glass. The grape was bred in the 1920s by crossing the Riesling and Trollinger grapes and was named for the German poet Justinus Kerner.

Careful With Oak
Oak-aged wines will not shine with fermented dishes like kimchi or pickles, unless they are fried. Once you fry just about anything all regular food-pairing bets are off. "Oak and fermented foods do not mesh,"  confirmed Nadel.

Fresh Sauvignon Blancs, be they from California or Chile, would be good matches and are rarely oaked. The Mahu Sauvignon Blanc 2015 would work well as would the Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc. White Bordeaux are likely to be too acidic and Loire Valley whites might be just to tart to meld with pickled flavors.

Reds in general are tough to pair, particularly tannic ones, said Nadel. Earthly reds, like those from the Rhone Valley or the Loire would also be less than idea. Perhaps a fruit-forward wine, such as a Sangiovese or even an Argentine Malbec, could stand up the flavors of fermented cabbage and other vegetables. However the higher-alcohol levels on these wines could run the risk overwhelming the dishes' vegetal flavors.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza B. 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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