Among the many things the Aspen Food & Wine Classic does well is to encourage the audience to “think outside of the box” when pairing food with wine. I have heard and read the standard line of pairing whites with seafood and reds with red meat, but what if you don’t necessarily want to tow that line? And what do you pair with “difficult” food, like Thai curries, Époisses cheese, blueberry crumbles or Texas barbecue? Many of my anxieties were laid to rest with two of the classes that I attended, Mark Oldman’s Breaking the Rules of Wine and Swine & Wine.
In Swine & Wine, the boys from Union Square Hospitality Group and Blue Smoke restaurant helped us figure out what to pair with various preparations of pork. As it turns out, the answer was very straightforward: there is no right answer, it is just what you like. À la Marnie Old, a lot depends on your personal preference. Whew. Guided by the handy grid provided above, we set about tasting six pork dishes (Black Pepper Cherry Cured Pork Shoulder, Cracklin’, Smoked Hog Head Cheese Rillettes, Southern Belle Deviled Ham Sandwiches, Pork Jerky and Pickled Pig “Tid Bit” Torchon) with six different wines (Champagne, Riesling, White Zin (Rosé), Pinot Noir, Brunello and Rhône). So my favorite pairing kind of surprised me: Champagne with the Southern Belle Deviled Ham Sandwich. We are talking about pairing bubbly with a salty, spreadable ham mixture that is essentially a conduit for ingesting copious amounts of Wonder Bread. Could it be a grown up version of my childhood favorite of bologna sandwiches with ginger ale? I think I am on to something here for sure. While you ponder that, entertain yourself this weekend by pairing some Champagne with Southern Belle Ham Sandwiches from the delightfully talented Lisa Fain, author of the Homesick Texan cookbook.
2 cups ham, chopped
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper (about 1/4 of a pepper)
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
1 large dill pickle, diced
1 jalapeño, seeded, stemmed, and diced
3 tablespoons mayo
3 tablespoons mustard
1 teaspoon pickle juice
In a food processor, mix all the ingredients together until blended but not too smooth as you want a bit of texture. Taste and adjust any seasoning or add more mayonnaise and mustard if you like. Keeps in the refrigerator for a few days.
Speaking of Champagne, Mark Oldman demonstrated the art of sabering champagne bottles while offering some alternatives to the famous French bubbly in Breaking the Rules of Wine. Mark Oldman, a Stanford law school grad cum wine critic, helps bridge the gap between wine connoisseurs and those of us who are not as bound by rules but just wanna have fun. He thinks of himself as the conduit between them (the wine connoisseurs) and the casual drinkers by encouraging all to “not get too hot and bothered about wine”. In doing this, he urged us to break a few rules.
Rule Breaker #1: Try American Sparkling wine as a substitute for Champagne. It is often the neglected alternative to Champagne, yet usually better for the budget. Yes, you can spin champagne to aerate it. Cover it with your hand then take a big sniff. American Sparkling is more fruit forward with apple cider on the nose and the bubbles are larger. Champagne is more chalky, mineral-y, and the finest champagne you will notice has the smallest bubbles. He then asked for volunteers to saber some bottles and shared it with the audience with a perrón, or a Spanish wine bong.
Ruler Breaker #2: Think beyond Chardonnay and Pinot Noir when choosing a wine. Mark’s theory is the more difficult to pronounce, the better the value of wine. We had a Condrieu, which is a Viognier grape, and tastes of pear, mango, apricot, and perfume.
Rule Breaker #3: Drink Super Tuscan. He related the story of the Super Tuscans, of the Tignanellos and the Sassicaias, and how they weren’t allowed to be Chianti Classico DOC designated and had to create their own rules, and by doing so produced these out of control wines. Breaking the rules can lead to good things.
Rule Breaker #4: Chill that red wine. Mark likes his red wines cool as it defines the flavors.
Rule Breaker #5: Pour dessert wine over ice cream. Why not? It is delicious. Better yet, try Chateau d’Yquem on pancakes. Now that is the ultimate in decadence, but I am willing to try it!
Ruler Breaker #6, and perhaps the ultimate rule breaker: Drink Wine with Red Vines (note: will not work with Twizzlers). “For why should something so pleasurable be so rule bound?”, Mark asks. It was here he threw a challenge out to the audience: the best Instagram or Twitter hashtag gets some Mark Oldman swag, a snapback (baseball cap) with words to live by: Drink Richly. Check out who won:
Stay tuned for more culinary and travel adventures!