By The Glass
High alcohol wines should not be feared
I JUST got back from a visit to Los Angeles where I attended several tastings of portfolios of imported wine. One tasting in particular was quite thought-provoking -- with Dan Philips of the Grateful Palate. Philips is the finest U.S. importer of Australian wines that dazzle the palate. The majority are hugely rich, bombastic and more than ample in alcohol.
It is this high alcohol level that I have a hard time getting my palate around, especially when it comes to food- and-wine pairing. It makes spicy things taste spicier, overpowers the delicacy of anything subtle and deadens the palate more quickly than lower-alcohol wines.
But I have tried to keep an open mind to the ability of certain foods to stand up to such behemoths. And at this tasting I was pleasantly surprised to find a few pairings that I would bend over backward to try again, together with fantastically rich wines.
THE FIRST pairing was a BLT sandwich with the 2005 Samuel's Gorge Grenache ($39). The Grateful Palate imports bacon, too, and even has a Bacon of the Month Club. Dan's wife, Trisha, makes the best BLT I've ever had. Simply bread, mayo, bacon, tomato and greens, it was simply heavenly with grenache.
This is a hefty wine -- 15.8 percent alcohol -- and not shy. It is loud with great, fresh and jammy blackberry notes melded with a sweet scent of toasty spice and vanilla. It is smooth as can be, and decadent, to say the least. The smokiness, richness and texture of the bacon were met in a lusty embrace with this grenache.
ANOTHER terrific pair: the 2005 Evil Cabernet Sauvignon ($12) with smoked baby back ribs that Trisha laid on the table. (They didn't lay there long.) The ribs had a smoky-sweet character and the protein and fatty texture begged for a voluptuous red.
The wine itself has no subtlety at all. It is a BIG juicy ball of wine gushing with sweet-ripe fruit. It's made by Chris Ringland, one of the greatest wine makers of Australia. For the money, is there anything more decadent? I would have eaten a whole plate of ribs, except that my belly can only expand so much.
I WAS also treated to a cheese with black truffle, paired with the 2004 Three Rings Reserve Shiraz ($150). The cheese was out of this world, and the wine was a complete rock star! It is monumentally built, Herculean in weight and intensity, an Adonis of a wine. Count yourself blessed if you are to taste it, as it is truly a hedonistic experience (not to mention expensive, and availability is limited). The cheese was just as explosive and all-consuming of the senses. A lesser wine served with it would have been faded and wispy. These went so well together that they became one. Superb!
The next time someone tells you that BIG alcohol wines don't go well with food, you can tell them to think again. As with any other pairing, you just have to find the right one.
Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier and wine educator with Southern Wine & Spirits.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org