What we’re drinking

The fantastic wine, beer, and cocktails continue in this edition of… what we’re drinking!

Because we like to have options.

  • Vino Volo. This place is the best thing to happen to airports since airplanes. Tasted a 2003 Medici Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. How often do you get such tasty wine in an airport? My coworker and I split a bottle for $48 ($36 retail) and it made coach slightly less painful. Let’s also celebrate that there is one in SFO now. -DD
  • 2002 Jose Michel Special Club Champagne. This is only edition #2 of what we’re drinking and I’m already running out of ways to say I love bubbles, but this is one of my favorites this year. This is a super elegant Champagne with a hint of earthiness on the nose followed by great structure and fruit. Do yourself a favor and buy a bottle from Premier Cru before they’re out. (I can’t wait to try the 1998 magnum I picked up.) -DD
  • Variations on the negroni. The classic is equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth–a can’t-fail balance of refreshing, sweet, and bitter flavors. But this drink is also exceptionally well-suited to tinkering. Alter any or all of the components and you’ll come up with something equally, though differently, delicious (but stick with the spirit-bitter-sweet formula). Recent combos at Hearsay HQ have included silver tequila, Aperol, and dry vermouth; aquavit, Aperol, and Carpano Antica; and rye, Campari, and tawny port. -JF

What we’re drinking

The New York Times has What We’re Reading. Here’s our take on that: What We’re Drinking–a summary of interesting wine, beer, and/or cocktails we’ve tasted over the last week.

  • Thomas Fogarty Late Disgorged 1998 Blanc de Blancs, Santa Cruz Mountains. Wow, a late disgorged bubbly from California? I didn’t know what to expect from this. I bought it on a whim because I was curious–but it’s one of the most earthy, mushroomy bubbles I have ever had. It’s a very savory sparkling, with lots of complexity and great balance. A great food wine and a steal at $30. -DD
  • This isn’t just one taste, but many: recently I went to the In Pursuit of Balance seminar at RN74. Take everything I say here with a grain of salt because I’m far from an expert on California pinot, but it didn’t do much to relieve my skepticism of it. I tasted 20-some producers, and at the end of it, most of them just tasted the same. Big, high alcohol, and fruity. None of those things are inherently bad, but the wines overall lacked character for me. Especially for the retail price (few were under $40). There were a few standouts, though: LIOCO’s 2009 Michaud Vineyard and the Tyler 2008 “Presidio” from Santa Barbara were both excellent and full of complexity. I thought the Hirsch 2007 San Andreas and the Kutch 2009 McDougall Ranch stood out as winners as well. -DD
  • 1997 Philipponnat “Réserve Millésimée. Have I mentioned that I love old bubbles? I wish I would’ve bought more of this. On the nose, there is something about this wine which is oddly similar to the Fogarty–which is extra odd because the Fogarty is chardonnay from California and the Philipponnat is mainly pinot from Champagne. But, they both have some mushroomy, earthy tones to them. But in the mouth this is a classic pinot bubbly with great length. The only bad thing about this wine is that it reminds me that I need to drink their higher end Clos des Goisses which is nearly triple the price. C’est la vie. -DD

Pairing wine, beer, and cocktails with Mexican food

Finding the right pairings for our Mexican meal was a lot of fun. And also a bit challenging. Personally, when I think Mexican, I don’t think haute cuisine. I think street food and una cerveza. So my default mode of pairing wine to anything and everything doesn’t necessarily work (and it’s a habit I should break myself of anyway). Mexican food and wine can work, but for a number of dishes, it certainly isn’t the best option. There are lots of tasty beer and cocktail options you should be considering instead.

Seared scallop with avocado cream and pickled radish salad
There were a lot of options for the scallops. They have a very mild flavor lending themselves to lots of different things.  A very obvious choice is a white wine, perhaps a German riesling or Champagne.  In both cases, acidity and a little bit of sweetness would be a great contrast to the salinity of the scallop.  (Because of the mild flavors, you want to stay away from oaked wines – they’ll overpower the flavors of the scallop pretty rapidly.)

However, that’s all a bit too obvious.

We decided to venture off into the less-expected cocktail arena for this one. Taking a cue from the classic pairing of fish tacos and margaritas, we developed this refreshing, vibrantly green drink that complements the delicate sweetness of the scallop and delivers a hint of heat on the finish:

1 ounce St. George Spirits Agua Azul tequila reposado
1/4 ounce Hangar One chipotle vodka
2 ounces honeydew agua fresca

Make the honeydew agua fresca by pureeing honeydew melon chunks in a food processor. Strain twice using a fine-mesh metal sieve to get rid of the pulp.

Combine the ingredients in a shaker, fill with ice, and shake. Serve over a single whiskey ice cube in short glasses with chile salt rim.

Rice and beans
We knew from the beginning that we wanted to echo the everyman nature of rice and beans by pairing it with a beer. Our version of the dish incorporated a variety of unusual flavors (the beans were stewed in a thickened sangrita broth made with tomato, orange, and chile) and textures (we topped the warm, soft beans with both puffed rice and crunchy fried brown rice grains)–but the basic flavor was the same as the classic.

In the name of research (ahem!), we bellied up to the bar at Monk’s Kettle. Our kindly bartender seemed enthusiastic about the challenge and poured us a couple of saisons and IPAs to try. They all seemed like solid contenders–but then he had a bolt of inspiration. Hitachino Red Rice Ale! (It wasn’t available at Monk’s that night, but BevMo carries it.)

It was a perfect match. The beer is crisp rather than hoppy, and its subtle fruitiness complemented our sangrita broth beautifully. The mellow rice undertone echoed the toasty flavors in the dish.

“Masa ball soup”  (round pork tamales with salsa roja and posole broth)

This pairing actually started with the beer rather than the food. After enjoying a pint of the Ocho Negro Black IPA at the Deschutes Brewery in Portland, Jeanne knew she wanted to create a dish that would complement its smooth, roasty character. It turned out that Ocho Negro is only available on tap at the brewery–but 21st Amendment, just up the street from us in San Francisco, makes Back in Black. Convenient.

Black IPAs tend to be way less bitter than the traditional IPA hop bomb. This one struck a perfect balance between dark, chocolatey notes of de-bittered black malt and the refreshing bite of Columbus, Centennial, and Simcoe hops. These flavors worked as a foil to the deep meaty flavors in the posole broth and the bright red chile in the tamale.

Pork belly and mole negro
We had some debate over what to pair with the mole. Mole is tricky. It is slightly sweet, but charred, with a bit of spiciness to it. Ultimately we were very happy with our choice of the Benanti Rovittello, but how did we decide on an Italian red with mole?? Well, it’s a bit of a process of elimination:

  • White or red? Red. Darker red fruit flavors are needed to stand up against the intense flavors of the mole. Most whites would get lost in the mix.
  • Tannins or no tannins? No or very fine tannins. They’ll fight with the mole. You’ve already got some astringent texture from the mole, so you want something which can clear the palate and contrast the texture of what you’ve eaten. Otherwise, you’ll be reaching for your water instead.
  • Low or high acid? High acid to cut through the mole.
  • Old world or new world? We definitely want fruit. Subtlety will be lost against this dish. One could easily go for a new world Grenache or even a fruit forward Spanish. Italian is also an option here.

Ultimately I chose the Benanti out of personal preference. If I’m going to go with a more fruit forward wine, I still want it to have some old world feel. And this one had not only the fruit and acidity, but also a bit of earthiness on the nose to bring out the charred peppers in the mole.

Gingerbread with spiced chocolate consomme and persimmon granita
Tokaji is the immediate thing that comes to mind here. Its golden, honey flavors would be a wonderful complement to the warm gingerbread, the persimmon, and spiced hot chocolate.

K&L even had an amazing Tokaji in stock: the 1993 Chateau Pajzos 5 Puttonyos. Unfortunately for our guests, we drank the last bottle of it for “testing purposes.” It was amazing, full of peach and honey and coconut macaroons. If you find this wine, buy it. (I ordered the rest of the K&L stock, but it didn’t arrive in time).

Thankfully, there was another delicious Tokaji in stock: the 2001 Hétszölö Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos. It also had all the characteristic flavors and textures of a great Tokaji and worked wonderfully.