Inspired by the insightful wine writing of Paprika and Pinot yesterday in her blog post challenging preconceived wine pairing notions; I decided to do a little experiment. My dear friend Joanie Karapetian, author of the wonderful blog Italian Wine Geek has for months extolled the virtues of the winery Ettore Germano in Piedmont (northwest Italy) and I went in search of this producer.
I was lucky enough to find a bottle of Ettore Germano Balau at a lovely wine shop in Arvada, Colorado called Primo Vino. I was turned on to the shop after a lovely wine dinner at Bella Bistro, also in Arvada, hosted by the indomitable Shelly Hunsucker Steinhaus.
These three women have really reached deep into my wine psyche and opened some doors to trying new things that an old curmudgeonly veteran like myself may not have tried otherwise. Thank you ladies and on to the experiment.
The Balau 2005 is a blend of 50% Dolcetto, 25% Barbera, and 25% Merlot. Merlot? Yeah, this guy is out there and I can tell you; I like it. The wine was a little closed (not very aromatic) at first while tart with cherry and lactic acid on the palate (lactic acid is the same acid found in milk and is not nearly as bracing as other forms of acid we eat). I find this lactic component almost always with Barbera from the Langhe - an area of great repute in Piedmont.
The challenge was to pair this bad boy with Szechuan Chinese food left over from Friday evening. Lo Mein with crispy chicken thighs, Ma Po Tofu with Pork, and Eggplant with Mushrooms. There was some spice, some sweet, a lot of savory and plenty of umami. So while I would normally grab a Riesling I thought this high-toned red blend would pair well and I wanted to challenge my natural tendency to pair white wine with Szechuan Chinese.
As it turned out the wine seemed flat and a little tired alongside the very flavorful food. The noodles were extraordinary re-heated and maybe even slightly better than Friday with a bit of added olive-oil crunch from the hot pan. The tofu really broke up in the cooking process and while the eggplant remained impeccable and tasty, the final two dishes as a whole were a bit weaker on the re-heat.
Now, once the food was gone, the wine began to sing. The dark cherry fruit from the Merlot and Barbera were jumping from the glass while the racy Dolcetto backbone seemed to be a perfect frame to showcase the two other grapes in the blend. Now, the reason the wine improved could have been one of two things.
A. The wine was just better because it needed to be open longer and evolve in the glass
B. The wine just paired poorly with the food and once the food was gone the wine began to show its true nature.
I am just going to have to get another bottle of Ettore German Balau 2005 and find out. There is going to be a tasting of Germano wines at Bella Bistro on March 20, and I for one cannot wait to see more of what this guy is doing in one of my favorite parts of the world.
Stay Thirsty My Friends!