To Pair With Corned Beef And Cabbage: Riesling!

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Forget what the calendar says, it’s springtime in San Francisco! Temperatures touched 80F today here in the city and around the bay. A customer who braved traffic to visit us today advised us to steer clear of Market St. as the traditional pre-St. Patrick’s Day Saturday Parade was well attended by a large crowd of revelers enjoying the weather and whooping it up. St. Patrick’s Day? Yes, Tuesday’s the day. What does that mean? Different things to different people. Now that I’ve toned down my part in the Paddy’s Day festivities, I think more of this day as an easy way to enjoy one of my favorite meals … corned beef and cabbage with potatoes. Anya and I had a conversation about this earlier this week, she said it’s no big deal, as she likes this dish way too much to relegate it to a St. Patrick’s Day-only meal. I understand her point, as I’m known to consume it year-round as well. It probably has something to do with the Eastern European background we share, but it just tastes like home.

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It has been around this time of year when we both have mentioned St. Patrick’s Day, corned beef and cabbage, and recommended a wine to complement what some may consider a difficult meal for a wine pairing. Sure, we all know a lot of beer gets poured with it, but there’s a more elegant way to enjoy it without perhaps feeling bloated afterwards. With Riesling. Dry Alsatian Riesling to be exact.

One of Alsace’s most famous dishes is Choucroute, which is a preparation of sauerkraut with sausages and other salted or cured meats. Hmmm, sounds familiar. What do Alsatians drink with Choucroute? What pairs perfectly with Choucroute? Dry Alsatian Riesling, of course.
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Ah, it’s been too many years ago now, but Chris and I once visited Alsace as TWH won a trip to the area for “best northern California Alsatian wine promotion.” I learned a ton during that trip and we met some prominent growers and winemakers. Apart from that, we ate some delicious food and enjoyed some wonderful wines with our meals. One of these meals that sticks out is the lunch we had at the home of Corinne and Philippe Ehrhart. We arrived in late morning to taste through their entire line of wines, and did so in the dining room adjacent to their kitchen. Somewhere in the middle of this tasting, the lid to the simmering Choucroute was removed and the “just like home” aromas enchanted me with cartoon-like appeal. I literally felt like I had my eyes closed and was physically floating in the direction of its source. As we concluded tasting and sat for lunch, it was the four bottles of Riesling that made it to the table.
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It’s interesting to note that our current selection of Domaine Ehrhart (Domaine St. Rémy in Alsace) Rieslings mirrors the selections we enjoyed with our Choucroute. The entry-level 2012 Vieilles Vignes Riesling: Dry, refined and delicate, it’s marked by fleshy fruit, blossoms, and minerals. A sip of this and it’s easy to grasp how well this varietal pairs with this kind of cuisine. It doesn’t taste like entry-level anything. The 2011 Riesling Herrenweg is all sourced from one vineyard planted in a mix of gravelly sand which preserves the fruity character while maintaining freshness. It has a lush, deep mouth feel, with notes of citrus, pear, and honey, yet has the “cut” to work well with the salty meat and cabbage frame. The 2011 Grand Cru Hengst Riesling is a special wine. If one takes into consideration what prices “Grand Cru” wine command elsewhere, these are outright bargains. The vineyard is special in its soil content: calcareous marl, limestone boulders, and sandstone pebbles abound. The 2011 is aromatically expressive with notes of apricots, tropical fruit, and stony minerals. The palate is full and complex, with hints of herbs and beeswax floating with the aforementioned fruit. It has a zesty finish which suggests it will pair with a myriad of dishes such as lemongrass chicken or enchiladas suizas. The 2010 Grand Cru Hengst is similar, of course, yet has a slightly deeper, honeyed fruity component. It too has an excellent display of minerality, and finishes with flair. Perhaps one can understand exactly why a meal enjoyed many years ago can still be fresh in my mind!

As mentioned in our recent write-up about the 2012 Opalie de Château Coutet (Pre-Arrival), I will be off to Bordeaux soon, this being my last stateside “Sunday Email” for a while. I’ve heard many things about the 2014 vintage in Bordeaux, but I will travel there with an open mind ready to see for myself what this new vintage is all about. I’m preparing to send, at the very least, and update on things a fortnight from tonight on location from Bordeaux, hopefully I’ll have some time to send more. I’m planning on sharing some photos and other things on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so if you follow us there, you’ll be in touch. But all things in good time; I’ve got an excuse to sit down with some corned beef, cabbage and potatoes … sign me up for a bottle of that Grand Cru Hengst! – Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments: peter@wineSF.com
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Filed under Alsace, Peter Zavialoff, Riesling

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