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Family reunion wines

Friday - 9/9/2011, 1:10pm  ET

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

My mother in-law hails from Louisville, and makes the best fried chicken I have ever eaten. My brother in-law lives near San Francisco and grills a mean salmon. My aunt in-law grew up in southern California and has an affinity for lamb. Me? I’m known for my neighborhood-famous teriyaki flank steak. To celebrate our last evening together, my father in-law thought it would be fun to have a smorgasbord and try each of our specialties collectively. A wine pairing disaster if I ever did see one.

I decided to orchestrate the evening by starting with the fried chicken, then the salmon, followed by the flank steak and finishing up with the rack of lamb. Once the order of the meal was set, the wine pairings fell into place, with lighter-styled wines kicking off the evening and bigger wines towards the end of the meal. Retail prices are approximate.

Pairing wine with fried chicken was a new experience for me, but I knew I wanted a wine that would hold up to the spiciness of the coating but not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the meat. The 2007 Trimbach Pinot Blanc from the Alsace region of France hit just the right balance. This straight-forward wine has a bright, fruit oriented bouquet, featuring scents of nectarine and peach. Flavors of summer stone fruit, apple blossoms and green melon slip across the tongue in an easy, uncomplicated way. Best of all, there is just the right amount of acidity to cut through the richness of the fried skin and keep the palate refreshed. ($16)

Pairing wine with salmon would usually be a snap. However, my brother in-law threw me a curve when he decided to grill the fish on a cedar plank with a maple-cayenne pepper glaze. The cedar plank departs a distinctive smoky note while the glaze adds both sweet and heat. I skipped the usual pinot noir pick and went with the 2006 St. Francis Pagani Ranch Zinfandel from Sonoma, California. This sumptuous Zinfandel has a remarkable bouquet of sweet blueberries and cherries. In the mouth, the ripe black cherries, dark plums and blueberry liqueur on the front of the tongue complement the sweet glaze while the touch of black pepper on the powerful finish keeps the heat in check. ($25)

Steak marinated in teriyaki and orange juice calls for a red wine with both strength and finesse. The 2007 Markham Merlot from Napa Valley, CA has an enticing nose of red currants and dried herbs cedar on the fragrant bouquet, but it is the smooth-textured palate, featuring flavors of blackberry and ripe dark plum, that makes this match work. The complex, lengthy finish shows off just a touch of smoky cedar and earthy notes. ($20)

Fortunately, the rack of lamb course was a classic preparation, roasted with rosemary and garlic, so the choice of wine was simple; Shiraz. The 2007 D’Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz from the McLaren Vale appellation of Australia has just a touch of Viognier blended in to smooth out the bold flavors of blackberry, licorice and black pepper and give the long, elegant finish a slightly floral quality that plays off of the rosemary notes. ($24)

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