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Wines for a very southern cuisine

Friday - 1/11/2013, 5:01pm  ET

Scott Greenberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - One of the benefits of writing a wine column is that my friends are always inviting my spouse, Cindy, and me to parties. Now, I am not in any way suggesting that the only reason they are asking us to join their reindeer games is solely based on my ability to bring a suitcase of wine to the celebration, but, to date, no one has yet to decline the offer when I have made the obvious suggestion.

I recently met one of my more interesting challenges when a neighborhood friend invited us over for a post-holiday party. When Antonio extended the invitation, he did so without any preconceived notion that I would bring anything in tow other than my wife. However, I insisted that I contribute the obvious element, so naturally I inquired what was on the menu. Since Antonio and his lovely wife are from Venezuela, the scrumptious buffet included some delectable but difficult pairing challenges from the South America.

In the interest of journalistic research (and my own edification), I decided to jump in and see if I could come up with a few interesting wine choices to satisfy both the diverse assortment of food on the table and the varied palates of the friends on the guest list.

The well-drained vineyards located on the steep slopes of the hills overlooking the Adriatic Sea, near Valdobbiadene, are where the Prosecco grapes develop their crisp acidity and bright flavors. The Non-Vintage Aneri Brut Prosecco from Veneto, Italy, is a perfect foil for the citrus based ceviche that started the evening. It has bright floral scents of peach and nectarine on the bouquet and the flavors of ripe peach, green apple and tangy citrus are delivered across the palate by effervescent bubbles. The zesty bubbles keep the finish bright, clean and refreshing and are a nice counterbalance to the rich texture of the fish. $20

Trying to find a wine to pair with the asparagus and cheese tart was a fairly tall order because tannins from oak can over-accentuate the grassy characteristics in the asparagus, but the 2010 Lucien Albrecht Gewürztraminer Réserve from Alsace, France was a winner. The bouquet is packed with perfumed scents of rose petals, orange blossom and Lychee. In the mouth, the wine rewards the palate with vibrant flavors of apricot, nectarine, spice, nutmeg and Lychee nut. Just a hint of minerality adds depth to the bright, crisp finish. $16

Empanadas are a traditional Latin American treat, but the variety of fillings - we enjoyed chicken and cheese, pork and onions, beef and potato and spinach and raisins - calls for a wine that can match up to the multiplicity of flavors. Enter the Chilean project between former Penfolds Grange winemaker, John Duval, and Chilean agricultural entrepreneur Gonzálo Vial. The 2007 Ventisquero Vertice from the Apalta Valley, is a blend of syrah and carmenere that Duval and Ventisquero winemaker, Felipe Tosso, craft into a wine that is lighter style but big in character, with mouth-filling flavors of dark cherry, black plum and velvety chocolate up front and touches of spice and pepper emerging on the smooth finish. $35

The highlight of the evening was the pan de jamón, a slightly sweet bread loaf stuffed with ham, olives and raisins, is especially popular at Christmas time in Venezuela. The bread dough is rolled up around savory fillings into a log, baked and then sliced into attractive spirals. The uber luxurious 2005 Bodegas Catena Zapata Malbec Catena Nicasia Vineyard, located in Mendoza, Argentina, spent 18 months in new French oak. Beautiful scents of blackberry, cassis and smoked meats waft up from the fragrant bouquet while complex flavors of black fruit, black cherry, clove and earthy minerals fill the entire mouth on a smoothly textured frame. The long finish is mesmerizing. $65

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