My mom called me early on December 24th to brainstorm about wines for that night’s dinner. As I’ve said before, she and I have similar cooking styles, and she had planned a stunning feast. Fortunately, we were invited.
We were starting with a vintage Champagne, but then she asked about the crab bisque she had made. Crab is one of the few dishes that sends me hunting for the rich Chardonnays that we produce in California. You don’t want a lot of oak character for this pairing, because the tannins will smother your tongue and prevent you from enjoying the delicate crab. However, a little of the butter character that comes from malolactic fermentation (converting apple-crisp malic acid to creamy-soft lactic) goes nicely with the crab meat. After all, we dunk cracked crab into little pots of melted butter. But you still want some acidity: Avoid the flabby Chardonnays that winemakers so often produce here in the land of overripe fruit.
My mom had a slightly older California Chardonnay, and we pondered its potential over the phone. She read the label, which said that it had been made in the Burgundian style. Lots of people say that, of course, but the rest of the label, which at least implied that it had been aged in neutral oak, sounded promising. In the end, it proved to be exactly what we hoped. The age gave it an extra creaminess, but its Russian River origins gave it the acidity we wanted.
Then we talked about the main course. She was cooking Muscovy duck breast — rich meat even when it’s not magret, the fat-filled breast of a foie gras duck — and garnishing it with a pomegranate wine sauce. I like a jammy, opulent Syrah with this combination of rich meat and syrupy sauce, and I had just the bottle: Melissa and I had visited Ridge Vineyards during our Manresa weekend, and we had bought one Zinfandel and one Syrah. I don’t actually like jammy Syrahs in general, so this one still had a lot of acidity to combat the sharp tang of the pomegranate and cut through the fat of the duck breast. But, again, California wineries tend to produce heavier, jammier wines that can stand up to the weight of this meat.
Part of the challenge of real world wine pairing is that we don’t actually have a large wine store in our basement. We have to make do with what we have. But in this case, by combining my mom’s bottles and mine, we came up bottles that worked nicely with the dishes she served.
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