When used in relation to food and wine, the word "fusion" often brings about visuals of kitschy New York or L.A.-based oddities, like that of Sushi Samba and other institutions combining the funky and bizarre. But in the case of food and wine pairings, I think the concept offers delightful combinations just waiting to be explored.
One of the early lessons in wine pairing that enthusiasts are taught is “what grows together goes together.” Classic Marseillaise seafood Bouillabaisse with Rose from Bandol, or the bold wines of Barolo with rustic northern Italian fare of quail, goose, or duck are classic examples of pairing with foods in the region.
However, for a food and wine lover such as myself, I find these pairings, while agreeable, come with the side of predictability and are less than exploratory. After all, great things come from experimentation! Many wine enthusiasts know of great fusion pairings, such as riesling with Asian cuisine. But there are so many more combinations just waiting to be paired.
This past weekend, I wanted to pair one of my favorite wines, Carmel Road Monterey Unoaked Chardonnay (retails around $18.99), and one of my other favorite carb-filled delights, pasta. While a classic Italian pasta would definitely warrant an Italian pairing I wanted to see if the pairing could match one of my favorite wines. We settled upon fusilli bucatini pasta with Italian sausage, lemon butter sauce, onion and spinach, garnished with lemon zest and parmesan. Chardonnay is one of those interesting grapes produced in areas around the world. From Chablis to Bordeaux, Napa to Southern Australia, each region imparts its own unique terroir (sense of place) on the wine to create something truly unique. Many different expressions are available, from very oaky highlighted by caramel and vanilla notes, to no oak usage at all, with a spectrum of tart citrus to warm tropical fruit flavors.
This wine has great memories for me. It will forever and always remind me of my time in California. Driving down the Pacific Coast highway, tenting in Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur, this wine takes me back every time I open one of these bottles.
From Soledad California, just East of Monterey in the Carmel Valley, this sustainably produced vineyard capitalizes on the moderating effects of Monterey Bay, offering the perfect climate to deliver a ripeness and acidic quality unto its own.
As soon as you open this wine, you’re immediately greeted by the strong aromatics of Basil, grapefruit and apple, complemented with warm white peach and nectarine. Picked up on the nose as well is a slight white stone minerality, almost chalky minerality, that grounds the fruity aromas to the glass.
As you begin to taste the wine, flavors of Strawberry, peach and nectarine come forward accented by jammy rhubarb. Herbaceous elements wash over your palate with basil and thyme throughout the tasting. The vibrant citrus flavors of the wine were perfect to cut through the butter sauce and complement the lemon used in the dish. As this wine is unoaked, the true flavors of the Chardonnay grape take center stage. For other pairings, be sure to pair with semi-soft cheeses, fish or seafood with light butter sauce, poultry and vegetable dishes, and herbaceous dishes highlighting tarragon, thyme, and citrus notes such as lemon zest. If you don’t enjoy the oaky characteristics of a traditional Chardonnay but are looking for a little more oomph than a Sauvignon Blanc, this wine is for you.
This wine is high in acidity, imparts a full mouthfeel and has an almost oily texture as you sip. With a medium to long finish, this bottle delivers a nicely balanced Chardonnay expression.
I encourage you, as you look for your own food and wine pairings this spring to branch out and experiment, to look for new ways to enjoy your favorite recipes and bottles. For myself, moments like these spark true joy with friends and family and are one of the reasons I’ve been so passionate about wine for so many years.