Sunday, March 3, 2013

The 2013 Wine & Pairing Party

For the last six years or so Leslie and I have hosted a wine party.  Initially it was very informal and free form, with invitees bringing over various wines they enjoyed and cheeses or charcuterie or whatever they thought might be good, and we'd set it all up and just drink and eat all night.  It was initially just a family thing.  None of us really knew what the hell we were doing, but it didn't matter, because everyone brought wine, and most of the time it was unfamiliar, and we'd finish the evening and have picked out a couple new favorites to buy.
2011's participants...

The party morphed slowly through the years as Leslie and I started ordering wine flights at restaurants (where sommeliers selected good pairings for tasting menus) and we started really gaining an appreciation not necessarily for "wine" (which we really really...really already appreciated) but for the almost symbiotic impact of a really appropriate food pairing on that wine and vice versa. We started gaining rules and structure geared toward 'educating' while 'entertaining' until the party became what it is today.

Probably the first wine that Leslie and I ever tried where the pairing principal was revealed to us clearly was a Sangiovese.  We had purchased a salmon dish at the grocery store that was essentially salmon, spinach, and feta, rolled into a pinwheel.  On the cooking instructions, it said, "Pairs well with Sangiovese".  We bought a bottle of it and were vaguely aware that it was the grape used to make Chiantis...but really knew nothing else.

We cooked the salmon and poured a glass of the Sangiovese and really enjoyed how the flavors played off each other...they just "fit".  We knew what pairings were, and this was a good one.  We resolved to remember "feta/salmon/Sangiovese".

The next night we were watching TV.  It was late and I asked Leslie if she wanted a glass of wine.  She said sure...or possibly just stared at me like, "are you new?" and I poured each of us a glass of the Sangiovese from the previous night.

It sucked.  We almost didn't finish it (but each of us powered through like the champions we are).  That experience more than any other illustrated to us how the pairing impacts the experience.  Served with salmon and feta pinwheels the Sangiovese was spectacular; served by itself it was harsh and acidic like Leslie when she's hungry.  

I'm Batman, bitches!!*
*Not actually's Mardi Gras
The guidelines for the yearly (soon to be twice yearly, I suspect) wine pairing party are relatively straightforward.  First we select a region.  (We've done Australia, South America, and this year Italy (since we started doing this by region)).  Next we select grapes from that region.  We pick enough varieties that each guest/couple gets one assigned grape.  The guests select a wine made from that grape, research the wine, and research a pairing.  Each guest brings two bottles of the wine they selected along with one dish (some cooking is often required) to the party.  We pick a theme (two years ago it was Valentine's Day, last year it was Mardi Gras, this year it's "Italy".  We decorate and set up tables and once everyone arrives we take our seats and begin.  

We make up a menu and organize the tasting by dish (salad/appetizer, fish, meat, dessert, for example) before the event.  The menu lists the wine vitals and the dish name.  The first group stands up, presents their wine, talks about pairing choices, pours the wine and serves the food.  The second group preps their food after they've tried the first group's pairing...and so on.

This year's menu
What we've determined is that 1) one bottle is not enough but two bottles is too much.  2)  The invitation list must be held under a certain number lest we all simultaneously black out in my basement, and 3)  Keep open flames away from the paper menus.

The presentations have become increasingly informative and entertaining (but at LEAST entertaining) through the years and at the end of the evening, everyone leaves with a copy of each wine presentation (typically) and a recipe for the dish that paired with it, and I clean everything up while Leslie passes out in bed.  ("That happened ONE time, Jim!")* 

*possibly not an actual quote...possibly it never happened.  possibly.

Sorry for all the background, but I figured I'd turn this into a blog post and OUR presentation would be available for "All the world".  You least the portion of the world that reads this blog.

This brings us to 2013, and our (Leslie's and mine) grape selection for the party:  Sangiovese.  Full circle!!  I'm like the Charles Dickens of bloggers!

Side-note, every time I type "Sangiovese" the spell-checker on Blogger wants to correct it to "Angiosperm"...not a wine drinker, Blogger?

Anyway, on to the presentation:

Sangiovese grape:  2009 La Maia Lina Chianti

Okay, okay, before anyone gets upset and cries foul and starts saying, "You guys cheated last year too!" Yes...yes, we cheated last year.  Yes, the wine we brought was NOT South American, but Spanish.  This isn't about last year, this is about THIS year.  You people have got to let it go.  And Chianti *IS* Sangiovese.  Or perhaps it's more instructive to say that this Chianti is Sangiovese.

As most of you have probably already figured out (and I can't write this after your presentations to be sure, but I assume you'll have done the math) many Italian wines and certainly those Italian wines grown in the Chianti region of Italy (see map below) take the name not of the varietal from which they are made, but from the region in which they're grown.  So although it may seem as if we're cheating like last year, I can assure you we are not.  This Chianti, "La Maia Lina" (which means the little pig) is entirely 100%* (give or take...DOCG requires that Chianti wines have no less than 75% Sangiovese grapes, but no actual percentage is specified on our bottle) Sangiovese grape blood.  

Which reminds me:  Sangiovese means "The Blood of Jove".  Jove is to Italy what Zeus is to Greece, so you're about to drink the blood of a God.  A God!!!  And if the stories I've read about drinking the blood of Gods are any indication, you'll probably all leave our house tonight with super powers (or possibly just feeling bulletproof)You're welcome.
sangiovese:  blood of jove
Sangiovese:  Blood of Jove
Sangiovese grapes are the number one planted grape in Italy.  They account for 10% of all the grapes planted and Sangiovese wines (with Chiantis and Brunello and others) account for most of Italy's wine exports. 

sangiovese:  number 1 grape in italy
We're number 1!  We're number 1!

Chianti:  The Chianti region, as you'll see from the map, is like the hot pink patchwork midway up the front of the leg of some colorblind Italian stripper's thigh boot.   Actually, Chianti is just the speck of dirt on that patchwork, because the patch itself is Tuscany.  Chianti is the subregion IN Tuscany. 
In fact, Chianti translated MEANS "Speck of dirt on front of stripper's thigh boot". Or something.

Chiantis are characterized in their youth by their predominantly floral and cinnamon spicy bouquet. As the wine ages, aromas of tobacco and leather can emerge...again, like a stripper's boot. Really, Chiantis are like the stripper's boots of the Italian wines.  

The tasting notes for our particular Chianti indicate that it is (according to The Wine Advocate):  "...a soft, sensual wine with generous fruit and an open, inviting personality. The fresh, vinous style is best appreciated upon release."  Much like...class???  Anyone?  No.  Not like a stripper's boot.  Here's where the analogy breaks down.  More like a stripper. Or perhaps a hooker.  That was a trick question.

Taste:  red fruit, strawberry, and raspberry

Nose:  asparagus, green pepper, and red fruit

Overall Rating:  88.
The acidity in Sangiovese wines make them very flexible (again like Italian strippers, but possibly like their boots as well) with food and wine pairings, particularly with Italian cuisines that feature red sauce, as well with as beeflamb and game.  It pairs well with fresh herbs.  It pairs well with many mushrooms and milder blue-veined cheeses like Gorgonzola.

We've prepared a dish of petite filet with Gorgonzola and porcini mushroom sauce.  

Buon Appetito.   


  1. Now I know I definitely want to be friends with you guys. If I didn't already.

  2. This sounds fun! I may have to steal this idea. We'll have to add a beer pairing menu for my husband though. He refuses to drink wine, but I drink wine and all of our friends do too.

    1. I love beer too. A beer pairing party would be great all on its own!

  3. I never been in a wine pairing party but the way you describe it, not only it sounds like fun but also a great learning experience. For a beginner like me, I think I should try your recipe first then I'll be more experimental afterward. >> Corey Glenn @