Happy Together Pairings

SINCE MOST people think that Portugal is synonymous with Port wine, I take every opportunity I can find to introduce fans of red wine to what I consider to be some of the best red table wines in the world; those made with Touriga Nacional grapes grown on the steep, rocky slopes of the Douro Valley.
While there are lots of precious wines that can be had for those with pocketfuls of money, I have to say that my favorites are the less expensive table wines such as this 2007 Pombal Do Vesuvio. The wine has such a blueberry-raspberry forward flavor and velvety softness that I love it by itself. But I have to admit that it's also great with home-style Portuguese cuisine such as this dish of chicken, rice and chorizo.
It's interesting to note that the Quinta do Vesuvio is part of the Symington family of wineries which include Dow brand port wines. The wine is $28. For details on the dish, click on the recipes tab on the home page. 

In the world of wine and food pairing, asparagus is known to be problematic. It's a vegetable with huge personality, one that tends to call for a bright Fume Blanc or a sweet style Gruner Veltliner.
But when I stopped by the new CADE Winery in Napa for a bite of lunch prepared by Todd Humphries at Martini House, the asparagus dish was paired not with white, but with a rich, full Cabernet blend. I was doubtful, but the pairing worked wonderfully, likely because it was finished with a lovely red wine reduction.
I loved the freshness of this pairing so much that I decided to throw it together at home. The entire dish takes just minutes to prepare, especially if you happen to have a bottle of Mia's Kitchen Balsamic Reduction. Since the CADE wine is $60 a bottle (but worth it,) I'd like t suggest serving this dish with a much more pocket-friendly Hogue Cabernet ($16) or Hogue's fancy label Reserve Merlot ($30.) Click on the recipe page for details on how to prepare the dish.


IT'S DESSERT TIME in my world, which means it's a perfect time to figure out which sweet libation goes with which dessert. After sampling a gooey, chocolately dessert masterpiece called Sticky Chocolate Brownies, I headed straight for the port wine rack in search of a pair. I tasted and sipped one after another until I found the right one. Dow's Tawny Port doesn't work because it has almost the exact same flavors and sweetness of the dessert. Together, the two become a giant sugar sugar bomb. The Dow Ruby is a mistake because it's bright berry flavors clash with the richness of the dessert. The Calegari Vineyards Port from the Russian River Valley is just too young -- better with berries and panna cotta than this hunk of decadence.
AT LONG LAST I found exactly the right sip: Graham's Six Grapes Port, a port with a bit of that tannin-backbone you find in a red wine. The youthful tannins help it to cut through the sweet, draw attention to the deliciousness of the chocolate. This is the one you want with those brownies, with your chocolate pie, or with that leftover Halloween candy you'll be eating for the next week.
*A footnote about this recipe: The book in which it was found, "1,000 Chocolate Recipes," was literally rescued from the dumpster by a chocolate lover, who passed to a pair of like-minded young ladies whose Mom hates all things chocolate (it's OK, we love her in spite). The girls smuggled the book into our kitchen to bake up a little clandestine treat.
Makes 9
1/3 cup butter, plus extra for greasing
¾ cup sugar
½ cup dark brown sugar
4.5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 tablespoon corn syrup
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 recipe Caramel (below)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square pan. Place butter, sugars, chocolate and corn syrup into a saucepan over low heat, stirring until the mixture is well blended and smooth.
2. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Beat together the eggs and extract with the cooled chocolate mixture.
3. Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking powder. Fold carefully into the egg-chocolate mixture, using a metal spoon or spatula.
4. Spoon batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes or until the top is crisp or the brownies are beginning to shrink away from the edge of the pan. The inside of the batter will still be quite stodgy and sticky.
5. Cool brownies for at least one hour. Pour caramel over the top and allow to set for at least 30 minutes.
Recipe adapted from “1000 Chocolate Baking and Dessert Recipes,” (Parragon Publishing.)
1 ¼ cups cream or half and half
1 ¼ cups sugar
6 tablespoons corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
¼ cup butter
½ teaspoon vanilla
1. Place the cream, sugar, corn syrup and tartar in a saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until it reaches 246 degrees. Don’t panic if the caramel seems too light. It should be barely golden in color, not nearly as dark as the caramels you buy in the store.
2. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the butter and vanilla and set aside.

Recipe from “Teens Cook Dessert” ($19.95, Ten Speed Press) by Megan and Jill Carle.

ONE MOUTHFUL of this gorgeous pinot from Chamisal convinced me that I needed to find a pair. I searched the cookbooks and found some ideas, but honestly, I lost patience. I decided to take a pairing shortcut, using the wine as my guide.
I started with spaghetti squash, added some chicken and ham to call out the funkiness in the Pinot, tweaked it with oregano to balance the spice in the wine, then cheated big-time by adding a bit of feta. Yes, I know. Cheating is wrong. But the result is a dish that tastes great and pulls at all of the best characteristics in the wine. Was I wrong to cheat? My palate says "No!"
I admit that the 2007 Chamisal Pinot ($38) from Edna Valley in the Santa Barbara is a bit pricey, but if that's what it costs to get a stacked, pure, memorable Pinot, I'm in.

Spaghetti Squash with Chicken and Ham
Serves 4
1 large spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise
2/3 cup diced ham
½ yellow onion, sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 cups boned, cooked chicken in bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon dry or 2 tablespoons fresh oregano
½ cup feta cheese

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the squash halves, cut side down, on a rimmed sheet. Place squash in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until soft when pressed. Remove and set aside.
2. Heat a pan over high heat until the pan is hot. Add oil, then add ham. Stir for about 3 minutes, then add onion and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring only occasionally, until the onion just begins to turn translucent. Toss in the garlic and stir, continuing to cook.
3. When the onion mix begins to brown, add cooked chicken and oregano. Toss lightly and continue to cook until chicken begins to brown as well.
4. Fork spaghetti squash to fluff and remove from shells. Add squash, broth and feta to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cover for about 3 minutes. Toss and serve with more fresh oregano and feta to taste.
Note: This recipe was inspired by a recipe from “Urban Italian,” but the herbs and other flavorings were specially selected to complement the wine.