Typically one does not pair up Carménère, the 6th varietal of Bordeaux with exquisite Chinese food, but last week it was done to perfection! Carménère had been considered the lost Bordeaux varietal since the Phylloxera plague in Europe in 1867. It was actually mistaken for a Merlot grape in Chile until 1994 and confirmed via DNA. You can read more on this at:
There is anonymous saying that “Adventure may hurt you, but monotony will kill you” is no truer than in this wine and food pairing. When initially invited, admittedly I had some skepticism to understand how Larry Dino, owner and winemaker for Cuda Ridge Wines and Nick Liang, SOMM and owner of Uncle Yu’s were going to pull off this pairing. However when you pull together excellent wines and creativity in food preparation, they achieved their goals with an outstanding performance.
Larry and Nick invited a few folks to come partake is a few versions of his Carménère along with Master Sommelier Randy Caparoso. In attendance were two other SOMM’s, wine writer and some of Larry’s staff. A deep dive discussion into each vineyard and some of the difficulties in bringing forth the fruit with extreme temperatures and challenges for the first Carménère vineyards in Livermore/Pleasanton area.
As a precursor to the meal, several special appetizers were prepared and served with a scrumptious Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve Champagne.
First up was a pairing of the 2019 “Insel Family Vineyard” Carménère from Pleasanton with a stir-fried wild white prawns with basil. This first dish with the trumpet mushrooms and basil, coupled with a startling delicious Carménère exceeded the expectation of the pairing. The basil paired with the herbaceous wine, were like two old friends shaking hands and then embracing with a manly hug. I had reviewed this wine over a year ago with the following comments “This wine lived up to and exceeded some of the key characteristics of Carménère. On the eyes, a medium-heavy viscosity wine with a unique inviting deep purple coloration. On the nose, ripe Bing cherries greeted the senses. The palate is where this wine excelled. First the bright cherry taste was intense and concentrated. Plums and dark fruits then came forth with a hint of soft dry and wet earthen tones (minerality and forest floor) with black tea in the background. The earthy notes are generally found in Chilean Carménère but not found too often in California. The finish was long lasting with mocha and pepper finishing off the enjoyment. The wine is aged in French oak barrels (100%) for 18 months”.
The next wine was the 2020 “Insel Vineyard” Carménère. This year provided an increase in yield and with less pyrazines. The barrel treatment of 66% new French oak and 34% new American oak. This provided a very slight sweetness in the finish. This was magnificently paired with Mu Chu Pork with Kim Chi. This pairing with Kim Chi and the “softer 2020” (than the 2019) paired up extremely nice with the spiciness of the cilantro topping off the dish and bell pepper in the Mu Chu. Many of us, simply tasted the cilantro with the wine and found it to be heavenly match!
The third wine was the 2020 Carménère “Little Dog Vineyard” from Livermore. This newer vineyard provided a much softer and mellower Carménère than from Insel Family Vineyards. Yet still providing adequate tannins and structure. This was done in new French oak. This was paired with one of my favorite dishes of the day, roast rack of lamb with Thyme and Szechuan pepper corns. The sauce was spicy and tangy and with the wine produced an extremely compatible partner.
The fourth and final Carménère was Cuda Ridge’s 2018 “Insel Family Vineyards”. This was served with a most creative seared medallions of Snake River Farms Wagyu short ribs with mini Heirloom tomatoes in a black pepper sauce. Mushrooms, bell peppers and shavings of red pepper, provided a wonderful spice and texture along with the beef. A little soy was also added. This paired with the 2018 Carménère provided a mouthful exuberance that concluded the Carménère and food tastings.
A special sparkling was also supplied, Bugey-Cerdon “La Cuielle” from Savoie Switzerland. This was paired with an exotic dish with mango, passion fruit & raspberry sorbetto formed in a ball & dipped in white chocolate. I didn’t know if I wanted to eat this dessert or frame it as artwork!
A final few thoughts on this wine and food pairing:
- Carménère, which I have for years generally paired with traditional tri-trip, marinated flank steak, etc., is a wine with immense diversity.
- Once you have identified the spices and aromas in the Carménère, try to incorporate those in the meal, be it meat, chicken, pork, seafood, different ethnic cuisines, etc.
- Food and wine experimentation is the key to a rewarding culinary and wine understanding.
- When sampling/tasting wines, keep some of each in your glass and go back and taste with all the food dishes. You will be amazed on how some align and some not as well, even with the same varietal.
As I stated in the beginning, “Adventure may hurt you, but monotony will kill you” now is time to pick up a bottle of Cuda Ridge’s Carménère and begin experimenting and be creative. You will be rewarded as was the group by Nick and Larry who worked together, pulling off this food and wine pairing not considered conventional but with amazing success.