Counterintuitive Pairing: Chorizo with White, Striped Bass with Red

By Ray Isle Posted March 12, 2007

I was in Chicago this past weekend for a somewhat unjustified frenzy of eating and drinking. In the realm of pairing, this adventure also provided an effective example of the rule that says whatever you think you know, think again.

One highlight involved the chorizo-stuffed, bacon-wrapped medjool dates at Avec, paired with a wine that at first glance ought not to have worked so well, a 2005 Viña Mein ($15) from Ribeiro in Spain. If anything suggests red wine to me as a pairing choice, it'd be chorizo, bacon & dates—actually I tend to think that only a dead person wouldn't enjoy chorizo, bacon & dates, no matter what they had in their glass. But that aside, the bright, citrusy zing and minerality of this white from northwest Spain made a great counterpoint to the smoky, tangy meat and sweet dates (and went awfully well with marinated whitefish and garlic sausage brochettes, too).

In a similarly counterintuitive way, a 2003 Faiveley Mercurey 1er cru Clos des Myglands ($40)—not at all a shrinking violet of a Burgundy, with a pretty substantial tannic backbone—went weirdly well with the weirdest dish of the weekend, at Tru. This was a three-inch tall cube of poached striped bass surmounted by a tangle of tomato-pasilla pepper gelee ribbons, which in turn were amply sprinkled with gold dust. The whole thing looked rather like a perfectly nice piece of fish that had been mysteriously gift-wrapped by crazed elves, then set in a tasty pool of duck consommé (the presentation was actually very pretty, and we all kind of pointed and ooh-ed and aah-ed at it, and I'm sure must have seemed like complete horse's asses to those dining around us). And the Mercurey, which would otherwise have overwhelmed the delicate fish, went perfectly with those piquant-tomatoey ribbons, as well as with the concentrated depth of flavor in the consommé. Life contains unlooked-for wonders, once in a while.

Finally, in another fish-red wine success, a chorizo-crusted Atlantic turbot at Avenues (seems to be a chorizo moment at hand in Chicago) went superbly with a 2003 Domaine de la Charbonniere Vacqueyras ($20). Again, the red could have killed the turbot on its own, but the dominant flavor of this dish was really the paprika-inflected chorizo surrounding the fish, complemented by a fragrant herb foam (and why not). The spicy, not-too-tannic Grenache-Syrah blend of the Vacqueyras played into these flavors perfectly.

I'm not sure what the lesson to be derived from all this is; perhaps only that as much as journalists like me are inclined to make specific pairing suggestions, on a good wine list—and with six diners at the table, all ordering different dishes—the point-and-shoot approach often works just as well.

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