Friday, April 1, 2011

Paired Up: Syrah and Pasta with Meat Sauce

In our Paired Up posts, we review a wine and the food we wisely (or foolishly) paired it with. 

The Wine

2007 Va Piano Syrah (Columbia Valley)

During our first trip out to Walla Walla wine country, we were pretty much blank slates on what kind of wine we liked. We knew that we didn't like white. We were wrong there. We also had an inkling that we didn't like Syrah. We could not have been more wrong on that. This 2007 Syrah from Va Piano Vineyards was the one that really grabbed us and shook the Syrah hesitance right out of us. We picked up this bottle on that trip and stored it for a few months in our storage unit until we got the wine fridge up and running, where it rested until we popped it open for this meal. We decanted it for a good hour or so before tasting, and that seemed to work pretty well

The Food

This is one of Hunter's specialties, so he took the lead while Katy helped out with the cutting. In the chef's words:

Pasta is the staple of many a young man with a high metabolism and limited cooking skills. Back when that described me, I was a master of spaghetti and the Prego jar. Eventually, I learned my way around the kitchen a bit more and came to make a pretty decent chili. I realized that the Cincinnati-style chili of my youth wasn't too different from spaghetti with meat sauce, so one day I set out to make pasta sauce from scratch. Or at least pretty close to scratch.

First up is the prep work. Start with 6 on-the-vine tomatoes, 3/4 of a medium onion, 1 green pepper, 7 cloves of garlic (because the base recipe calls for 5 and I can never hold back from adding more garlic!) and 8 or so crimini (aka baby portabella) mushrooms. Cut the onion and pepper into 1/2 inch or so pieces, mince the garlic and sliced the mushrooms the way mushrooms are sliced. Cut the tomatoes into roughly 3/4 inch cubes. If you don't want the skin, you can parboil them first and peel that off, but we don't mind it so we left it on. The tomatoes go into a large pot, while everything else is set aside.

Since Katy was helping with the cutting, I went ahead and started in on the meat while she finished that up. In a large pan, heat up some EVOO. Add 2/3 pound Italian sausage and break it up in the pan with a spatula while it browns. Add in the onions and sauté until they are translucent, then add in the peppers and half of the garlic and sauté those for a minute or so. Finally, add the mushrooms and keep it cooking until the peppers and mushrooms are tender.

Throw that meat and veggie mix into the pot with the tomatoes. Add a can of tomato paste, 2 squirts of catsup, 2 tsp sugar and whatever spices you deem appropriate. I used 2 bay leaves, 1+ tsp basil, 1/2+ tsp oregano, 1/2+ tsp salt and a sprinkling of garlic salt and fresh ground pepper.

At this point, it doesn't look like it's ever going to be a sauce, but set the heat to low and let it cook uncovered for a few hours and it will eventually become a glorious red mess. Be sure to pop in a few times to stir it. Not that it really needs it, but it gives a good opportunity to "check the progress".

When the sauce is ready, serve it on whatever pasta you like. This time, we used whole wheat chiocciole. Sprinkle some parmesan on the top and serve!

For good measure, Katy made some garlic bread. In her words:

Can't complain that all I had to focus on was garlic bread for 2! So, heat the oven up - 350, demi-baguette, cut in half lengthwise, then spread with a very light layer of soft butter, sprinkle with fresh crushed garlic, some grated parmesan cheese, and a little course salt. Put some tinfoil on it, then into the oven for around 10 minutes. Our opinion: mo' garlic is always mo' better!

Before dinner, we also sampled the wine with a young Gouda and a Gouda-style parmesan.

Hunter's Gatherings

The wine is dark purple - nearly impenetrable to the eye. The aroma is very strong and shows a lot of complexity. After many visits, I picked out predominant notes of earth, dark fruits (especially black cherry), leathery tobacco and blackberries. Also in the mix are black pepper, grilled meat, graphite, a hint of oak and a floral aroma I couldn't quite pinpoint. The taste is full and smooth, and grows in intensity as it sits in the mouth. The fruit flavors are prevalent throughout and leather and soft tannins provide great structure. The pepper pops in and out of the taste. The wine coats the mouth and sends the flavors out through the nose, giving a very full mouthfeel. The finish keeps going and going... 93

We first sampled the wine with the cheese. The Gouda was a nice complement to it... not amazing, but amped up the flavors a bit. The parmesan was too weak to compete with this wine. The pasta: WOW! Everything worked together. The sauce enhanced the wine and the wine heightened the flavors in the sauce. The sausage and spices played up the peppery elements of the wine, the tomatoes brought the fruit forward, the mushrooms combined with the earthy notes... everything just worked!

Katy's Take 

I found myself nearly lost into the purple depths of the crystal clear glass. Breathing it in seemed to open my entire respiratory system, and filled my nose with the an incredible aroma of earth, vanilla and juicy black currants. After a while an even deeper scent of smoky, charred sweet tobacco, with a hint of the finest leather. Sip: Wow! A crush of black pepper, caramel, black currants and vanilla. Creamy and dreamy. Masculine with a steady, balanced structure. The attack really coats the entire tongue, while the middle bursts with black pepper that forces you to breathe from your nose. Refreshing, juicy and smooth! 95

While the sauce simmered on the stove, we started with a little taster of cheese. The young Gouda was an excellent companion. The wine met the sharp and creamy taste of the cheese and melted it on the palate. However, the Gouda/Parmesan seemed to clash a little. My suspicion is that the ages didn't mix well, i.e. the cheese tasted far too mature for the adolescent and open wine. 

Finally, on to the main course! Garlic and Wine! Garlic and Wine, and peppers, and meat, and tomatoes... and, and... it was sooooooooo good! Everything seemed to complement and build on each other's flavors until it just melted the palate. Sometimes, the acid in tomatoes clashes with red wine, but not this time. To date, I would call this our best match-up. We might be getting the hang of this after all!

The Conclusion

This was a no-doubt-about-it success. The sauce was flavorful enough to keep up with this excellent wine and the two paired perfectly. This sauce would probably work well with any good Syrah, especially one with the complexity to complement its melange of flavors. The mushrooms - a late addition to the recipe - may have been one key to making it pair well with this Syrah and its earthiness. Great wine, great food, great pairing!

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