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Dan the Wine Man: Artichokes and Wine? I Like A Challenge

Dan the Wine Man: Artichokes and Wine? I Like A Challenge

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Editor’s note: Each week, Dan Dawson, aka Dan the Wine Man, peruses the story written by Napa Valley Register food writer Ken Morris (published in the Tuesday Food section) and then comes up with ideas for wines that make a match.

A recent strategy session with Ken Morris on future food and wine joint ventures:

Ken: I thought of artichokes, but that is notoriously hard to pair with wine.

Me: Artichokes are good. I like a challenge.

You know what? Challenge is an understatement. But that’s OK because, really, it’s all about trying, tasting and having a good time doing it. I’ll share with you my good time.

I didn’t prepare Ken’s recipes but I’ll pair wines with them nevertheless at the end of my column. I prepared “Artichokes Three Ways” and with them served four condiments. There were four wines: three whites and a red. Divide the artichokes into leaves and hearts for the tasting study and the variations are almost one hundred. If I had analyzed each pairing, which I didn’t, and reported on them all, would you keep reading? Didn’t think so. I’ll take a different approach.

Let’s set the table. My artichokes are 1) Steamed to done, which I prefer over the boil method. 2) 10-minute steam then 30-minute grill, and 3) foil-wrapped with garlic then cooked on a grill.

Quick aside: Follow Ken’s technique to remove most of the heart prior to cooking. It makes for uniform cooking and a lot less hassle when you eat. Should this give you a case of the “I don’t wannas,” just try it. It’s a breeze with a little practice and you’ll never go back.

On the table are three wines, each one dry, bright-acid and on the light side of the body spectrum. (The red comes later.) They all fit the conventional style that’s recommended to pair with artichokes. More on that in a second. The wines: Cave Dog Albariño, Napa Valley 2019 ($24), Petroni Family Sauvignon Blanc, Moon Mountain, Sonoma 2019 ($42), and Nigl (Dry) Riesling, Urgestein, Austria 2019 ($23).

All three are lovely, delicious wines and highly recommended independently of artichokes. Any negative comment I make about these wines is due to the artichoke, not the wine. Purchase the California wines direct from the wineries. The Nigl Riesling is available at Raley’s Supermarket on Soscol Avenue.

Here, then, are my key takeaways that I hope you’ll recall next time you’re feasting on artichokes.

There’s no fantastic wine and artichoke pairing. Lower your bar to pretty good. The reason for this is cynarin, an acid prevalent in artichokes. Cynarin is good for you. It helps our liver, digestion and cholesterol. It’s not good for wine because it makes whatever you have after it, be it food or beverage, taste sweeter than it actually is. Good wine carefully balances fruit, acid, tannins, and sweet. Cynarin easily messes up that balance…kicks the legs out from under the wine, if you will. Since sweetness gets amplified, just remove the sweetness altogether, right? It works sometimes, but the matching challenge remains because wines stated as dry aren’t necessarily 0.0% residual sugar, and alcohol can be perceived as sweet.

Steer clear of wines aged in oak, even if low oak. Wine soaks in the sweetness of oak as it ages in barrel. Artichokes slap around even the most subtle of sweet oak sensations in ways that would undoubtedly make its winemaker cringe. If you have an oaky wine in front of you, save it for the next course.

Artichoke leaves can pair with wine pretty well. Hearts, not so much. Simple reason – hearts are your biggest bite of artichoke. Enjoy the heart and skip the wine for a moment. Drink your water instead.

If dry cooking is used, there’s a difference between the outer and inner leaves. I liked the outer leaves of the grilled artichokes with the wines the best with the wine. This is probably because of their toasty flavor and morsel size.

Condiments make a difference. Lather it up with umami-laden mayo. Shower it with grated, aged Parmesan. Salt. Use the it’s-not-the-food-it’s-what’s-on-the-food principal.

How my wines faired. The Nigl Dry Austrian Riesling had an elevated petrol-y flavor that the grape is known for. More apricot too, especially with the foil-wrapped artichoke. Quite tasty.

Cave Dog Albariño was unsuccessful. It lost its flavor and took on the artichoke’s bitterness.

The Petroni Sauvignon Blanc was a hit as the citrus and stone fruits blossomed nicely in the mouth.

Finally, I added a red wine to the mix, a light, high-acid, nearly zero tannins & oak Gamay from Jolie-Laide Winery. Like the Sauvignon Blanc, the artichoke brought out the Gamay’s shy plum and berry fruitiness while not alarming my sweet taste buds. Jolie-Laide is sold out of their Gamay. Ask one of Napa’s helpful wine merchants for a particularly light Gamay for your artichoke adventure.

This Week’s Wine Pairings

Ken’s Cooking for Comfort recipes this week are:

  • Carciofi Ripieni (Stuffed Artichokes)
  • Braised Artichokes with Leeks and Peas
  • Anginares a la Polita (Artichokes In the Style of the City)

Ken’s Stuffed Artichokes recipe is the most wine-friendly of the bunch. The heart is removed except for the firm base, and the bread, parmesan and parsley are wine-friendly. The Petroni Sauvignon Blanc is a good match but pricy and not easily accessible. Pick up the crisp, fresh, no-oak Napa Cellars Sauvignon Blanc 2019, $18/$12.50 on six bottles at Raley’s Supermarket. By the way, I’ll make these stuffed artichokes soon, and when I do I’ll steam them to half-done then roast them the rest of the way.

Grűner Veltliner is a good choice with the Braised Artichokes with Leeks and Peas. Grűner is famously very dry and spicy. The crispest ones have a savory white pepper overtone. It is the trained somm’s go-to wine pick with artichokes. The braised artichokes are a particular fit with all the leeks, peas or favas, fennel, parsley, and new potatoes. The Alzinger Grűner Veltiner 2019 ($33.50/$23.50 on 6) at Raley’s is lithe, racy and a good fit here.

The Artichokes in the Style of the City is all artichoke hearts. Take a water break.

Please share with me how your artichoke and wine tastings go. What works, what doesn’t. I’d love to hear what you’ve discovered. Artichokes are at the height of their season and I’ll be cooking them a lot this spring. Especially the grilled artichokes: my wife’s favorite.

Find Ken Morris’ Cooking for Comfort story online at bit.ly/2O6lfTR.

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Dan Dawson is a former Napa Valley wine merchant and sommelier. These days he helps small California wineries connect with folks who want their wine but don’t know it yet. You can reach Dan via his website, DawsonWineAdvisor.com and @dawsonwineadvisor on Facebook & Instagram.

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After a hiatus, Dan Dawson, aka Dan the Wine Man returns to the Napa Valley Register wine pages with a new idea: finding wines for Ken Morris' weekly recipes in Cooking For Comfort. Between the two of them, they are creating the perfect Napa Valley package. 

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