You’ll have to pardon the streams of prose that will emanate from this posting. It’s that good.
I hosted a tasting for a few close friends and palates (sorry guys to reduce you to body parts) a couple of weeks ago, and one of the hits was my Braised Beef Cheeks that was paired with a Brunello di Montalcino. Well, I wanted to keep the pairing-with-Italian-wine theme, and considering the heft of the beef, thought that a Barolo would be a great choice.
Oh my. Was it ever.
I will share the recipe on another posting, but I just have to talk about this pairing.
First, the wine. It was a 2003 Cavalier Bartolomeo Barolo Vigneti Solanotto Altinasso. As expected, it was a true Nebbiolo wine. It was translucent, with a bricky-red color and surprisingly small age ring. Tart cherries, rose petals, earth, herbs, and some black fruit predominated. The palate reflected the nose with a bit of licorice thrown in for good measure. As expected, there were substantial, enamel-removing tannins and mouthwatering acidity. This is a really delicious wine. However, it’s simply an okay Barolo on its own.
This is where the magic of food and wine come to the fore. The Beef Cheeks are an amazing cut; they have a texture that is completely different from any muscle meat and absolutely drip with rich, savory beef flavor. A bite of this in its wonderful braising liquid (well-seasoned and reduced to a savory sauce) and a sip of the Barolo turned two tasty components of what would have been a pretty good meal anyway into something magical. And you can also give a nod to the person who inspired this dish, Hannibal Lechter. Yeah, I know. Trust me on this one.
Now this combination is the essence of food and wine. This is why people over millennia have embraced the combination where each one complements and lifts the other, making the whole far greater than the two individual parts. Kinda like 50+50=150.
By the way, this isn’t even a high-end Barolo. I purchased it at Khoury’s last week for about $39, and it behaves like it costs more. The 2003 vintage means that it has had a few years for the pretty substantial Nebbiolo tannins to mellow and for the acidity to find balance in the age. It doesn’t hurt that the 2003 vintage was also a very hot year – and a disaster for many wines – which tamed those characteristics anyway. That means that eleven years after vintage, this is a very drinkable wine even without a complementary dish.
I will post the recipe for the Braised Beef Cheeks later this week. I can almost guarantee that if you should decide to tackle this rather labor-intensive dish, you’ll be immediately hooked as I was. Pairing with an equally flavorful and earthy red wine will lift this delicious dish even more.
Oh yeah. It’s very difficult not to break into an aria when talking about this combo. Except I don’t know any and I can’t sing. Whatever.