Vietnamese pho (Image: caitriana used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

Pho and Pinot Noir – My Opinion. As Always.

Several years ago I discovered Phở.  And I’ve never looked back.

Before I talk about it, I want to talk about its genre, which is bone broth. “Bone broth” sounds so boring, but it’s one of the best foods around.

The history of bone broth is an interesting one.  Humankind discovered early on that in order to maintain health and longevity, bone broth was a necessity.  The Weston A. Price Foundation explains that the use of bone broth is common throughout indigenous cultures, whether they lived in mountain communities or by the sea.

The negative part of bone broth is the fact that it was often associated with being the food of the poor.  It required the use of fish heads, bones, offal, and other animal scraps in order to make something nutritious out of what could be an otherwise poor diet. However, bone broths have not always been the purview of the poor.  “Jewish Penicillin,” that is, chicken soup, starts out by using the whole chicken, bones, meat, and all.  Demi Glace, the almost sacred base of much of vaunted French cooking, is made out of veal or beef bones.  Except for the fish bone broths, many of these soups require hours, even days of simmering.  The French stew Pots au Feu can be translated to mean “Pots simmering on fire.”  Julia Child said that all broths/stocks should be simmered until the cook feels that they have given their all.  That could be days.  This article by the Oregonian gives a lot of detail about bone broths and has links to several valuable resources.

And so when we get to Phở, we see still yet another culture which has found that this way of cooking food helps to maintain health and to feed anyone. Plus, it’s delicious! Let’s face it, food that’s good for but is not delicious just won’t be eaten. Ask any six year old.

This is the time of year when the words “hot soup” can cause a smiling physical reaction. Even in Las Vegas it’s very cold (25°F when I left for work this morning), and the vision of curling up with a blanket and a bowl of hot soup is oh so comforting.

When I found Phở, I also discovered that it’s for more than just the above-noted scenario.  It’s terrific for breakfast, a late lunch, dinner, resting, after work…you get the idea.  It’s a

Pinot noir growing in the French wine region o...

Pinot noir growing in the French wine region of Burgundy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

wonderful thing.

Phở is Vietnamese comfort food.  If you’ve met me, you already know that I’m not Vietnamese, but I find comfort in this dish anyway.  It’s a fragrant beef broth that’s poured over rice noodles, slices of meat, basil, bean sprouts, and whatever else you may want to throw into the bowl.  Those ingredients are relatively secondary.  It’s the broth that’s the key. The broth looks thin and light, but like a killer Pinot, looks can be deceiving.

A bowl of Phở and a couple of glasses of a Burgundian-style Pinot Noir is a match made in heaven.  The fragrant notes of the beefy broth dances beautifully with the perfume of the wine, and it’s an ethereal experience.  I asked myself why and decided to dig into a little research to find out why these two items seemed so well matched.

And, believe it or not, there has been a lot of research done on this. Who’da thunk.

I’m a history wonk of sorts and already knew that at one time, France had occupied/colonized Vietnam.  The French Jesuit priests had begun to change the Vietnam alphabet from chữ nho to the modern Roman alphabet that is used today. The diacritical and tone marks can often make pronunciation confusing, and the word Phở is no exception.  It is pronounced FUH, not FOH.  Which makes for juvenile giggle-inspiring comments which I will try my best to avoid here. Ha.  Some scholarly journals believe that the word Phở is derived from the French Pots au Feu, which is a bone broth with added meat and vegetables.  The vegetables and other seasoning agents may be different, but the concept is the same.

Of course there are others that say that the connection is a stretch at best. Whatever.

At any rate, it only makes sense that a Pinot would pair with what is essentially a very fragrant, beefy, and French-derived dish. I get that.

The descriptions of a Burgundian Pinot would be laced with words such as crushed spice, forest floor, undergrowth, bright cherries, earthy, cloves, vanilla, smokey, mineral, gamy, and more.  Since Phở is made with black cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, ginger, and bones, its spices and scents mingle with the Pinot perfectly.

Because Phở is sometimes made with offal added to the basic meat-and-bone recipe – usually tendon and/or tripe – there is sometimes a special earthiness imparted to the broth, which also enhances a more Old-World style Pinot.  An older Pinot with more of the famous “barnyard” character would be nearly perfect for such a Phở.

Most of the recommended wine pairings I’ve seen have suggested everything from Riesling – which is better suited to Thai food – all the way to Zinfandel, which is way too berryish for the Phở.

My recommendation for pairing Pinot with an authentic Phở would be just about anything from Burgundy, of course.  However, because nearly anything from Burgundy can be a little pricey, there are also excellent choices in Oregon, New Zealand, Sonoma Coast, and Monterey (Central Coast North). Those regions impart an Old World character to the Pinots grown there that makes the pairing ideal. And for what you’d spend for a mid-level Burgundy, you can get a rockin’ New World model.

Locally, my number one place to go to for Phở is Phở Saigon 8 on Spring Mountain, just east of Jones.  I’ve visited a lot of Phở restaurants in town and in Henderson, but I always return here because they have a large Vietnamese clientele. Always a good sign.  In addition, I haven’t been anywhere that has the fragrant, flavorful broth that they make.

The Wineaux Guy and I have planned a romantic getaway in the mountains this weekend.  If the vagaries of the weather and real life take over, I’ll make Phở.

And then curl up with my Pinot.

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