Sangiovese: Palumbo Family Vineyards 2011: Pairing Rating – 8.0 out of 10.0
Gewürztraminer: Odinstal 350 NN 2011: Pairing Rating – 8.5
Fiano di Avellino: Colli di Lapio 2012: Pairing Rating 9.5
Had a nightmare where I was living in Boston this winter. Three feet of snow and single-digit temperatures – conditions only Alaskans can tolerate. The frightening parts of the dream were not the frostbite, nor falling icicles. No, the worst part was I couldn’t get to my grill! This inspired me to find a recipe I could cook indoors that would warm the soul and brighten the mood: Chicken Cacciatore – more interesting than a chili or stew, but just as soulful.
Cacciatore means “Hunter” in Italian. The dish is often tagged “Hunter’s Style”, making reference to the tomatoes, onions and garlic common to all Cacciatore variations. Unclear to me as to why those ingredients equate to “hunters”, but so be it. I understand that the dish is made with white wine in Northern Italy; red wine in Southern Italy. I chose the Northern version.
But I made some minor alterations to the recipe. I added oil-cured black olives for color and saltiness, as well as crimini mushrooms for earthy flavors; and I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs (no legs) to speed up the braising time and keep the fat to a minimum. The dish was superb. The real challenge was with the wine pairing.
Sid Goldstein, in his excellent book The Wine Lover’s Cookbook, recommends Sangiovese for its ability to stand up to the olives, tomatoes and garlic. I chose a 2011 California Sangiovese from Palumbo Family Vineyards & Winery (Temecula, CA) for its medium-bodied weight and lighter tannins than the Sangiovese from Chianti. But there was too much acidity in the wine for the tomatoes and peppers. Furthermore, the wine was too angular for the creaminess of the sauce. Goldstein calls this a “classic pairing”. I likened this wine to a Viola Davis character – a little too acerbic in most roles I’ve seen. I decided to move on to white wines.
Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, in the superb Pairing with the Masters, recommends Gewürztraminer for it’s spicy, contrasting flavors and its light acidity, where the tomatoes actually refresh the wine. Sort of a reverse cleanse. For this, I chose a 2011 Odinstal Gewürztraminer. This beautiful wine from the Pfalz region of Germany delivered a spicy but sweet nose of tropical fruit and a honeyed finish. The flavors were clearly contrasting, but in spite of its light acidity, the flavors were overpowering. It took over like Jim Carrey in almost any movie scene. I needed a wine with more finesse.
The answer was a white from southern Italy: Fiano di Avellino. The wine I chose was a 2012 Fiano from Romano Clelia called Colli di Lapio ($25). This exquisite white is from the Campania region (near Naples). Aromas of nectarine, peach and a little smoke precede a palate of refreshing acidity to stand up to the tomatoes and a beautiful round finish to complement the creaminess of the sauce. The perfect balance to the weight, intensity and flavors of the Cacciatore. This was Meryl Streep vinified.
There were no bad actors in any of these wines. For example, the Sangiovese might have worked better had I made the Cacciatore with red wine instead of white. And a Gewürztraminer from Alsace (rather than Germany) might have been a better match for the dish. But the Colli di Lapio Fiano was the clear winner with this recipe. If you have yet to try this Fiano, I urge you to give it a go. It’s an outstanding food wine!