Gewürztraminer: Phillips Hill Anderson Valley CA 2014: Pairing Rating: 9.5 out of 10.0
Muscadet: Domaine Pierre Luneau-Papin Le d’Or 2005: Pairing Rating: 9.0
The Internet is replete with recipes for Risotto with Asparagus. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a site that details the recipe we prefer – the one from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Nonetheless, the recipe ingredients and the cooking techniques are all very similar. There is one ingredient found in several Internet recipes we would exclude: lemon juice. Marcella elects to forgo this as well – a choice that impacts the wine pairing with the dish.
Trish and I like to serve Risotto as a first course. That is, get the starch out of the way before the main attraction: protein and vegetables. OK, that’s a little harsh. The reality is that we like to serve at least two wines when entertaining. And serving the Risotto first is a way to do that, as well as giving the dish the one-on-one attention it deserves.
Before your guests arrive, cook your asparagus on the crunchy side and prep the trout; then cook the rice about three-fourths and shut off the heat. About 15 minutes before you plate the dish, finish cooking the rice and add the cooked asparagus, trout and cheese, and you’re good-to-go.
The key to this pairing is not the smoked trout, as we first thought. Rather, it’s the creaminess and texture of the Risotto that drive the wine pairing. The trout certainly adds some salty notes to the dish but it doesn’t dominate. The flavor profile of the dish is really a composite of the chicken stock, Parmesan cheese and the trout. Interestingly, their individual strengths become more muted in combination. Yet the composite of those flavors offers a complexity that no single ingredient can serve up alone. Not unlike a jazz trio, where the combined sounds deliver the drive, texture and complexity no single instrument can.
Our first instinct was to reach for a Gewürztraminer by Phillips Hill Winery ($23). You may recall from my Cali Wine Road Trip Blog Post Day 5, that we visited this winery. Gewürztraminer is, in large measure, a serious grape grown in the Alsace region of France. But grown and vinified in California, the wine is more playful: dry but fruity, with a heady, full-bodied perfume.
Some reviewers of Gewürztraminer wines say they detect “lichee and heavily scented roses” on the nose. Sorry, but we didn’t get that. What I got was a big bowl of tropical fruit scents. On the palate, we tasted apple, pear and subtle spices, with minerality in the mid-palate, and a long, round finish. The cool Anderson Valley helps promote acidity in the grape. We thought this 2014 Phillips Hill expression of Gewürz was spot-on with the Risotto. But we wanted to check out one more white wine.
Muscadet from the Loire Valley seemed like a logical choice: at it’s best, the wine is dry, tangy and a slightly salty foil for seafood. The “best” Muscadets are generally considered to be from the Sèvre-et-Maine region (just east of the town of Nantes). We chose a 2005 Muscadet Le d’Or from Domaine Pierre Luneau-Papin ($24), a producer located just north of the town of Vallet. With 10 years of bottle age, the wine had a restrained but distinctive smell of sweet lime and white flowers. On the palate, we tasted pear, melon, apricots, tangerine, and muted salinity. The finish was sweet lime citrus that both salivated and cleansed the palate.
If you do elect to use lemon juice in the Risotto, then we recommend the Muscadet, where the lemon juice can serve as a bridge to the citrus in the wine. But without the lemon juice in the recipe, we would go with Gewürztraminer, where the caressing, tropical fruit finish delivers a round, full mouthfeel. Perfect for the creaminess and texture of the Risotto.
It may be difficult to find the Phillips Hill Gewürztraminer locally. Contact the winery directly as they may have some in stock. Otherwise, seek out the Navarro Vineyards’ take on this grape. Navarro is also in the Anderson Valley in Cali; but be sure the label says dry!
Both wines are terrific . . . and excellent values! Your “first course” will be great, setting a high bar for what you may serve next! And if you wish, Trish and I can help you with that as well.