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As part of an ongoing series, several local sommeliers were asked to put their considerable expertise to use in coming up with a wine pairing for an affordable dish that readers might consider a regular part of their weekly rotation—in this installment, the charbroiled chicken with black beans and plantains at any of the four locations of Crisp & Juicy. The wine had to retail for $12 or less and be available in local stores.
Christopher Hile, CityZen
La Vieille Ferme, Côtes du Luberon Blanc 2004, France
“Chicken is chicken,” says Hile, explaining his choice of a white. “It’s the accompaniments”—black beans and plantains—“that are really the base of the dish.” The important question for Hile was: What kind of white? As he set about dissecting this rich and starchy dish in his brain, his initial thinking, he says, was to “go white, but go heavy.” He figured he’d settle on a white Burgundy, or perhaps a marsanne or a viognier. Then he dug in. Immediately he knew he needed something both more supple, to offset the sticky sweetness of the plantains, and more spicy, to meet the pungency of the beans. So he went for La Vieille Ferme’s Côtes du Luberon. It’s a well-balanced blend, Hile says, and “an incredible buy”—which he nevertheless claims he’d have trouble selling to customers at his restaurant, made up as it is of four varietals “that people have never heard of” from the Rhone Valley. It’s the mingling of four different grapes—grenache blanc, bourboulenc, ugni blanc, and roussanne—that makes this “very savory” wine such an able partner for a meal with so many strong components. “If you had just one varietal, there’d only be so much you’d be able to pick up in the dish,” says Hile. The presence of grenache blanc “lightens it all up a bit,” enabling the wine to withstand some of the sweet onslaught of the plantains, while the roussanne, which accounts for just 10 percent of the mix, provides the notes of spice—“clove, nutmeg, cinnamon”—that reinforce the flavors of “clove and cayenne” that Hile detects in the black beans. By the way: If you’re squeamish about serving a wine with a screw cap top to your guests, Hile says get over it—it’s no indication of the quality of a bottle—and get used to it: In 10 years, he says, “80 percent of wines in this country” will be twist-off.
Jarad Slipp, Ray’s the Steaks
Hugues Beaulieu, Picpoul de Pinet, Coteaux du Languedoc 2004, France
For Slipp, as for Hile, it was the black beans and plantains that posed the most interesting challenges, not the chicken—however liberally spiced the “not very crisp but definitely juicy” bird was. He gravitated to this affable but assertive picpoul, whose name translates as “lip stinger.” Slipp has come up with an even more colorful description to capture its palate-cleansing effect on the dish: a “delicate chain saw.” Its bracing acidity, combined with a strong minerality (the grape is raised from soil enriched by ancient oyster beds), enables it to “cut through” the starchy, chewy plantains and thick, creamy black beans. At the same time, Slipp liked the way its pronounced fruitiness—“a big, plush nose of lemon pith and Granny Smith apple”—meshed with the sweetness of the plantains and also picked up some of the citrusy notes in the chicken’s marinade. How enamored is Slipp of his picpoul pick? A day after his private taste test, he went with friends to pick up another couple of orders of chicken, black beans, and plantains from the Arlington Crisp & Juicy—as well as a couple more bottles of the picpoul a few doors down. Which they promptly finished off that afternoon. Says Slipp, “This baby’s a chugger.”
Kathy Morgan, Tosca
Castroviejo, Rioja Crianza 2002, Spain
What drew Morgan to this big Spanish red? Not its fruitiness, not its acidity, not its minerality, and not its weight. “Oddly enough, it was the oak that made the match—which is not something I find myself saying a lot.” The crianza is aged in barrels made of American oak, as opposed to French oak. The difference? “Notes of coconut”—instead of vanilla—that play with, not against, the sweetness of the plantains. Morgan’s initial attempts were to counter the plantains’ sticky, starchy sweetness with acidity. She figured there was a match to be made with an aglianico del Vulture, a “smoky and sexy” red from the south of Italy. She has a fondness for aglianicos generally, recommending them often at Tosca as matches for many of chef Cesare Lanfranconi’s tomato-sauce-based dishes. But here, that same acidity was a detriment. “The sour fruit worked with the chicken but not the plantains. It just made them sour.” Next she tried a couple of wines from the south of France—earthy, rustic reds she figured might pick up the flavors in the charbroiled chicken and lard-laden beans. “They held their own,” she reports. “But nothing special.” One sip of the crianza, though, and she knew she’d found the “dimension” she’d been missing. “It’s just a phenomenal match.” The notes of coconut put the crianza over the top, but Morgan also praises the wine for the way its “vibrant fruit of plum and cherry” and its “leafy forest floor” chime with the char of the chicken and the earthiness of the beans. —Todd Kliman
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