Where There’s Smoke, There’s Chutney

Our wine-tasting dinners feel like one big, successful experiment every time we get together with our friends. Discovering the differences within each varietal has been fascinating. The wine-tastings require sniffing, sipping, slurping—while using our best company-for-dinner manners—which is something of a social experiment in itself.

Sometimes the experiments lead to unexpected results. If you read last week’s Riesling tasting notes, you saw that we had a wine with an unexpected petrol-smoke bouquet. I later learned in VIN150 that some Rieslings do exhibit a petrol bouquet and that it is desirable to some tasters. Hmmm. So they say.

The wine-tasting menus have been experimental as well as I try to come up with dishes that will best complement the varietal we’re planning to taste. Last Friday we had blackened wild salmon that I thought needed an interesting accompaniment. So, some of the Haralson apples and cider I got at Iowa Orchards in December and red onions from a producer at the Iowa Food Co-op became a warming chutney. The typical chutney seasonings went into the pot with the apples and onions, but savory/sweet stew didn’t develop the backbone and depth I thought it needed. So, I added some chipotle pepper to the chutney, hoping that the smoke from the peppers would bring out the smoke in the Pouilly-Fumé and that the heat would give it a longer, less sweet finish. A butternut squash, every bit as patient as last week’s pumpkin, was diced and tossed with garlic, fresh thyme, and oil and roasted until tender. Smoke, sweet, salt, spice … yes, that worked pretty well with the Sauvignon Blanc.

Salads with vinaigrette are usually hard to pair with wine, but I gave it a shot. I really wanted to have some Dairy Air goat cheese with a salad, since it’s a classic combination with Sauvignon Blanc. I do love goat cheese, especially from Reichert’s Dairy Air, but alas, they are sold out and the goats aren’t being milked until after kidding season. Northern Prairie Chevre is in the same situation. So I went with the tangy-sharp Prairie Breeze cheddar from the Milton Creamery, balancing it with the mellow sweetness of roasted fruit. I cut a couple of red Bartlett pears into big chunks, roasted them with canola oil, fresh thyme, and a pinch of salt, and then let them cool to room temperature. The pears and cheese topped baby greens and were dressed with a nuovo olio vinaigrette. I think the experimental salad worked pretty well.

Sweet cherry wine (remember the song? Tommy James and the Shondells) with dessert. Note the numerous empty wine glasses in the background. That's why I only got around to ONE photo during dinner.

Just to compare for fun, I opened another bottle of Riesling to remind myself how it tasted and to compare it to the Sauvignon Blanc. Funny thing was, my first whiff of the Vertikal Riesling was of smoke and petrol! I hadn’t noticed it last week because it had been so faint in comparison to the McWilliams Riesling (which we disliked), but it was definitely there. Apparently the smokiness of the chipotle helped bring out the smoky petrol bouquet of the wine.

Sauvignon Blanc doesn’t go with dessert, so I shifted gears and opened a bottle of Sweet Cherry Wine from Stone Cliff Winery in Durango, Iowa. I dished up vanilla ice cream and topped it with the caramel apple compote that I put up last fall. My dessert would have been better paired with a sweet sherry or Auslese Riesling, I think. The cherry wine was not bad, but to be fair, it should have been served alone or with a dessert that would complement the cherry flavor. Something flavored with almond, perhaps.

I’m glad there was some of the apple-chipotle chutney left the next day. I had it with roast turkey. The smoky chutney was a perfect partner. Eureka! I think next Thanksgiving may bring the Riesling-chutney-turkey stars into alignment. (Write that down in the laboratory note book!)

Want to see the tasting notes on our Sauvignon Blanc wines? Click here.

In case you’re interested, there are still Haralson apples and cider available at Iowa Orchards. There are probably other varieties in their cooler too. The red onions I got from the Iowa Food Co-op are gone now, as are most of the produce items. Can’t wait until spring!

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