By Jamie Gabrini, Special Columnist
Please note: the rather forceful opinions of Jay are in no way, shape, or form, a reflection of Lenn’s, or of any other contributor on this site. Indeed, they often wish she’d get off the damn soap-box already.
Ignorance is bliss. Truly. Aside from being cursed with stellar beauty and rapier wit, I’ve a thirst for information that won’t quit (and feel free to decide which attribute I exaggerate… ) Admittedly a conspiracy theorist, I love digging into books that pick apart social issues and highlight the erring of our American ways. And, since I work with food and wine, nothing gets me more excited than reading about the evils of Big Farming, be it viticulture, agriculture, or animal husbandry. That winning combination allows me to feed my food/wine monkey and inflate my paranoia – what’s not to love?
It has occurred to me, however, after circling the local food co-op for the umpteenth time, still-empty basket in hand, that maybe – just maybe, I take this too far. I’ve even questioned that perhaps – just perhaps – my brain has a deeply-rooted meta-hate thing going on and that it’s trying to kill me off. I’ve already gone vegetarian and try to buy local produce, but did I really need to read about how corn has been teased apart and reconstructed and added to just about everything? No, that info was neither necessary nor welcome, and I now spend far too long trying to find stuff without high fructose corn syrup or any other such nonsense in it. And just forget about going out to eat: if I can’t see it being made, I don’t know what’s in it, and I won’t touch it. Yeah, I’m a real treat on a date. All you bachelors? Call me.
Thankfully, there seem to be others just as particular (read: anal) out there in this vast world of ours. And those lil’ nuts gather at places like Shakti Yoga studio here in Buffalo for vegetarian cooking classes at which I give an organic wines-shpiel. What could be better than sipping on a biodynamic Fiefs Vendeens blanc and nibbling on tempeh with your foot wrapped around your neck?
Shakti proprietress Michelle and I cooked up this pairings seminar thing about two months ago and we’re aiming to do it monthly now. Certified dietician June (who hails from Baiting Hollow, y’all!) demonstrates a couple of vegetarian/vegan recipes, serves up samples, and I jump in with a wine to pair with it and explain why organic is important in winemaking. I’m lucky enough to have studied at the heels of organic/biodynamic devotees, so I’ve got a pretty good mental roster of organic wines at all times.
This week, June made cauliflower curry, tempeh satay with fennel puree, chilled soba noodles with peanut sauce, and roasted poblano and corn chowder. I know, I know, not all of these ingredients are local or organic, but the very fact that they’re vegan gives them a massive leg up on the environmentally-sound competition. And the menu was weird enough to make me scratch my head in dismay and think “What, for the love of Dog, am I going to pair with all this?”
To start, I chose a Gewürztraminer by Domaine Julien Meyer. Hailing from Alsace, winemaker Patrick Meyer is passionate about organic winemaking. Aside from being a firm supporter of more environmentally-correct farming practices, he believes that ‘natural’ vini- and viti-culture is the only way to get the pure essence of the grapes themselves. His “Heissenberg” Gewürztraminer is vinified dry, allowing the heady aromatics that epitomize the grape to remain completely intact along with the spiciness for which the grape was named. And that exotic combination is precisely what makes it a perfect partner for dishes like curried cauliflower.
Next up was the tempeh satay and fennel puree. Not having ever tasted something like that, I winged it and went with a Loire valley red: Frédéric Mabileau’ 2004 “Les Roullières” from St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil. Mabileau is vigilant in his winemaking practices, insisting upon hand-harvesting, leaf-thinning, green harvesting, etc. He also has converted his entire property to organic to encourage naturally healthy grapes that need no ‘correction’ in the cave. Cabernet Franc is the main red grape in St-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil, and his bottling embodies the wonderful dusty fruit, minerality, and perfumed nose that lifted the notes of the fennel and balanced out the meatiness of the tempeh.
Although I am indeed a Wine Chick, I broke rank for the next course and paired the chilled noodles and peanut sauce with an organic beer. Superstar beer importers The Shelton Brothers (located in the aptly-named Belchertown, MA) pride themselves of selecting small-production, hand-crafted beers that can stand up to any wine at the dinner table. I decided to take them to task and pair a beer from Cantillon for our chilled noodles. According to the Sheltons, “it may not be your father’s beer, but it was probably his great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather’s.” Cantillon beers are produced with 100% organic malts and the labels are just now starting to read as such. The “Gueuze” is a blend golden ale fermented up to three years and made in the methode champagnoise, imparting remarkable depth and complexity.
Finally, I paired the roasted poblano and corn chowder by returning to my roots with Terre Dorées’s 2006 ‘Ancien’ Beaujolais. We sold gobs of Jean-Paul Brun’s wines at Chambers Street Wines, my educational alma-mater. Brun has become a legend among wine geeks: he produces one of the only palatable Nouveaux AND he’s an organic producer. He firmly believes that the Gamay grape (the only grape allowed in Beaujolais) tastes better at lower alcohol levels and therefore allows indigenous yeasts to handle fermentation. He also insists upon hand-harvesting, no chapitalization, etc, etc, etc… the list goes on. The resulting Beaujolais have a great peppery kick that is natural to Gamay but is often vinified away in favor of fruity gulpability. It worked wonderfully to cool the heat of the pepper and compliment the sweetness of the corn.
So now I’m torn: is ignorance truly bliss? I mean, since there is apparently plenty of organic/veg stuff around with which I’m completely enamoured, is all of my well-informed paranoia such a bad thing? Methinks not. I hereby contend that the village idiot is no longer the happiest in town. Depending, of course, on your definition of idiot. Much like Clinton’s ‘is’, it’s open to interpretation.
Talk amongst yourselves.