15 is the new 10: scenes from an Asian wine pairing, thinking outside the Bento box

Last night, for the second year in a row, I served as sommelier and speaker at Saheli’s annual benefit in Austin, “Discovering Asian Food through Wine.”

SAHELI is a nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas, that provides assistance to Asian and other immigrant families dealing with domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking.

This year, Tracie P was able to join me and we had a blast pouring and talking about wine, admiring the many ladies dressed in traditional Asian garb, and tasting the FANTASTIC Asian dishes paired with European and North American wines.

Roughly 150 persons attended the event and it was amazing to see the sea of colors and patterns formed by the tasting plates all lined up for the guests to sample.

The organizers had asked me to select wines at a median $15 price. We were very fortunate to find a great price on the JJ Prüm 2007 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Spätlese, a no-brainer pairing for the tart and often intensely spicy flavors of Asian cuisine. What a fantastic food wine…

The wine that impressed me the most was the Planeta 2008 Cerasuolo di Vittoria. I’m not generally a fan of Planeta. I mean, who needs another buttery Chardonnay or oaky Merlot from Sicily? But then a few years ago my friend Marco Barat insisted that I taste it with him. I discovered that this wine is true to its appellation and deliciously well priced (around $15). When done right, Cerasuolo di Vittoria is one of those wines that always wows the first-time taster. It was great to watch the guests ooo and aaa over its bright fruit nose and gritty earth. It went great with the Kibbeh (below).

I also loved how we were able to put together a fun flight of wines using the $15 rule: by taking advantage of a mixed case discount, looking for special value, and balancing the higher priced with the lower, I was able to deliver the goods.

When people ask me buying tips, I always tell them: 1) buy from an independent retailer and get to know your merchant well (so that the seller knows your palate and will alert you to special pricing; 2) always take advantage of case discounts (I rarely buy just one bottle of wine); 3) once you establish your budget for wine, use an average per bottle cost so that you have a variety of wines (for drinking every day, for Saturday night dinner, and for special occasions).

And remember: 15 is the new 10!

On the subject of pairing Asian cuisine and European wine, check out Lyle’s hot-off-the-presses post on the new Lotus of Siam in NYC (I’ve only been to the one in Vegas when my band NN+ has played there and am dying to get to the new one in the City).

I also led a private tasting this week at the elite River Oaks Country Club in Houston. But price wasn’t an issue there! The night ended with 03 Sassicaia and 06 Ornellaia… not really my speed but one of those professional hardships I was forced to endure…

Best Thanksgiving wines (or at least, what me and Tracie B will be drinking)

Above: Tracie B and I held an informal wine tasting last night with our friends CJ and Jen, who made some excellent pulled pork for dinner (photos by CJ).

It’s that time of year again and everyone’s doing their “Best Thanksgiving Wines” posts. So I figured I’d do mine. Seems like there’s more humor and a greater twang of irony this year in the otherwise traditionally Hallmark consumerist spirit. Maybe ’cause everyone is so broke (or at least I am), it feels like you’re reaching beyond the perfunctory when you compile these lists. It does occur to me that we in the U.S. of A are probably the only folks who believe in these “best” and “top” lists. I just can’t imagine Franco writing a “Top Ten Christmas” wine list. Can you?

My favorite top Thanksgiving wine post so far was authored by Saignée, “I Feel Obligated to Do a ‘Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Post'” (it’s worth checking out but it also sports a NC-17 rating).

Above: The only wine that exceeded my $20-or-under-rule for this year’s holiday was the 2007 Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Iesi, which you should be able to find for under $30. Man, I love that wine.

The Solomon of wine writing and blogging, Eric, poked some fun (or at least, I read it that way) at the Grey Lady’s perennial Thanksgiving suggestions (marked this year by the absence of Frank Bruni) in his post “Six Years of Thanksgiving Wisdom.” I love the wine that Eric brought to the paper’s Thanksgiving tasting, a Frappato by Valle dell’Acate (Sicily). I also love the new wine descriptor, coined and used by Eric to describe it, and I love that it made it past the paper’s grammarians: “earthy chuggability.”

And lest he think that I’ve forgotten him, I got a genuine chuckle and chortle out of Strappo’s “THANKSGIVING WINE STUNNER: EXPERTS CLAIM RED OR WHITE OK!”

This year, Tracie B and I will be heading to Orange, Texas, just like last year, but this year, we’ll also be bringing Mamma Judy with us — her first visit to Texas since I moved here last year. Mrs. B and Rev. B are expecting 24 people at this year’s festivities. Since finances are tight for this fiancé (especially in view of our upcoming nuptials), I tried to keep my wines under $20 (and, for the most part, I succeeded on that part, as they say in the south).

Bucci 2007 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi
($22.99 at Jimmy’s in Dallas)

CJ and I really dug the crunchy mouthfeel of this wine and its elegant, lingering finish. The acidity was “tongue splitting,” as Tracie B likes to say.

Domaine Fontsainte 2008 Corbières Gris di Gris
(rosé, $17.50 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

We all agreed that the fruit in this wine was approachable and fun, juicy and tangy. This could go with just about anything at the Thanksgiving table.

Marchesi di Gresy 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba Monte Aribaldo
($18.75 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

I just can’t believe what a value this wine is at under-$20. It’s rich and chewy, surprisingly tannic, and has that noble rusticity that you find in the Marchesi di Gresy.

Mas Lavail 2007 Terre d’Ardoise Carignan
($11.25 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

Tracie B called this “salty” wine “the stand alone” wine of the flight we tasted with Jen and CJ. The price-quality ratio here is stellar (at $11.25? HELL YEAH!) and the wine is chewy, rich, with dark fruit and lots of savory flavors. I can’t wait to pair it with Tracie B’s Meemaw’s deviled eggs and Mrs. B’s sweet potato pie.


Selvapiana 2007 Chianti Rufina
($16.25 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

Selvapiana is one of my all-time favorite producers (one of Franco’s favs, too) and Rufina is one of the greatest expressions of Sangiovese. This wine is tannic and will benefit from a little aeration before serving but once it opens up it’s all about bright acidity and plum fruit flavors. The price range will vary for this wine across the country but it’s always a tremendous value.

Thanks for reading ya’ll! I’m wishing you a great (and safe) holiday with your loved ones.

In other news…

I had a blast pouring and talking about wine and pairing European and domestic wines with Asian food at the Saheli “Discover Asia through Wine” event on Saturday night. The Tandoori chicken (above) was one of the hits of the evening, as was the Selvapiana Chianti Rufina, which I paired with the Chinese roast duck. Donations support battered Asian women and immigrants in the greater Austin area.

In other other news…

I’ll be pouring wines from Piedmont and Tuscany this Thursday at the Galleria Tennis and Athletic Club in Houston. Click here for details.

A benefit for battered Asian women Nov. 14 and weird Austin painted cars

Above: Austin loves to keep itself weird and even has a website for the sake of weird. I don’t know the phenomenon’s origins but Austinites love to paint their cars. All of the images were taken using my Blackberry, captured as Tracie B and I drive around town.

Support, Advocate, Heal, Empower, Listen, Inform: saheli means friend in Hindi. Linda Phan, the executive director of Saheli Austin, a non-profit group that provides support for battered Asian women, has asked me to speak about wine and wine pairing at the organization’s November 14 fundraiser event.

A week from Saturday, we will be pairing European and Texan wines with Asian food at Saheli’s “Discover Asia Through Wine” benefit for victims of domestic violence.

Riesling and Grüner Veltliner are obvious choices when it comes to pairing wine with the often intensely spicy flavors of Asian cuisine, and both grapes will be well represented, of course.

But I think we’re also going to have fun with some Rhône varieties and — I couldn’t resist — some Sangiovese from Chianti Rufina as well.

Suggested donation is $45 (a great value for all the great food and wine) and the event should be a lot of fun. Click here to RSVP and to donate. Hope to see you there if not before!

Buon weekend ya’ll! (how’s that for fusion?)