July 1, 2013

"Barbecue Friendly Reds" Wine Wise Tour

Despite drinking a lot of it in my eight years of legal drinking, I know very little about wine. I've never taken a systematic approach to learning about it or even cataloging what I've drank in order to help narrow down what kinds of wine I like. 

While I know what I like when I taste it, I don't have the words to describe my preferences to help a merchant or a server make a recommendation. It's pitiful. I suspect many of you may feel the same way. So when I saw that Wine Wise was offering a "barbecue friendly reds" themed walk through the West End of Portland, I snapped up a ticket. 

Wine Wise is a company that offers educational wine events, hosted in various restaurants around Portland or on a sailboat in Casco Bay. Erica Archer is the founder and tour guide and she did a great job of introducing us to the language of wine. 

We started at bonobo pizza where we paired their pulled barbecue pork pizza with an Argentinian Malbec. Here we learned to aerate our wine and how to anticipate a wine's flavor based on its appearance. 

I was surprised to remember how good bonobo's pizza is, as I live very nearby and never frequent the place. The wine, as was the case with all of our wine and food pairings, stood up to the bold flavors of the barbecue due to the bold flavors of this young, high alcohol wine.  

Next we headed to the outdoor patio of Hot Suppa! where we paired their smoked and barbecue wings with a California Pinot Noir. Here we learned that a high alcohol wine can amplify the spiciness of food - which may or may not appeal to you. But I learned this lesson the hard way after sampling one of Hot Suppa's excellent barbecue wings, which I thought were plenty hot. 

Our third stop was only a few doors down at Local 188 where we caught a glimpse of the good things to come from Salvage BBQ with Chef jay Villani's smoked brisket paired with a South African Pinotage. 

And with this matching, we learned the "secret" of pairing wines and food - for success, match the body of the wine (indicated by the percentage of alcohol) with the body of the food. So for barbecue, which Erica pointed out is not a delicate affair, we drank high alcohol, young wines. 

After Local, we tripped down to Outliers Eatery, our longest walk of the tour, but much appreciated to enjoy the beautiful weather we had on Saturday. 

Outliers was one of the best stops - the interior of the restaurant was very beautiful on a sunny afternoon. Because the place is so new, it was nice to see everyone on the tour appreciating the beautiful restaurant and the fantastic food they served us. 

Here we had a California Zinfandel paired with a seared lamb chop served over a spicy eggplant relish with a spicy blueberry barbecue sauce. 

I was surprised to learn that I liked this wine the most, as Erica described it as having some residual sugars (sugar leftover after the yeast die). But the wine was very fruity and not too sweet (I mean, I should know that Erica was picking out nice wines) and the food was incredible. 

The lamb was cooked perfectly and despite thinking that the eggplant relish tasted of hot dogs (once I made the association, I couldn't taste anything else about it!), this food and wine pairing was my favorite. (This is not a menu item, but the staff encouraged the kitchen to add it.) 

Did I mention that this Wine Wise tour was only $40? I had such a good time learning from Erica, as she is so incredibly knowledgeable and approachable. The atmosphere of the tours is casual, so you can take as much or as little as you want from it. 

Erica has several wine sails coming up (one with oysters!), as well as a Rose vs. Reds Old Port walk that sounds intriguing. Sounds like I might be advantage of the 'buy 5 - get the 6th Wine Wise event free' promotion before I know it!