Another early WAwineman classic, 1st posted on January 28, 2008:
After a morning of shoveling the snow off my steep driveway, then salting it in the evening for the next uninvited snowstorm, I thought to treat myself to an uber-premium varietal for dinner. I chose Mike Januik’s merlot, after visiting his winery yesterday. After all, he is one of the ten “Masters of Merlot”, despite his alliance with the Ducks. College rivalries aside, the former winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle knows wine. A challenging pairing with chili, hot dogs, and rice. Not just any, mind you. The chili came from a national champion recipe from Wild West Cafe and the hot dogs were Ballpark Delimaster beef. We’re talking snob-level proletarian food, if there is such a thing. Merlot, hot dogs and chili (sans pickles, onions, rhubarb, and any other wine-obliterating crucifer)…now that’s a working man’s wine pairing! Solid match. The salty, fattiness of the hot dogs; the meaty, beany, and stewiness of the zesty chili complemented the deep black fruit and balanced tannins of the merlot. Color was an elegant deep red/ruby. Nose: rich, earthy, full-bodied. Tail: long and mesmerizing. Alcohol: 14.4%. 89% merlot, 6% cab, 3% petit verdot, and 2% cab franc. Vineyards: Conner Lee, Ciel du Cheval, Klipsun, and Alder Ridge. No longer available so try the 2005. Rated: 90+ (below average for Januik merlot). Hey, 2004 wasn’t a great year but this defies that opinion. It’s worth all $25. And always, in a stemmed crystal red wine glass! (Thanks, GIOVANNI!)
A second tasting the following night paired with Panda Express (“Chinese” take-out). Let’s just say this was not an optimal pairing. The only time during the meal I sensed a partnership was taking a bite out of the spicy deep-fried chicken. So-called “Chinese” food has its place in a hectic lifestyle, but it doesn’t belong next to a quality (read: premium) wine. High-quality merlot (and wine in general) requires careful handling, and so, I believe, it demands an equally time-intensive, thoughtfully produced meal to be paired with. Maybe that’s why you don’t see Two Buck Chuck being recommended with rosemary encrusted, grass-fed, free-range lamb chops with mint au jus. I think even a Tsingtao beer couldn’t save this match. Oh well, chalk this one up to research and development.
A third and final tasting the following night…to make up for my faux pas, I chose the pairing with CHOCOLATES! Gimme a Ohhyeah!! Started with bakery-made dark chocolate confections from Shilla Bakery in Lynnwood near the Cycle Barn. I actually went there to buy pastries for my co-workers but saw those enticing black morsels in the display case as I was leaving so I had to go back and purchase a few. Glad I did! First piece was deep, dark chocolate-covered peanuts. As the last of this decadent, endorphin-shooting creamy pebble of gold began its descent down my throat, I chased it with a sip and, ohhhhh!, heaven! It’s like a symphony erupted under my tonsils. The merlot blended in seamlessly and released deeper flavors from both the chocolate and the merlot. Next piece was a light-mint filled mini-bar of dark chocolate. I worried a little after taking a bite and seeing the color, but the taste was very mild and did not obliterate the dark chocolate covering. Another chaser, another mmmmmm! I’m a believer now that wines can match very well with chocolates. A final sample…this time Godiva ‘Deeply Dark Ganaches’. Although it is 72% dark chocolate, that oomph! was not as pronounced as that of Shilla’s. Still, the filling within was soft and harmonious and also conducted very evenly with the merlot. And who said wine had to be paired with real food?? This is WAwineman…uncorked, uneducated, but not uncouth.