The Odd Couple
Wine and the Artichoke (From the 2011 Fall issue of SONOMA)
Iconic newspaper columnist Herb Caen liked to say the artichoke is the utensil for people who love to eat mayonnaise. But the thistle is so much more than a substitute spoon. Exotic in taste, texture, and appearance it is a unique culinary treat—and the ultimate challenge when pairing with wine.
Artichokes contain an organic acid known as cynarin. Simply put, cynarin stimulates the sweetness receptors on the tongue, making everything–including wine–taste sweeter. Most chefs and sommeliers are of the opinion that this sweet-inducing reaction can ruin the flavor of wine and recommend never drinking wine when eating an artichoke. World-
renowned restaurateur Alain Ducasse goes even further: He banned the vegetable from his ingredient list altogether, simply finding it too challenging to pair with world-class wines.
And yet, it appears there is room for debate on the issue. Vance Rose, a food and wine pairing expert and the winemaker at Grieve Family Winery, takes this position: There is absolutely a wine for every dish and, although tricky to match, wine can be effectively paired with an artichoke. Of foremost importance, he counsels, is to choose a wine with high acidity. The natural dryness of a highly acidic wine helps balance the sweet aftertaste and limits the flattening effect of the cynarin. The inherent acidity of a dry wine brightens the artichoke much like a squeeze of lemon juice would. Sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, verdicchio, muscadet, dry Riesling, or a dry rosé are all excellent choices for pairing with artichokes.
Artichokes are not just for boiling, either. Preparation of the vegetable has an effecton the taste. Unlike steaming, the dry heat methods of grilling and roasting modify the cynarin compound, rendering the choke’s aftertaste more savory than sweet. And don’t be put off by the early-season “frost-kissed” artichoke. Discoloration is due to frost damage and only affects the appearance, not the flavor or quality of the choke. The globe artichoke ranges in size from baby to jumbo. Although a smaller head signifies a more tender vegetable, the rounder it is the larger the prized heart. Rub the leaves of the artichoke between your fingers. If they squeak, old-time farmers will tell you that you have a particularly tender heart.
Tip: Soaking the artichokes in acidulated water (water spiked with fresh lemon juice) for an hour or so before cooking will increase their tenderness and deepen their green color.
Although fumé blanc is a marketing name made up by Robert Mondavi, Fumé Bob is for real, a delicious sauvignon blanc we couldn’t help pairing with a ’choke. The creations of Beltane Ranch, both the wine and Bob the bull on its label, grow and live on that bucolic estate just off Highway 12 near Glen Ellen. If you drop by for a taste of the fumé, you’ll see Bob in the field to your left. Be sure and wave.
(From the 2011 Fall issue of SONOMA)