My fiancee and I found ourselves heading to a local Chinese restaurant, popular for their delicious and modern Asian cuisine and also their $5 corkage fee. We had dined there before, with a large group of friends (many of whom brought 1.5L bottles of wine to maximize the wine from each cork). What I mostly remembered about the food was the heavy use of sauces, and the sauces being a touch on the salty side.
What wine should we take? My first recommendation for pairing with Chinese is almost always a crisp, refreshing white (perhaps an Alsatian). On our last visit, once I realized it was a BYO place, I ran down the street to a corner liquor store and picked up a bottle of inexpensive Argentinian torrontes which had paired really well. But then I over-thought the whole thing, instead suggesting a bottle of 2006 Southern Gothic Poor Thing Grenache I had squirreled away. The fiancee is a big fan of grenache, and the right one can pair wonderfully with spicy sauces.
It turns out that the Poor Thing Grenache is a delicious wine, if not the fat grenache you might expect from Barossa. As I mentioned here, after trying the Southern Gothic Shiraz, I was worried that the grenache might even be too rustically styled, despite the fact that it comes from R Wines, known for their plush reds.
The wine shows excellent restraint and balance. It is medium bodied, with tart and dusty red cherries, lots of spice, light touches of vanilla and toffee, and a long, graceful finish. It isn’t plush, but it is balanced and charming. At first the alcohol screams out (the label says 15%!) but it recedes after a few minutes in the glass, allowing the vanilla and toffee notes to shine through. Also, as you can see in the picture, this glass wasn’t ideal for the wine, and I think it handicapped the nose a little bit.
To make a (slightly sexist?) personification of this wine: it is the girl next door, plain-looking at first, who gets prettier and more charming the more you get to know her.
The food: This time, we started with vegetable pot stickers, mildly spicy fried vegetable pockets served with mildly spicy sauce. They were excellent with the grenache: the wine was just juicy enough to compliment the spicy dish, and being relatively low in tannin, it didn’t compete.
For our main course, we ordered something called “Temple’s Feast,” an earthy vegetable dish with an emphasis on several different kinds of mushrooms (the shiitake are especially delicious) in a light sauce, and also the “Garlic Tofu With Eggplant,” a spicy dish of hard-seared tofu and eggplant (better than it sounds) in a thick, spicy sauce vaguely reminiscent of barbecue sauce.
The Poor Thing Grenache complimented the mushroom dish quite well, the earthy flavors of the food under the lighter cherry of the wine, and the toffee to shine through. The sauce was oily, the fat cutting back any hard edge the wine might have had. The garlic tofu dish was just spicy and salty enough that it did conflict with the grenache, the two flavors competing, the spice and acidity coming into focus just a little too much, to the point of being harsh.
So the pairing was okay, not perfect, but also not a letdown. My fiancee liked the Poor Thing enough that I was given permission to buy more. I suggested that a more plush grenache might have paired a little better, and my she countered that what would have been perfect is a crisp, refreshing white (perhaps an Alsatian).
I guess the point here is that you shouldn’t over-think these things.
The food, though salty, was delicious. The wine was good. The ambiance was nice, other than the lamp over our table hanging right at my eye level. Life is sometimes rough for tall guys. We finished up, too full for dessert. After a cup of coffee, we headed home happy.