Review – Wine and Salami Paring

I’ve been to a lot of different wine parings, but usually it is in the form of a wine dinner or wine and dish paring at a winery. However, paring wine and salami was new to me – very new – so, always looking for a new experience, I took the opportunity to try it last weekend. After all, the salami I am most familiar with comes in one style: a bit greasy with white mold on the outside. Boy did I learn something new.

To back up a bit, a couple of years ago I, quite by accident, ate a piece of salami at a local winetasting, while sipping on a pouring of Pino Grigio, a white wine often paired with seafood because of its acidity. Much to my surprise and delight, the wine immediately removed all of the fattiness, in the same way as tannins do, and the deeper flavors of the salami came through. With this experience I was anxious to try the pairings.

This paring event event took place last weekend in the shaded garden at Holly’s Hill Vineyards, an acclaimed winery that specializes in Rhône style wines and is located in the Pleasant Valley area of El Dorado County.

The parings were created by Carrie and Josh Bendick, co-winemakers at Holly’s Hill. Both of them have excellent palates and I was quite complementary of their choices.

Dedrick’s Cheese in Placerville, provided the seven kinds of salami, all of which came from Seattle’s Salumi Artisan Cured Meats, a business owned by the parents of celebrity chef Mario Batali. They are a small business, hand-creating their product for national restaurants, delis and specialty shops, such as Dedrick’s.

These are not your grocery store salamis, they are carefully made unique products with flavors you may never have imagined in cured meats. The wines, of course, were selected for paring from Holly’s Hill’s inventory of what I consider some of the finest wines in El Dorado County (I know, I am a bit of a Rhône fanatic).

The universal pairing principle is that wine and food can complement or contrast each other, as long as they do not mask each other’s unique flavor and characteristics. This is a difficult thing to do, but a trained person can accomplish it. However, we all have different palates and may not feel the same way about the paring as the parer. But then, it is fun and always a learning experience.

The first pairing was a salami called Agrumi, which is a relatively new product of theirs, cured with citrus and cardamom. It was paired with their 2010 Patriarche Blanc, a white blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier. The crisp acidity of the wine did as expected and the palate was met with the bold flavor of the salami and cardamom, followed by a lemony finish.

Next came a salami known as Salumi Salami, which is their signature product. It is a mild salami with a touch of ginger and a slight tartness. The wine for the paring was their crisp 2011 El Dorado Viognier. Again the taste of the salami was enhanced and the slight bite of the ginger came out, but not so much that the wine lost its fruitiness.

The third paring was with their Oregano Salami, paired with the 2010 Grenache. As far as I am concerned there is no better wine for food paring than Grenache.

One of the most planted grapes in the world, Grenache is mostly used for blending, but by itself is a very underrated grape that produces a varietal that just seems to like to be sipped with most any food.

The wine and salami paired well, enhancing each other quite well and producing a wonderful, palate pleasing combination of flavors.

That was followed by a salami known as Finocchiona, which is flavored with cracked fennel, black pepper and a touch of curry. The wine selected for it was another of my favorites, their slightly earthy 2010 Mourvedre.

I always search for the anise or licorice flavor of fennel and fennel seeds, and I found it in this combination, although it was quite subtle. The peppercorns added a bit of heat, which was also pleasant and did not overpower the wine.

Hot Sopressata was the next salami. It is spicy salami made with garlic and has, in their words, a “slight bite.” With it we had the 2010 Petit Patriarche, a Mourvedre based red blend with Grenache and a touch of Syrah. It was a good combination, although the heat and spiciness of the salami, which I liked, might not appeal to all people. The wine handled it well, the tannins clearing the palate quite nicely.

The next to last pairing was their Smoked Paprika salami paired with 2008 Wylie-Fenaughty Syrah. This unique salami is cured with salt and flavored, as its name indicates, with smoke paprika

The Syrah grape naturally produces a wine with a bit of smokiness. That is one of its basic characteristics. It may also pick up some smokiness from the barrel in which it aged. A complementary paring of it with something smoky can produce fantastic, mouth-filling results, as it did in this case. This was my favorite of the parings.

The final paring involved a salami called Mole (mo-lay), which was flavored with chocolate, cinnamon, ancho and chipotle peppers. It was accompanied with a small piece of St. Agur cheese and a similar piece of dried Turkish apricot. Paired with it was their 2010 Patriarche, a Mourvedre based red blend with Syrah, Grenache Noir and Counoise.

Chocolate and heat both go well with a rich red wine such as the Patriarche and the paring was very good.

As I was turning in my glass, Carrie Bendick told me that they had tried another wine with the Mole, their 2009 Petite Sirah, and that I should also try it.

Petite Sirah is not one of my favorite wines and is often overpowering when paired with food. Their’s was not and I really liked the pairing with just the salami, less the cheese and apricot, even better than with the Patriarche.

Holly’s Hill Vineyards is located at 3680 Leisure Lane, off Pleasant Valley Road, in the Pleasant Valley area. The tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and can be reached at 530-344-0227. You can also visit them online at www.hollyshill.com.

Dedrick’s Cheese is located at 312 Main Street, Suite 105 in Placerville. There you will find 300-400 different kinds of seasonal cheese, along with bread, crackers, deli items  and more, including the tasted salamis. The hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m, Saturday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. They also have cheeses in many of the local winery’s deli cases. For more information call 530-344-8282 or visit them online at www.dedrickscheese.com.

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