The versatility of beets can never be underestimated. Raw, cooked, grilled, baked, pureed, marinated, it is always fun to work with and the color is simply wonderful. Winewise you can also go in different directions: there are earthy elements, a bit of sweetness and a range of different textures that can serve as base for an amusing pairing.
In the tradition of my previous pairing articles: risotto (again)! The original recipe I found called for a stock based on beet juice and port, but when put in a wine context, this would be very difficult to match aside from an older Amarone de Valpolicella with negligible acidity (random guess), and so I looked more into combining ingredients that would lighten the density of the final dish.
Little cubes of yellow beetroot were marinated in rice vinegar with a bit of sugar and coarse salt. Wine pairing is always tricky when using vinegar, but I assumed that it would work here as it’s not an overbearing ingredient. You’d look for a wine with a quite prominent acidity, genre Riesling, Muscadet or Chenin Blanc. Chiogga beets are a joy to eat just like that with a bit of salt and pepper, but winewise again it is challenging. Not too overt, not too heavy in structure, and cleancutting works best (a creamy Chardonnay would weep).
The combination beetroot – smoked trout is quite common in Germany, and once tasted, it is easy to see why. When put in a risotto, don’t even try to find a balance in flavor as the creamy-earthy intensity will simply crush the delicate flavours of the trout. I consider it to be an add-on, something that adds a bit of salinity and smokiness to the dish as a whole, not something to see one-on-one with the beets.
So, conventional wisdom will often match warm beets with fresher red wines with an oaky presence. In the past I matched it with Rings’ Spätburgunder Kallstadt 2015 (Pfalz), which went fine right up until the confrontation with the pickled beets, which made the wine fall apart. Sizing up my chances, I thought it best to stick to white wines.
Contestant one was Ziereisen’s Heugumber 2014. I have mentioned Ziereisen’s red wines in the past, so it was time to give the whites, which contribute significantly to the estate’s reputation, a chance. 100% Gutedel, which is the local name for Chasselas (while being all the rage in Switzerland, there are actually significant plantings in Germany as well). It offers quite ripe fruit on the nose, somewhat reminiscent of a Rousanne-Marsanne blend, with a smoky touch to it which actually goes quite well with the trout. On the palate however, it is just a bit too ripe for my taste, and lacking a bit in freshness. It is a nice wine though, but a lighter dish would do it more justice.
Up next, François Chidaine’s Montlouis Clos du Breuil 2013. It was not an easy vintage and just like in 2012 François lost a big part of the crop (moreso in Vouvray than in Montlouis). I find that Clos du Breuil in the best years needs quite a bit of time to fully reveal itself, so a vintage of a lesser reputation should be drinking nice already. Soft, a wee bit reductive in the nose, floral notes and a bit of yellow fruit. The acidity is quite remarkable on the palate, and on its own the wine may have been better off with a bit more weight on it, but all in all, there is a crispiness to it that makes it quite joyful to drink. It actually matches the food quite nicely (best out of four), as the hidden depths that only seem to surface when Chenin Blanc is matched with the food are just perfect against the creaminess of the risotto
Having tasted the smashing Kanzenemer Altenberg Kabinett at the Grosser Ring Versteigerung in September, my attention was drawn to what Andreas Barth has been doing at Von Othegraven. I am quite familiar with the wines he produces at Lubentiushof, and I bought a case of different von Othegraven wines to see what his approach would be in the Saar. The Kanzenemer Altenberg Kabinett 2015 is fantastic. Firm yet delicate, structured yet light with a nice, slightly sponti-herbaceous note on the nose. It is a marvelous match when tasting it against all components separately (in particular with the risotto where the residual sugar really lends support), but as a whole it is maybe a tad too light. I would match it against something a bit more pure and delicate in flavor.
As an added bonus, I tried the Beaujolais Nouveau that had been open from the night before, Origine 2017 by Domaine du Vissoux. It is a step above their normal Nouveau, made without chaptalisation and with one month in old oak. Unsurprisingly, it does not have the complexity nor the weight to go against a dish like this. Fruit-driven, with a bit of structure on the palate (I have to give it points for this), but overall more easydrinking than the ideal partner for foodpairing.